Monday, June 25, 2007

Milan - Day 2

Mussolinni
Walked past the huge railway station, the only thing we remembered from our last trip to Milan (Interrail) 27 years ago. It has that strange fascist reverence for classical form, but chunked into a modernist style, with the usual eagles and lions that dictators seem to choose for their iconography. It was commissioned by Mussolini and it was here that he was strung up at the end of the war. It’s a rough old area with lots of immigrants hanging around. The park outside had a row of chairs set up for cheap haircuts.

Galleria Vittorio Emanualle
Tried to get into the Palazzo Marino as it is one of the earliest mannerist buildings with an interior that has second story decoration way beyond the norm for its day. The police would only let me peek from the door. Then off through one of the earliest shopping malls in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanualle, a cathedral to consumerism (lies next to the Duomo), the prototype mall, predicting the success of shopping. Milan is a city obsessed by shopping. The big names have their headquarters here – Armani, D&G, Gucci, Prada etc and every street has a succession of beautifully designed shop windows with clothes, shoes and every other damn thing you can think off, in stunning designs. Even the furniture shops made me stop and stare. Kitchen utensil shop seems like a modernist museum. Then there’s Pecks, a delicatessen on three floors, packed with wine, olive oil, cheese, ice cream and every other Italian delicacy. Milan makes lots of money and boy can they spend it!

Milan Cathedral
The façade is a creamy-white gothic wonder. Wholly clad in marble, the whole building seems radiant when the sun’s out and its needle spires soar up, accentuated by the fact that many have marble statues perched on their tips. The interior is a disappointment, as it’s dark and badly lit. The statue of St Bartholomew, with his flayed skin over his shoulder, is worth studying. However, a walk around the outside and a walk to the roof make the whole building come to life. Gothic, like an exotic insect, wears its skeleton on the outside and to walk through the flying buttresses, stand next to gargoyles sticking out from the side of the roof, and walk on top of the ribbed vaults and pointed arches is to feel the whole flow of forces out and down to the ground. You literally walk across the spine of the marble plated roof and peer through hundreds of spires and arches. The double buttresses, with counterweights inside and under each arch, take the forces way out and down to the ground, allowing the vaults to soar in height and contain large spaces for windows.

Started in 1386, it took 600 years to build. The sheer scale of the building, the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, in size second only to St Peter’s in Italy and Seville Cathedral, it also amazes because of the decorative features and statues. Milan is closer to London than Palermo, and this seems like a northern European building.

Walked across the park and through the Castello to eat a wood-fired Pizza for lunch, what else, with some frizzante red wine (Bonardo Giorgi).

Santa Maria del Grazie
Famous for The last Supper (which we didn’t see – needs booking weeks in advance) we chose to visit the church and cloister. It has a Bramante dome, apse and cloister. The sixteen sided dome gives way in geometric progression to a square then circle. It’s an odd mixture of styles with Romanesque, gothic and early mannerism all in one building.

Sant Eustorgio
A 4th C church rebuilt in 11th C but wrecked by Barbarossa in 12th C, it had the bones of the magi, which were taken to Cologne Cathedral, and some returned in 1903.

San Lorenzo
A row of roman Corinthian columns lies in front of this strange, octagonal church much admired by Leonardo da Vinci (He lived in Milan and seemed obsessed with centrally designed architectural churches – none of which seem very interesting.) It’s a 16th C renovation of an 11th C rebuilding of a 4th C church. It feels a bit run down, with punks drinking around its doorway.

Meal at Bagutta
Deserves the plaudits it receives for its food and atmosphere. Simple north Italian food inside or in garden. We had the Milanese risotto, ossobucco and fig cake. Inside it has a wooden rack showing the very many writers who have won the Bagutta Prize.

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