Italy’s financial hub may not have the historical flourishes of cities like Rome, Venice and Florence, but scratch its famously stylish surface and you’ll find a wealth of world-class art, architecture and design
Author Clodagh Kinsella Photography Susan wright
Moneyed, modern and relentlessly chic, Milan can seem a little un-Italian to the first-time visitor. Large swaths of the city were rebuilt after World War II, so it lacks the sheer concentration of historical landmarks found in other Italian destinations. As a local saying has it: “Rome is a voluptuous woman whose gifts are very apparent, while Milan is the shy, demure girl whose treasures are plentiful but discovered in time.”
“Shy” might be pushing it, but Milan’s businesslike facade does mask a rich past. Founded in 400 B.C., this former capital of the Western Roman Empire has been reshaped by a procession of rulers, from the Viscontis, beginning in the 13th century, to Mussolini in the 20th—influences marked by the Gothic spires of the Duomo and the blunt Rationalism of the Triennale. You’ll find many beautiful architectural landmarks as you make your way around Milan—if you can drag your eyes away from the beautiful people.
Mostly, of course, Milan is celebrated for its style—its fashion weeks showcasing storied labels like Armani and Prada, and the Salone del Mobile furniture fair. As one of the “big four” fashion capitals, Milan boasts unrivaled luxury shopping in plush enclaves like the Quadrilatero della Moda. It’s not surprising, then, that this multifaceted city is set to host the 2015 Universal Exposition: technology, culture, creativity and tradition are subjects Milan knows well.