Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a young prince who lived in a castle... how many fairy tales start like this? Milano too has its own fairy tale, or rather it has its own fairy-tale castle, Castello Sforzesco, one of the largest in Europe.
Throughout history, this imposing complex has played many roles: as a defensive fortress, ducal residence and military barracks. Nowadays, its magnificent interior hosts Milano’s civic museums and cultural institutions but the castle grounds are also captivating with the large courtyards, massive walls, moats, towers, (entrance is free excluding the museums) crenulated battlements and the green expanse of Parco Sempione.
The castle’s origins date back to 1358 - 1368 when the nucleus was known as the Castello di Porta Giovia and it was used it as a residence and mainly as a military defence by Galeazzo II Visconti, Duke of Milano. Over the centuries the Castello expanded until it became one of the main military citadels in seventeenth-century Europe.
At the end of the fifteenth century Leonardo da Vinci was engaged here, under the patronage of Ludovico il Moro and, after extensive renovations, his renowned Sala delle Asse embellishment is now open to the public and is a not-to-be-missed location on the Leonardo's works in Milano itinerary.
Leonardo was not the only genius present at the Castle: the frescoed hall of the Ospedale Spagnolo (Spanish Hospital) is now dedicated to the Pietà Rondanini Museum, Michelangelo's final masterpiece.
The iconic red-brick Castello Sforzesco now hosts several specialised Civic Museums and, since 1896, it has been home to one of the city’s most extensive artistic collections. The Museum of Ancient Art houses conserves precious works such as the superb Equestrian tomb of Bernabò Visconti and ancient fragments of Milano’s cultural and civic history. The Pinacoteca art gallery boasts masterpieces by Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Lorenzo Lotto, Correggio, Tintoretto and Canaletto.
The Raccolta di Mobili (Furniture Collection) displays furnishings from the 15th - 20th centuries; the Museum of Decorative Arts has a vast ceramics collection, precious late-antique ivories and contemporary glass; the collection of musical instruments is amongst the largest in Europe, plus, not to be missed are the Trivulzio Tapestries, the Armory, the Prehistoric and Protohistoric Museum and the Egyptian Museum (closed until June 2021 for refurbishment).
NOT TO BE MISSED
- According to legend, there was a secret tunnel leading from the Castello basement which crossed beneath the city and emerged in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. It was built by Duke Ludovico il Moro to be used as an escape route in a siege and to secretly visit the tomb of his wife Beatrice d'Este, which is why he had a mausoleum built here.
- In1521 an accidental eruption of gunpowder, possibly due to lightning, caused the Castello’s central tower - which was used as ammunition depot - to collapse, it was subsequently rebuilt and still today it is called Torre del Filarete in honour of the architect’s epithet.
Buy here your ticket.
The Furniture Collection, the Art Gallery, the Prehistoric and Protohistoric Museum and the Egyptian Museum are temporarily closed.
The courtyards are open, to explore this fascinating castle in the centre of Milano.