Castello Sforzesco is one of the symbols of Milan, and its Filarete tower is a central landmark not that far from the Duomo. It’s currently fronted by the Expo Gate, as Milan prepares for Expo 2015. (I should say that visits were across two days, hence the very different skies in the photos in this post!).
It’s not all original but let’s have a (very short) go at untangling its history.
The castle was originally built as a fortress by the dukes of Milan, the Visconti, in the mid 14th Century. The last Visconti duke’s daughter, Bianca Maria, then married into the Sforza family (whose scions include Caterina Sforza, and Duke Ludovico who brought artists including Leonardo da Vinci to the city) in the 15th Century and the castle passed into their hands after a short period known as the Ambrosian Republic. Invited to be the new Duke, Francesco Sforza, made the decision not to reconstruct the castle, but that decision seems to be have been overturned, with the imposing round towers being built around that time.
The castle became the height of Renaissance sophistication (and that shows in the rooms that visitors can enter as part of their museum visit), but, like the Last Supper complex (also commissioned by Duke Ludovico), didn’t see its best days after the decline of the Sforza family. It saw use as a barracks, and was partly dismantled. A major reconstruction project was undertaken by the city of Milan authorities at the end of the 19th Century: what we’re seeing as visitors may not always be original, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Much of the Visconti castle was dismantled, but just outside the current structure in Parco Sempione there’s a hint of it…
The Filarete Tower is dedicated to Umberto I.
Beyond the tower, with its representation of Sforza heraldry, and (above) Sant’ Ambrogio (the city’s Patron Saint, St Ambrose), lie a series of courtyards, one of which (the Rochetta, with its square tower) acted as a fortress for Bona of Savoy, who was regent for her young son, Gian Galeazzo, between 1476 and 1480. (That regency ended with her brother-in-law Ludovico assuming the dukedom).
The castle now performs a similar function to Florence’s Palazzo Pitti, housing a number of museums and galleries that could take a day to roam around, including the Museum of Ancient Art, Furniture Museum, Pinacoteca and Egyptian museum to name a few. We only had time to visit the first two – sadly the Pinacoteca was closed on our visit day.
It’s also home to Michelangelo’s last work, the Rondanini Pieta.
Outside, the adjoining Parco Sempione (which is viewable from inside the castle), may have hosted a Sforza menagerie. Now though, it’s been redesigned in the style of an English park. The Castello’s at one end, and the imposing Arco Della Pace (Napoleon’s take on Rome’s Arch of Septimius Severus) at the other, with other structures including the aquarium and the Civic Arena (shaped a bit like an amphitheatre and with impressive frontage pictured below).