Italian commune and capital city of Lombardy

Milan (Italian: Milano) is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city proper in Italy after Rome. The city proper has a population of about 1.4 million, while its metropolitan city has 3.26 million inhabitants. According to national sources, the population within the wider Milan metropolitan area (also known as Greater Milan), is estimated between 8.2 million and 12.5 million making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and one of the largest in the EU.

The skyline of Milan's business district in 2017

Milan is considered a leading alpha global city, with strengths in the fields of art, chemicals, commerce, design, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, services, research and tourism. Its business district hosts Italy's stock exchange, and the headquarters of national and international banks and companies. In terms of GDP, Milan is the wealthiest city in Italy, has the third-largest economy among EU cities after Paris and Madrid, and is the wealthiest among EU non-capital cities. Milan is viewed along with Turin as the southernmost part of the Blue Banana urban development corridor (also known as the "European Megalopolis"), and one of the Four Motors for Europe. Milan has been recognized as one of the world's four fashion capitals; many of the most famous luxury fashion brands in the world have their headquarters in the city.

Aphorism and epigraph

Milano la grande.
  • Quando hic sum, non jejuno Sabbato; quando Romæ sum jejuno Sabbato: et ad quam cunque ecclesiam veneritis, ejus morem servate, si pati scandalum non vultis, aut facere.
  • When I am at Milan, I don’t fast Saturdays: when I am at Rome, I do. Always observe the rule of the Church where you find yourself, so as neither to take or give offence.
    • Augustine, Epistulae, XXXVI, 14. Reported in: Classical and Foreign Quotations, 3rd ed. (1904), no. 2371
    • On the question of fasting or no on Saturday, St Ambrose replied thus to St Augustine. In Rome, Saturday (Sabbato) is a fast to-day as in the fifth century, whereas in other parts of the Church no such rule obtains.

History and politics

Middle Ages
  • The greatness of the Roman cities under the popular rule of their Bishops is illustrated by Milan, second only to Rome in the last days of the Empire. Milan had been reduced to the condition of abject misery by the Kings, who spared no pains to exalt Pavia at the expense of her elder sister. After the dissolution of the kingdom, she started into a new life, and in 1037 her archbishop, Heribert, was singled out by Conrad II as the protagonist of the episcopal revolution against feudalism. Heribert was in truth the hero of the burghs in their first strife for independence. It was he who devised the Carroccio, an immense car drawn by oxen, bearing the banner of the Commune, with an altar and priests ministrant, around which the pikemen of the city mustered when they went to war. This invention of Heribert's was soon adopted by the cities throughout Italy. It gave cohesion and confidence to the citizens, reminded them that the Church was on their side in the struggle for freedom, and served as symbol of their military strength in union. The first authentic records of a Parliament, embracing the nobles of the Popolo, the clergy, and the multitude, are transmitted to us by the Milanese Chronicles, in which Heribert figures as the president of a republic. From this date Milan takes the lead in the contests for municipal independence. Her institutions like that of the Carroccio, together with her tameless spirit, are communicated to the neighboring cities of Lombardy, cross the Apennines, and animate the ancient burghs of Tuscany.
  • Since [...] it was in late-medieval and early modern Europe that new techniques of warfare occurred more frequently than elsewhere, it was not implausible that one such breakthrough could enable a certain nation to dominate its rivals. Already the signs pointed to an increasing concentration of military power. In Italy the use of companies of crossbowmen, protected when necessary by soldiers using pikes, had brought to a close the age of the knight on horseback and his accompanying ill-trained feudal levy; but it was also clear that only the wealthier states like Venice and Milan could pay for the new armies officered by the famous condottieri.
    • Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500–2000 (1987)
  • [A]n alternative to summit meetings was emerging. For centuries it had been customary to send envoys on specific, short-term missions. But by the mid–fifteenth century the tightly knit but feuding city states of northern ItalyVenice, Florence, Milan and Rome—kept permanent ambassadors in key cities in order to gather intelligence and foster alliances. In due course their governments created chanceries to manage the mounting mass of paper. From 1490 the great powers of Europe followed suit, led by Spain.
    • David Reynolds, Summits: Six Meetings that Changed the Twentieth Century (2007), p. 17

Modern developments

Prada's 22-carat gold tower, adjacent to Via Ripamonti in the Soupra district
Bocconi University, considered the most prestigious university for finance and economics in Europe, in Viale Bligny, Bocconi district, Milan


The viper calls Milan to the field
Dante Alighieri
  • Tell my Giovanna, that for me she call
    There, where reply to innocence is made.
    Her mother, I believe, loves me no more;
    Since she has chang’d the white and wimpled folds,
    Which she is doom’d once more with grief to wish.
    By her it easily may be perceiv’d,
    How long in women lasts the flame of love,
    If sight and touch do not relume it oft.
    For her so fair a burial will not make
    The viper which calls Milan to the field,
    As had been made by shrill Gallura’s bird.
  • O Milan, O the chanting quires,
    The giant windows’ blazon’d fires,
      The height, the space, the gloom, the glory!
    A mount of marble, a hundred spires!

Poems of Places

Henry W. Longfellow, ed., Poems of Places, Italy, Vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877), pp. 214–231
  • Et Mediolani mira omnia, copia rerum,
    Innumerae cultaeque domus, facunda virorum
    Ingenia et mores laeti; tum duplice muro
    Amplificata loci species populique voluptas
    Circus et inclusi moles cuneata theatri;
    Templa Palatinaeque arces opulensque moneta
    Et regio Herculei celebris sub honore lavacri;
    Cunctaque marmoreis ornata peristyla signis
    Moeniaque in valli formam circumdata limbo:
    Omnia quae magnis operum velut aemula formis
    Excellunt: nec iuncta premit vicinia Romae.
  • Milan with plenty and with wealth o’erflows,
    And numerous streets and cleanly dwellings shows;
    The people, blessed with nature’s happy force,
    Are eloquent and cheerful in discourse;
    A circus and a theatre invites
    The unruly mob to races and to fights.
    Moneta consecrated buildings grace,
    And the whole town redoubled walls embrace;
    Here spacious baths and palaces are seen,
    And intermingled temples rise between;
    Here circling colonnades the ground enclose,
    And here the marble statues breathe in rows:
    Profusely graced the happy town appears,
    Nor Rome itself her beauteous neighbour fears.
  • Your Excellency is not pleased with me
      Because of certain jests I made of late,
    And, for my putting rogues in pillory,
      Accuse me of being anti-German. Wait,
    And hear a thing that happened recently
      When wandering here and there one day as fate
    Led me, by some odd accident I ran
    On the old church St. Ambrose, at Milan.
    My comrade of the moment was, by chance,
      The young son of one Sandro,—one of those
    Troublesome heads,—an author of romance,—
      Promessi Sposi,—your Excellency knows
    The book perhaps?—has given it a glance?
      Ah, no? I see! God give your brain repose:
    With graver interests occupied, your head
    To all such stuff as literature is dead.
    I enter, and the church is full of troops:
      Of Northern soldiers, of Croatians, say,
    And of Bohemians, standing there in groups
      As stiff as dry poles stuck in vineyards,—nay,
    As stiff as if impaled, and no one stoops
      Out of the plumb of soldierly array;
    All stand, with whiskers and mustache of tow,
    Before their God like spindles in a row.
    I started back: I cannot well deny
      That being rained down, as it were, and thrust,
    Into that herd of human cattle, I
      Could not suppress a feeling of disgust
    Unknown, I fancy, to your Excellency,
      By reason of your office. Pardon! I must
    Say the church stank of heated grease, and that
    The very altar-candles seemed of fat.
    But when the priest had risen to devote
      The mystic wafer, from the band that stood
    About the altar, came a sudden note
      Of sweetness over my disdainful mood:
    A voice that, speaking from the brazen throat
      Of warlike trumpets, came like the subdued
    Moan of a people bound in sore distress,
    And thinking on lost hopes and happiness.
    ’Twas Verdi’s tender chorus rose aloof,—
      That song the Lombards, there, dying with thirst,
    Send up to God,—“Lord, from the native roof,”—
      O’er countless thrilling hearts the song has burst,
    And here I, whom its magic put to proof,
      Beginning to be no longer I, immersed
    Myself amidst those tallowy fellow-men
    As if they had been of my land and kin.
    What would your Excellency? The piece was fine,
      And ours, and played, too, as it should be played:
    It drives old grudges out when such divine
      Music as that mounts up into your head!
    But when the piece was done, back to my line
      I crept again, and there I should have stayed,
    But that just then, to give me another turn,
    From those mole-mouths a hymn began to yearn:
    A German anthem, that to heaven went
      On unseen wings, up from the holy fane:
    It was a prayer, and seemed like a lament,
      Of such a pensive, grave, pathetic strain
    That in my soul it never shall be spent;
      And how such heavenly harmony in the brain
    Of those thick-skulled barbarians should dwell
    I must confess it passes me to tell.
    In that sad hymn I felt the bitter-sweet
      Of the songs heard in childhood, which the soul
    Learns from belovèd voices, to repeat
      To its own anguish in the days of dole:
    A thought of the dear mother, a regret,
      A longing for repose and love, the whole
    Anguish of distant exile seemed to run
    Over my heart and leave it all undone:
    When the strain ceased, it left me pondering
      Tenderer thoughts and stronger and more clear:
    These men, I mused, the self-same despot king,
      Who rules in Slavic and Italian fear,
    Tears from their homes and arms that round them cling,
      And drives them slaves thence, to keep us slaves here:
    From their familiar fields afar they pass
    Like herds to winter in some strange morass.
    To a hard life, to a hard discipline,
      Derided, solitary, dumb, they go:
    Blind instruments of many-eyed Rapine
      And purposes they share not and scarce know;
    And this fell hate that makes a gulf between
      The Lombard and the German aids the foe
    Who tramples both divided, and whose bane
    Is in the love and brotherhood of men.
    Poor souls! far off from all that they hold dear,
      And in a land that hates them! Who shall say
    That at the bottom of their hearts they bear
      Love for our tyrant? I should like to lay
    They’ve our hate for him in their pockets! Here,
      But that I turned in haste and broke away,
    I should have kissed a corporal stiff and tall,
    And like a scarecrow stuck against the wall.
  • Though searching damps and many an envious flaw
    Have marred this work, the calm, ethereal grace,
    The love, deep-seated in the Saviour’s face,
    The mercy, goodness, have not failed to awe
    The elements; as they do melt and thaw
    The heart of the beholder, and erase
    (At least for one rapt moment) every trace
    Of disobedience to the primal law.
    The annunciation of the dreadful truth
    Made to the Twelve survives: lip, forehead, cheek,
    And hand reposing on the board in ruth
    Of what it utters, while the unguilty seek
    Unquestionable meanings, still bespeak
    A labour worthy of eternal youth!
  • Come! if thy heart be pure, thy spirits calm.
    If thou hast no harsh feelings, or but those
    Which self-reproach inflicts,—ah no, bestows,—
    Her wounds, here probed, find here their gentlest balm.
    O the sweet sadness of that lifted palm!
    The dreadful deed to come his lips disclose;
    Yet love and awe, not wrath, that countenance shows,
    As though they sang even now that ritual psalm
    Which closed the feast piacular. Time hath done
    His work on this fair picture; but that face
    His outrage awes. Stranger! the mist of years
    Between thee hung and half its heavenly grace,
    Hangs there, a fitting veil; nor that alone,—
    Gaze on it also through a veil of tears!
  • With steps subdued, silence, and labour long,
    I reached the marble roofs. Awe vanquished dread.
    White were they as the summit of Mont Blanc,
    When noontide parleys with that mountain’s head.
    The far-off Alps, by morning tinged with red,
    Blushed through the spires that round in myriads sprung:
    A silver gleam the wind-stirred poplars flung
    O’er Lombardy’s green sea below me spread.
    Of these I little saw. In trance I stood;
    Ere death, methought, admitted to the skies;
    Around me, like a heavenly multitude
    Crowning some specular mount of Paradise,
    Thronged that angelic concourse robed in stone:
    The sun, ascending, in their faces shone!
  • Not with such sweet emotion would it thrill
    My heart, this delicate stone tracery,
    From base to finial, climbing toward the sky,
    While saint and angel countless niches fill,
    If naught more holy than mere craftsman’s skill
    Had wrought this fine lace-like embroidery
    Of marble; and with lavish industry
    Tossed fruit and flower, at its fantastic will,
    About, around, in fairy showers y-sprent;—
    No; this profusion of ethereal beauty
    Sprang from a softer influence than duty:
    By reverent love the plan was fashioned;
    By earnest love, the obedient chisel led,
    Prankt it in tenderest embodiment.
  • O peerless church of old Milan,
      How brightly thou com’st back to me,
    With all thy minarets and towers,
      And sculptured marbles fair to see!
    With all thy airy pinnacles
      So white against the cloudless blue;
    With all thy richly storied panes,
      And mellowed sunlight streaming through.
    O lovely church of loved Milan,
      Can sadness with thy brightness blend?
    Lo! moving down that high-arched aisle,
      Those mourners for an absent friend.
    In every hand a lighted torch,
      Above the dead a sable pall,
    On every face a look that tells,
      She was the best beloved of all.
    And low and faint the funeral chant
      Subdued the pealing organ’s tone,
    As past the altars of her faith
      They slow and silent bear her on.
    O holy church of proud Milan,
      A simpler tomb enshrines for me
    The one I loved, who never stood
      As now I stand to gaze on thee.
    Yet all I see perchance she sees,
      And chides not the unbidden tear,
    That flows to think how vain the wish,
      My life’s companion, thou wert here!
    O solemn church of gay Milan,
      I owe that pensive hour to thee;
    And oft may sacred sadness dwell
      Within my soul to temper glee!
    Those airy pinnacles that shine
      So white against the dark blue sky,
    Ascend from tranquil vaults where bones
      Which wait the resurrection lie!
  • Two steps, your Highness,—let me go before,
    And let some light down this dark corridor,—
    Ser Leonardo keeps the only key
    To the main entrance here so jealously,
    That we must creep in at this secret door
    If we his great Cenacolo would see.
    The work shows talent,—that I must confess;
    The heads, too, are expressive, every one;
    But, with his idling and fastidiousness,
    I fear his picture never will be done.
    * * * * *
    ’Tis twenty months since first upon the wall
    This Leonardo smoothed his plaster,—then
    He spent two months ere he began to scrawl
    His figures, which were scarcely outlined, when
    Some new fit seized him, and he spoilt them all.
    As he began the first month that he came,
    So he went on, month after month the same.
    At times, when he had worked from morn to night
    For weeks and weeks on some apostle’s head,
    In one hour, as it were from sudden spite,
    He’d wipe it out. When I remonstrated,
    Saying, “Ser Leonardo, you erase
    More than you leave,—that’s not the way to paint;
    Before you finish we shall all be dead”;
    Smiling he turns (he has a pleasant face,
    Though he would try the patience of a saint
    With all his wilful ways), and calmly said,
    “I wiped it out because it was not right;
    I wish it had been, for your sake, no less
    Than for this pious convent’s; and indeed,
    The simple truth, good Padre, to confess,
    I’ve not the least objection to succeed:
    But I must please myself as well as you,
    Since I must answer for the work I do.”
    There was St. John’s head, that I verily thought
    He’d never finish. Twenty times at least
    I thought it done, but still he wrought and wrought,
    Defaced, remade, until at last he ceased
    To work at all,—went off and locked the door,—
    Was gone three days,—then came and sat before
    The picture full an hour,—then calmly rose
    And scratched out in a trice the mouth and nose.
    This is sheer folly, as it seems to me,
    Or worse than folly. Does your Highness pay
    A certain sum to him for every day?
    If so, the reason’s very clear to see.
    No? Then his brain is touched, assuredly.
    At last, however, as you see, ’tis done,—
    All but our Lord’s head, and the Judas there.
    A month ago he finished the St. John,
    And has not touched it since, that I’m aware;
    And now he neither seems to think nor care
    About the rest, but wanders up and down
    The cloistered gallery in his long dark gown,
    Picking the black stones out to step upon;
    Or through the garden paces listlessly
    With eyes fixed on the ground, hour after hour,
    While now and then he stoops and picks a flower,
    And smells it, as it were, abstractedly.
    What he is doing is a plague to me!
    Sometimes he stands before yon orange-pot,
    His hands behind him just as if he saw
    Some curious thing upon its leaves, and then,
    With a quick glance, as if a sudden thought
    Had struck his mind, there, standing on the spot,
    He takes a little tablet out to draw,
    Then, muttering to himself, walks on agen.
    He is the very oddest man of men!
    * * * * *
    But, as I was observing, there have passed
    Some twenty long and weary months since he
    First turned us out of our refectory,
    And who knows how much longer this may last?
    Yet if our painter worked there steadily,
    I could say nothing; but the work stands still,
    While he goes idling round the cloisters’ shade.
    Pleasant enough for him,—but is he paid
    For idle dreaming thoughts, or work and skill?
    I crave your pardon; if I speak amiss,
    Your Highness will, I hope, allowance make
    That I have spoken for your Highness’ sake,
    And not that us it inconveniences,
    Although it is a scandal to us all
    To see this picture half done on the wall.
    A word from your most gracious lips, I feel,
    Would greatly quicken Ser Leonardo’s zeal,
    And we should soon see o’er our daily board,
    The Judas finished, and our blessed Lord.
  • Padre Bandelli, then, complains of me
    Because, forsooth, I have not drawn a line
    Upon the Saviour’s head; perhaps, then, he
    Could without trouble paint that head divine.
    But think, O Signor Duca, what should be
    The pure perfection of our Saviour’s face,—
    What sorrowing majesty, what noble grace,
    At that dread moment when He brake the bread,
    And those submissive words of pathos said,
    “By one among you I shall be betrayed,”
    And say if ’t is an easy task to find,
    Even among the best that walk this earth,
    The fitting type of that divinest worth,
    That has its image solely in the mind.
    Vainly my pencil struggles to express
    The sorrowing grandeur of such holiness.
    In patient thought, in ever-seeking prayer,
    I strive to shape that glorious face within,
    But the soul’s mirror, dulled and dimmed by sin,
    Reflects not yet the perfect image there.
    Can the hand do before the soul has wrought?
    Is not our art the servant of our thought?
    And Judas, too,—the basest face I see
    Will not contain his utter infamy;
    Among the dregs and offal of mankind,
    Vainly I seek an utter wretch to find.
    He who for thirty silver coins would sell
    His Lord, must be the Devil’s miracle.
    Padre Bandelli thinks it easy is
    To find the type of him who with a kiss
    Betrayed his Lord. Well, what I can I ’ll do;
    And if it please his reverence and you,
    For Judas’ face I ’m willing to paint his.
    * * * * *
    The wilful work built by the conscious brain
    Is but the humble handicraft of art:
    It has its growth in toil, its birth in pain.
    The Imagination, silent and apart
    Above the Will, beyond the conscious eye,
    Fashions in joyous ease and as in play
    Its fine creations,—mixing up alway
    The real and the ideal, heaven and earth,
    Darkness and sunshine; and then, pushing forth
    Sudden upon our world of consciousness
    Its world of wonder, leaves to us the stress,
    By patient art, to copy its pure grace,
    And catch the perfect features of its face.
    * * * * *
    In facile natures fancies quickly grow,
    But such quick fancies have but little root.
    Soon the narcissus flowers and dies, but slow
    The tree whose blossoms shall mature to fruit.
    Grace is a moment’s happy feeling, Power
    A life’s slow growth; and we for many an hour
    Must strain and toil, and wait and weep, if we
    The perfect fruit of all we are would see.
    Therefore I wait. Within my earnest thought
    For years upon this picture I have wrought,
    Yet still it is not ripe; I dare not paint
    Till all is ordered and matured within.
    Hand-work and head-work have an earthly taint,
    But when the soul commands I shall begin.
    On themes like these I should not dare to dwell
    With our good Prior,—they to him would be
    Mere nonsense; he must touch and taste and see;
    And facts, he says, are never mystical.
    Now, the fact is, our worthy Prior says,
    The convent is annoyed by my delays;
    Nor can he see why I for hours and days
    Should muse and dream and idle here around.
    I have not made a face he has not found
    Quite good enough before it was half done.
    “Don’t bother more,” he says, “let it alone.”
    What can one say to such a connoisseur?
    How could a Prior and a critic err?
    But, not to be more tedious, I confess
    I am disturbed to think I so distress
    The worthy Prior. Yet ’twere wholly vain
    To him an artist’s feelings to explain;
    But, Signor Duca, you will understand,
    And so I treat on higher themes with you.
    The work you order I shall strive to do
    With all my soul, not merely with my hand.
  • Never, surely, was holier man
    Than Ambrose, since the world began:
    With diet spare and raiment thin
    He shielded himself from the father of sin;
    With bed of iron and scourgings oft,
    His heart to God’s hand as wax made soft.
    Through earnest prayer and watchings long
    He sought to know ’tween right and wrong,
    Much wrestling with the blessed Word
    To make it yield the sense of the Lord,
    That he might build a storm-proof creed
    To fold the flock in at their need.
    At last he builded a perfect faith,
    Fenced round about with, “The Lord thus saith”;
    To himself he fitted the doorway’s size,
    Meted the light to the need of his eyes,
    And knew, by a sure and inward sign,
    That the work of his fingers was divine.
    Then Ambrose said, “All those shall die
    The eternal death who believe not as I”;
    And some were boiled, some burned in fire,
    Some sawn in twain, that his heart’s desire,
    For the good of men’s souls, might be satisfied
    By the drawing of all to the righteous side.
    One day, as Ambrose was seeking the truth
    In his lonely walk, he saw a youth
    Resting himself in the shade of a tree;
    It had never been granted him to see
    So shining a face, and the good man thought
    ’Twere pity he should not believe as he ought.
    So he set himself by the young man’s side,
    And the state of his soul with questions tried;
    But the heart of the stranger was hardened indeed,
    Nor received the stamp of the one true creed;
    And the spirit of Ambrose waxed sore to find
    Such face the porch of so narrow a mind.
    “As each beholds in cloud and fire
    The shape that answers his own desire,
    So each,” said the youth, “in the Law shall find
    The figure and features of his mind;
    And to each in his mercy hath God allowed
    His several pillar of fire and cloud.”
    The soul of Ambrose burned with zeal
    And holy wrath for the young man’s weal:
    “Believest thou then, most wretched youth,”
    Cried he, “a dividual essence in Truth?
    I fear me thy heart is too cramped with sin
    To take the Lord and his glory in.”
    Now there bubbled beside them where they stood
    A fountain of waters sweet and good;
    The youth to the streamlet’s brink drew near
    Saying, “Ambrose, thou maker of creeds, look here!”
    Six vases of crystal then he took,
    And set them along the edge of the brook.
    “As into these vessels the water I pour,
    There shall one hold less, another more,
    And the water unchanged, in every case,
    Shall put on the figure of the vase;
    O thou, who wouldst unity make through strife,
    Canst thou fit this sign to the Water of Life?”
    When Ambrose looked up, he stood alone,
    The youth and the stream and the vases were gone;
    But he knew, by a sense of humbled grace,
    He had talked with an angel face to face,
    And felt his heart change inwardly,
    As he fell on his knees beneath the tree.
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