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Alternative Milan

March 20, 2016

As a tourist destination, Milan is best known for its Duomo and its upmarket shopping venue, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

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Step beyond these honeypots, and you’ll find a distinct absence of visitors. So here are a couple of places that are worth taking a look at. A few stops on the Metro from the Piazza del Duomo takes you to the Basilica Sant’ Ambrogio, originally built by St Ambrose in the fourth century, but rebuilt in the twelfth century. The first thing that strikes you is its two bell towers.

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Why have two towers? It was a simple case of animosity. From the eighth century onwards, the basilica’s grounds were shared by the canons and a community of monks. These two groups were at permanent loggerheads and resented each others presence. The monks refused to share their tower with the canons, so after three hundred years of bad feeling, the canons built their own tower .

Within the basilica, there is no sign of the rivalry.

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Frescoes on the pillars paint a picture of peace and harmony, though the bishop does have a rather frosty expression.

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In the ceiling of the apse, a mosaic of Christ seated in glory presides over proceedings, attended by a couple of doleful looking angels. In the corner of the mosaic, Ambrose – sporting a fine halo – presides over a fancifully designed basilica.

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Returning to the Piazza del Duomo, a side street – the Via Torino – takes you to an inauspicious looking church, Santa Maria presso San Satiro. On first impressions, it is nothing out of the ordinary.

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But there’s more to it than meets the eye. When the church was built, there was not enough space to build a properly proportioned apse, because a road runs right up close to the end wall. So Donato Bramante – more famous for his plan for St Peters in Rome – came up with the idea of a painted perspective. From a distance, it is really effective though, when you get closer, it looks rather more flat.

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Unlike the extortionate Duomo, both Sant’ Ambrogio and Santa Maria presso San Satiro are free to visit – though you can of course make a donation – so there’s no excuse not to visit them.

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From → History, Italy, Travel

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