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About Milan

Milan (Milano), situated on the flat plains of the Po Valley, is the capital of Lombardy and Italy’s richest and second largest city. Wealthy and cosmopolitan, the Milanesi enjoy a reputation as successful businesspeople, equally at home overseas and in Italy. Embracing tradition, sophistication and ambition in equal measure, they are just as likely to follow opera at La Scala as their shares on the city’s stock market or their chosen football team, AC or Inter Milan, at the San Siro Stadium.

Better known for being new and fashionable, Milan has never willingly thrown out the old. Three times in its history, the city had to rebuild after conquest by foreign invaders. Founded in the seventh century BC by Celts, the city, then known as Mediolanum (mid-plain), was first sacked by the Goths in the 600s (AD), then by Barbarossa in 1157 and finally by the Allies in World War II, when over a quarter of the city was flattened. Milan had to make an art of recovery, successively reinventing herself under French, Spanish and then Austrian rulers from 1499 until the reunification of Italy in 1870. It is a miracle that so many historic treasures still exist, including Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which survived a direct hit in World War II. The Milanesi’s appreciation of tradition includes a singular respect for religion, to the extent that they even pay a special tax towards the Cathedral maintenance. It is therefore fitting that the city’s enduring symbol is the gilded statue of the Virgin, on top of the Cathedral.

The city’s layout is best understood as a historic nucleus around the Cathedral, from which a star-shaped axis of arteries spreads through modern suburbs to the ring road. The modern civic centre lies to the northwest, around Mussolini’s central station, and is dominated by the Pirelli skyscraper, which (dating from 1956) is one of the first skyscrapers in Italy. The trade and fashion fairs take place in the Fiera district, west of the nucleus around the Porta Genova station.

Milan’s economic success was founded at the end of the 19th century, when the metal factories and the rubber industries moved in, replacing agriculture and mercantile trading (primarily in silk) as the city’s main sources of income. Milan’s position at the heart of a network of canals, which provided the irrigation for the Lombard plains and the important trade links between the north and south, became less important as industry took over – and the waterways were filled in to make way for roads. A few canals remain in the Navigli district near the Bocconi University, a fashionable area in which to drink and listen to jazz and other live music, especially during the warm summers of Milan’s typically continental climate.

Since the 1970s, Milan has remained the capital of Italy’s automobile industry and its financial markets but the limelight is hogged by the fashion houses, who, in turn, have drawn media and advertising agencies to the city. Milan remains the marketplace for Italian fashion – fashion aficionados, supermodels and international paparazzi descend upon the city twice a year for its spring and autumn fairs, while the world looks on. Valentino, Versace and Armani may design and manufacture their clothes elsewhere but Milan, which has carefully guarded its reputation for flare, drama and creativity, is Italy’s natural stage.


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