Castello Sforzesco from the Visconti to the Sforza

Built by Galeazzo II Visconti in 1358-68, the castle underwent incessant transformations and different uses. Rich in history, mysteries, curiosities, it is an important witness of Milan’s urban evolution. Symbol of that special and mysterious vocation towards renewal that makes it one of the most “modern” cities of Italy.

Castello Sforzesco from the Visconti to the Sforza

Castello Sforzesco. The Visconti defences of Porta Giovia

Everything has a beginning. The genesis of the castle originates from Portae Jovis, already included in the Roman walls built by Augustus.

It all started at Rocchetta, the first fortified settlement, built around Porta Giovia between 1358 and 1368 by Galeazzo II, brother of Bernabo. There was bad blood between the two brothers, to the extent that Galeazzo never lived there, preferring to settle in Pavia, which was safer, and where he built the imposing castle in less than five years that is now an important museum and exhibition centre.

 

Piazza d’armi. In the footsteps of ancient moats

Every respectful castle has its own moat. Sforzesco has two, one inside, the oldest, and the outer one which is still visible today.

Founded as a military garrison of Galeazzo, Rocchetta was surrounded by a moat. Connected with the city walls, it surrounded the whole fortress and a stretch is still visible in the inner part of the castle, including Piazza d’Armi, Rocchetta and the Ducal Court. The moat cuts the entire complex in half and giving it an unusual appearance like a fortress inside another.

 

Rocchetta towards Parco Sempione. From a military garrison to a noble residence

With Filippo Maria, the last of the Visconti, the first fortified centre of Rocchetta was turned into a comfortable manor house.

It seems that even Filippo Brunelleschi, the well-known Tuscan architect, contributed to the transformation, although it is still not possible to identify his contribution. Certainly we owe to Filippo Brunelleschi the creation of a pharaonic forest estate, obtained from the countryside in the back that survives in the smaller Sempione park. A park where he had collected the most diverse botanical species that were known then and where he loved to receive his guests in the summertime.

 

The tower that lived twice

Francesco Sforza who became Lord of Milan in 1450, transformed the austere Visconti fortress into the cornerstone of the entire defensive system of the city.

The new Lord spared no pennies and summoned the most important architects of the time to the building site, among them was Antonio Averulino, aka Filarete, who in 1452 designed the eponymous tower. It had a very short life: during the short French rule, the tower, which had become a gunpowder store, exploded into a thousand pieces on June 28, 1521. It was not until the unification of Italy that it was rebuilt, thanks to the tenacity and ingenuity of Luca Beltrami.

 

The Ducal Court. The splendour of the Sforza

Galeazzo Maria, who succeeded his father Francesco, brought on so many interventions to transform the castle into a residence suited to his whims and desires.

Still visible are the expansions ordered by this refined and controversial lord of Milan. Galeazzo Maria improved the ambiences of Rocchetta; completed the construction of the Ducal Court, built two new wings and the beautiful Elephant porch. It seems that the ramp had been designed so that he could access the halls directly with his horse. His arrogant and dissolute manners clouded his undeniable qualities, prompting a great deal of dissatisfaction and discontent. On December 26, 1476, Galeazzo Maria was assassinated at the entrance of the church of Santo Stefano. His wife Bona of Savoy to defended the rights of succession of their son Gian Galeazzo.

 

Piazza d’armi. The duchess tower

It is under everyone’s eyes but only a few know the history. Here is a good opportunity to discover it.

The tower, much higher at the time, placed in the corner overlooking the inner moat, was built hurriedly by Bona of Savoy in the aftermath of the assassination of her husband. She wanted to control all the building and city to protect themselves from her brother-in-law Ludovico il Moro. The efforts of the courageous and tenacious duchess were unsuccessful: ​​the clever and cunning Ludovico first snatched the regency from his nephew, Gian Galeazzo, and then removed him from power.

 

The outer walls on the Lanza side. Ponticella. At the court of Ludovico il Moro

After removing Bona and his nephew, Ludovico became the new Lord of Milan. The castle was transformed into a princely residence.

Important artists such as Leonardo and Bramante were involved in the construction. One of the few interventions of Leonardo survived to the ravages of time is famous - the Sala delle Asse – but the only element belonging to Bramante in the castle that has reached our days is not so: Ponticella, a small covered bridge, of refined proportions, where the Moro loved to retire. One of the smaller rooms, the private study of the Moro, had been completely painted by Leonardo.

 

The Napoleonic era. The big forum project

During Spanish times, the castle was surrounded by starry bastions that made it impregnable. What happened to it?

The realisation of this complex defensive system was a huge enterprise, costing many million ducats and begun in 1549, the same year in which the construction of the bastions began. It was meant to resist the centuries. Napoleon’s mines demolished it, in 1800, to make place to the Bonaparte Forum, a monumental crown of buildings that, on paper, were meant to surround the castle. Needless to say, it all came to nothing due to issues concerning time, to extremely excessive construction costs. The idea was resumed with the creation of the hemicycle we all know in the late Nineteenth century.

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