While not always assimilated with Milan for the modern tourist, Milan’s churches are some of the most historic, and to this day continue to play a vital role in the modern Italian lifestyle, especially for the aging population. Within Italy 87% are Catholic’s and with the Vatican so close, Catholicism is still very much evident in the lifestyle.
Dotted all across the city and varying in shapes, sizes, history and purposes, each of Milan’s churches offers an insightful experience, even for those less theologically inclined. Anyone with an interest in gothic architecture would be remiss to not visit at least one church within Milan (outside of the Duomo of course). From the grandiose to the illusionary, here are some of Milano’s most historic churches. The majority of these churches will be hosting an event during the months of Expo. To appreciate the architecture and the holiness of the space, a word of recommendation; it is best to remember that these churches are not “tourist” destinations but rather continuing entities of the catholic faith, so there is very minimal translations, guides or texts on the churches history.
The first two churches I recommended to visit together, as they are only separated by a nice stroll through Corso Garibaldi, in the beautiful Brera District. They are the Basilica of San Simpliciano and Chiesa di San Marco. Outside of their architectural beauty, these churches will also be hosting many events during the months of Expo. This includes the Brera Expo Wine Tour, a gastronomic journey through the beautiful streets of Brera, which will begin at the piazza in front of the San Marco Church. Down the street along Corso Garibaldi and Via Pontiacco, the Basilica of San Simpliciano will host Milano Arte Musica, an offering of classical music, from Bach to Regina Coeli.
Chiesa di San Marco - front façade entrance.
The interior nave of Chiesa di San Marco, showing remarkable light through a window.
The unassuming street view to Basilica San Simpliciano
Basilica di San Simpliciano - The interior is very modest with artwork hanging with little fanfare.
The next pair of churches I have chosen are Basilica di San Lorenzo and Sant’Eustorigio, which are probably the two most active churches within Milan, located in the popular Navigli area of Milano. San Lorenzo is one of Milano’s first churches, dating back to the early Romans and is the most architecturally impressive of Milano’s lesser-known churches in my opinion. A series of smaller chapels circulate an inner nave, creating a very grand internal space.
Outside San Lorenzo lie the 11th century medieval walls of Porta Ticinese, which will host amongst other things, Il Mio Amico Museo, a children’s medieval costume event and for adults La Cena Infernale a thrilling course on Dante Alighieri and Italian literature. What links the large San Lorenzo to the nearby Sant’Eustorigio is the Parco delle Basiliche, a quiet and open park space that is framed by views to both churches.
View to San Lorenzo from Corso Ticinese.
San Lorenzo - Interior view
Entrance to Sant’Eustorigio.
The view down the central nave of Sant’Eustorigio
The last church I really like is one of Milano’s oldest and most peculiar. The Santa Maria Presso San Satiro is tucked quietly off of Via Torino; a stones throw from Il Duomo.
Originally a church from 897 AD, It was commissioned by the powerful Sforza family in the 15th century. The famous artist Bramante is credited with the unique sacristy perspective, which upon entrance seems to extend considerably beyond the central apse, but rather is only recessed around a 90cm, a style known as Trompe-l'œil. It has to be seen to be believed.
While these are just a few churches, I hope you explore your own in your travels across Milano! Ciao!
Entrance to Santa Maria
Santa Maria - Deceptive sacristy at the end.