Despite the marginal role to which it was confined, the many workshops of gunsmiths, goldsmiths and silk producers maintained their international reputation, dictating the trends in the major European courts. Between 1548 and 1562, an impressive city wall was built around the city: with a perimeter of over eleven kilometres it became the largest system of walls in Europe. A corner of the city, the one of the district of Porta Romana, filled with dark legends and oddities. Always considered the main route of access, even under Spanish rule, it retained this primacy: not by chance, the monumental arch of Porta Romana was built on the occasion of the arrival of Mary Margaret of Austria, betrothed to Philip II. A route between Marquises “dancing” on the plague, megalomaniac bankers challenging the Cathedral stones, up to the House of the Omenoni, where an eccentric sculptor collected Leonardo's codices and threatened the life of Titian's son.
1. Arch of Porta Romana: triumphs, weddings, parties and carnivals
Piazza Medaglie d’Oro
Designed in 1598 to celebrate the arrival of Margaret of Austria in Milan, traveling to Madrid to marry Philip III of Habsburg, it was designed by Aurelio Trezzi and drew inspiration from the Roman triumphal arches. A curiosity: the name of the bride echoes in the floral decoration.
2. The remains of the Spanish walls: Milan like a fortified citadel?
Viale Caldara, Viale Filippetti, Viale Beatrice d'Este
It was governor Ferrante Gonzaga who wanted to replace the embankments that closed the city from the Fourteenth century with an actual defensive walls that, honestly, had cost a fortune and was useless. Until the arrival of Maria Teresa was one of the major urban works commissioned by the Spaniards but all paid by the Milanese people, subjected to pay more taxes because of her that were almost unbearable: it is enough to mention that even a tax on the snow was introduced!
3. Pertusati-Melzi Palace: the garden of Arcadia, between poems and disguises
Corso di Porta Romana 80
Where the solemn Via Porticata stood as a triumphal entrance to the city at the time of the Roman emperor Theodosius, now are houses and palaces, many of which part of the post-war reconstruction. Yes, because this ancient district of the nobles was not spared by the heavy bombing of 1943 that literally burned down the beautiful Palazzo Pertusati. What remains is just the memory and a bucolic garden, hidden behind a modern façade where the members of the Arcadian Academy gathered in the in the Eighteenth century: a fantastic world of poets, writers and aristocrats wearing the clothes of graceful shepherds and shepherdesses for the occasion.
4. San Nazaro in Brolo: Charles Borromeo and the witch hunt, history and counter-reform
Piazza San Nazaro in Brolo: Carlo Borromeo was a stern defender of Faith, a man of integrity and attentive. Where he did not build from scratch, he cleaned. This is what happened in San Nazario, one of the oldest churches in the city. Founded by Ambrogio and expanded with the Trivulzio Chapel, an architectural masterpiece of Bramantino, at the beginning of the Sixteenth century; it was completely reorganised by Borromeo and conformed to the strict rules imposed by the counter-reform. Inside there is a chapel with frescoes of rare beauty and perfection dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, built in 1540 and inspired by the architectures of Brunelleschi and Bramante.
5. Palazzo Annoni - Cicogna Mozzoni: the home of Flemish books and paintings.
Corso di Porta Romana 6
Commissioned in 1631 by Paolo Annoni, a rich merchant of silk, designed by Francesco Maria Richini, is the only building built during the plague. Rightly considered one of the masterpieces of the Lombard architect, sumptuous interiors pulverised by the 1943 bombings were hidden behind the sober and balanced façade and of which only the monumental staircase remains. Until 1848, it housed a valuable library and an exceptional art gallery, featuring works by Rubens and Van Dyck that were then removed by the Austrians. A curiosity: the Annoni building is opposite the one of the Acerbi family, both challenged one another with their decorations for centuries.
6. Palazzo Acerbi: where the “devil” Ludovico kept plague away!
Corso di Porta Romana 3
Built at the beginning of the Seventeenth century for the powerful family of the Rossi di San Secondo Counts, it was bought by Ludovico Acerbi around the year 1615. Beyond the aforementioned rivalry with the Annoni family living across the road, this building became famous for the strange aura of mystery that surrounds it and the owner. It is said, in fact, that while the worst plague that ever spread in the city, while aristocratic families and the poor people fled to the countryside where they waited for better times to come so they could return, the Marquis of Cisterna organised parties and dances defying death and the plague spreaders. Mysteriously, no one in that building was infected or died, and the owner was described at the time as: «Neither thin nor fat, neither white nor black, around fifty years of age with a square and long beard. He appeared every day in his carriage, arrogant with sixteen young footmen, cleanly shaven, wearing golden green livery and looking very happy. » So the rumour spread that the Marquis Ludovico was the devil.
7. The Palazzo Marino Curse
Piazza San Fedele
It is the Genoese Tommaso Marino, reckless fixer who became rich thanks to controlling the tax on salt, to who commissioned this majestic palace to the architect Galeazzo Alessi. To build it, he challenged the secular sobriety of the city and its inhabitants and even bought a quarry competing with the Duomo, which had been until then the only building to have had this privilege. The result is an eclectic display of mannerism in a Lombard key. The famous Nun of Monza was born here, granddaughter of a greedy banker. The building was unfinished and completed only in 1892 by the architect Luca Beltrami who took care of the project of the whole Piazza della Scala.
8. Church of San Fedele. The counter-reform of Carlo Borromeo in architecture
Piazza San Fedele
Carlo Borromeo commissioned the drawing of the church of San Fedele to the architect Pellegrino Tibaldi in 1569, who, together with the church of Del Gesù in Rome is an example and a model for all subsequent ones. Designed in compliance with all the rules established by the Council of Trent, it is still today one of the clearest examples of a counter-reform church: with a single nave, monumental, with a clear division of the spaces, meeting from the beginning those needs expressed by the Society of Jesus. Inside is a rich collection of ancient and contemporary works of art that make it unique in its kind, among which stand out names such as Lucio Fontana, Claudio Parmiggiani, Janis Kounellis and Mimmo Paladino. All is completed by the sumptuous sacristy designed by Francesco Maria Richini, an unsurpassable model for all those built later.