The towers of the Castle of Sforza (Castello Sforzesco), laconic connected by the fortress walls into one magnificent structure, will inevitably catch the eye of visitors to Milan.
Sforza Castle spent seven centuries under the azure Italian sky. During this time, he saw the rise and fall of the ruling dynasties, revolutions and popular uprisings, felt the touch of the hands of talented architects, sculptors and artists. The strict and attractive architectural ensemble is very similar in shape to the Kremlin building, built in Moscow. A similar circumstance is explained by the Italian roots of the construction project of the Russian fortress.
The history of this remarkable architectural monument is rooted in the Middle Ages. In the 14th century, a family of high-ranking Visconti aristocrats decided to acquire a family nest near Milan. The place chosen for the construction of the residence at that time was in the suburbs. Therefore, it required the construction of significant defensive structures and strong walls. However, the main danger to the castle and its inhabitants appeared from a completely unexpected direction. In the mid-14th century, the Visconti clan lost its influence, and the Ambrosian Republic was proclaimed in Milan. Her associates inflicted great damage to the castle, which was the personification of the overthrown power.
The new republic did not last long, from 1447 to 1450. Rulers from the people failed to cope with the onslaught of other cities. For support they had to turn to the commander Francesco Sforza. At one time, his wife was the daughter of the last ruler of the Visconti clan, Bianca. With the support of his aristocratic wife and solid military force, Francesco Sforza managed to restore order in the city and declare himself the new duke of the city of Milan.
In the 15th century, thanks to the efforts of Sforza, the dilapidated Visconti castle received a new life. The duke pursued two goals: firstly, to revive the symbol of the ruling dynasty, and secondly, to strengthen the approaches to the city. Based on the foundation of the fortress walls, high strong barriers were rebuilt. A geometrically regular stone square with a side of 200 m surrounded the castle with reliable protection. However, the new owner took care not only of the functional part, but also of aesthetics. The famous architect A. Averumin in those years, also known as Filareta, was specially invited to decorate the exterior facades.
Over time, towers with rounded walls appeared in the corners of the walls. They have been perfectly preserved to this day and give the Sforza Castle a magnificent view, especially if you watch it from the streets of Dante Alighieri (Via Dante).
Francesco and Bianca Sforza spent their whole lives in the center of Milan, using the palace on Cathedral Square as their residence. Their son Galeazzo planned to return the fortress, which stands outside the city, to the former glory of the family castle. For these purposes, construction work was re-launched to expand the castle building and finish the interior. The architect Benedetto Ferrini planned the inner perimeter of the fortress in such a way as to create two cozy courtyards - the Ducal courtyard and the courtyard of Rocetta. In addition, the castle acquired roomy stables designed for 90 horses.
The internal transformation of the living space has also been undertaken by Galeazzo Maria Sforza. He did not skimp on luxurious furniture, art and fabulous decoration. Especially for receptions and sports, the Ballroom appeared in the palace. Most of the inner beauty has been preserved to this day and is accessible to the eyes of visitors to Castello Sforzesco.
After the death of Galeazzo, his post and regalia passed into the hands of his brother Ludovico Moreau. This worthy representative of a noble family managed to get Leonardo da Vinci himself as an artist for his castle. The famous Italian was engaged in the decoration of the hall della Aste, decorating it with magnificent frescoes. Several fragments of da Vinci's works were kept in good condition. By the way, the talented master was very attached to Milan, not without reason it was in this city that the Museum of Science and Technology was opened, dedicated to Leonardo. The museum is located on the territory of the monastery of San Vitore, and the main part of its exposition is the inventions, drawings, sketches and artistic and technical developments of da Vinci.
Transformation into a military bridgehead
At the end of the 15th century, turbulent times began, marked by the struggle of Italy, Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire to redistribute the world. During this period, Milan and its environs often replaced the ruler, which did not have a completely favorable effect on the state of the Sforza castle. The French monarch Louis XII settled on the post of the Duke of Milan for a fairly long time. Among other innovations is the reorganization of the Sforza castle from the mainstay of social life into military fortification. The luxury of the interior rooms quickly faded under the onslaught of brutal soldierhood. And in 1521, one of the castle towers was destroyed by a powerful explosion of gunpowder stored in its walls.
French domination in Italy was replaced by Spanish power. Its representatives decided to adhere to the policies of the former owners regarding Castello Sforzesco. For this reason, the fortress walls were taken into an additional ring of barrage shafts and fortifications. The new defensive line was executed according to the latest military construction in the form of a 12-pointed star.
From now on, about two thousand soldiers were stationed in the walls of the castle. A hospital, canteens and two churches were also organized for the needs of the military. Needless to say, the halls decorated with frescoes by Leonardo da Vinci himself and other artists were used as storage rooms.
At the dawn of the 18th century, the power of the Spaniards was replaced by the leadership of Austria. But little has changed for the Sforza castle, it has remained a large barracks, fortified by the walls of a powerful bastion. Only in 1796, the Emperor of France Napoleon managed to put the Austrians to flight and completely occupy Milan. Bonaparte expected to increase the capacity of the barracks to 4 thousand, but the local population was categorically against it. For several centuries, the Sforza castle was the focus of the power of foreign invaders, the inhabitants of Milan demanded the complete destruction of the building.
However, the French emperor soon had the time to solve such problems. In 1799, the combined forces of Russia, England and Austria, led by Suvorov, approached the walls of the Milan fortress. The talented military leader Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov was able to knock Napoleon out of the reliable walls. Subsequently, Russian troops will leave through the Alps, and the city will remain at the mercy of the emperor of Austria. However, also not for long. Napoleon Bonaparte will be able to take revenge on the outskirts of the city of Marengo. On the conquered territory, the Cisalpine Republic with the capital in Milan will be proclaimed.
The role of Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon had a twofold influence on the estate of Sforza. On the one hand, the castle was still mercilessly operated as a military barracks. Murals and other elements of the interior decor were buried under a layer of plaster and white. But the emperor went to meet the Italians, having removed the fortifications that encircled the castle from the time of the Spanish dominance.
In order to eliminate the devastation around Castello Sforzesco left after the destruction of the defensive walls and ramparts, two Italian architects were involved. Giovanni Antolini and Luigi Canonika proposed an extensive project, which includes the creation of a large park with alleys, as well as the construction of several buildings of cultural value. However, from all of the above, it was only possible to plan the territory under the square.
The final collapse of Napoleon and his empire in 1815 untied the hands of the Austrians, which they immediately took advantage of. Lombardy and Venice were again captured, and the long-suffering Milan castle was again at the disposal of the army. In the next 50 years, Italians tried to confront the invaders. And once they even succeeded - for 5 days in March 1848, the inhabitants of Milan owned their cities.
The most dramatic events in the history of Sforza Castle unfolded in 1859 after the Austrian forces were forced to leave Italian lands. The heated population of Milan did not spare the military fortifications of the Austrians, ruthlessly rolling around the inside perimeter of the fortress with fire and a sword. The castle was looted and suffered significant damage.
Association of Italian lands
The reunification of Italy (Risorgimento) began in 1861. It was then that the turn came to the famous fortress. The solid age of the building, as well as its importance in the fate of the city, allowed the new rulers of Milan to assign the status of a monument of architecture and a city symbol to the Sforza castle. That is why the reconstruction of the castle and the restoration of its former beauty received a rather high priority.
The curator of the revitalization of Castello Sforzesco was Luca Beltrami. This architect approached the reconstruction of the castle with all responsibility. Before making a plan of the proposed work, a lot of historical literature and documents were studied related to the architecture and design of the fortress. Squat towers located in the corners of the walls were taken first.
The work began with the restoration of partially damaged walls and floors, and the authentic decoration of the buildings also returned. In addition, the towers received a new functional load - they turned into reservoirs. Repair of the castle continued until 1905, although it was partially accessible for visitors from the beginning of the 20th century. From then until now, Sforza Castle has become the property of the city of Milan and its inhabitants.
World War II and restoration
The last destruction fell on Sforza in 1943 during the fighting of World War II. Air bombs damaged the ramparts, as well as Rochetta's courtyard. At the end of the war, the restoration of the castle lasted until 1956. Over the years, meticulous work was carried out to restore the destroyed buildings, updating the frescoes and elements of the interior decor.
Guests of Milan, eager to see the famous Sforza Castle at the present time, will find it in the historical heart of the city. The lands in the distant past at the entrance to the city are now surrounded by a ring of newer areas. The space inside the castle walls was paved with a special coating with a geometric pattern. Piazza delle Armi is spread around the castle. For several centuries, it served as a parade ground for soldiers of various armies.
You can get into the courtyard of the fortress through the main gate located in the tower of Filaret. The tower itself is a magnificent multi-level building with a tetrahedral structure, its height reaches 70 meters. The main tower of the castle is decorated with a bas-relief of the Italian monarch Umberto I. The top of the first tier is decorated with heraldic frescoes and the image of St. Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan.
The second tier of Filaret is crowned with decorative teeth made in the form of a dovetail. This form indicates that the owners of the castle were in opposition to the views of the Pope. On this tier, you can see an old watch called the “Sun of Justice", they remained as a memory of the Visconti family, which laid the first stones in the foundation of the castle.
Today, castle walls have roofed the library and several museums related to the history of Milan and directly to Castello Sforzesco. Great popularity among tourists has received a gorgeous art gallery, a museum filled with exhibits of medieval art, the Archaeological Museum and the Reunification Museum. In particular, in the walls of Sforza is the last unfinished sculpture of the famous master Michelangelo - Pieta Rondanini. Also in the courtyard near Filareta is a monument dedicated to Jan Nepomucki, a Czech saint.
Attractions near Sforza Castle
Outside, the fortress walls of Sforza are surrounded by Sempione Park, which was built back in 1893. The main park of the city of Milan is divided by cozy alleys and places for relaxation, which is why not only tourists, but also the local population, really like it.
The decoration of the park is the Arch of Peace, created by order of Napoleon in the 19th century. The memorial was conceived as an analogue of the Arc de Triomphe installed in Paris.
The French emperor sought to perpetuate his victory on the Apennines. According to Bonaparte’s intentions, the ceremonial entrance to the city was to be through the new, fourteenth gate. For many years there has been a legend that the Arch of Peace and the Arc de Triomphe are located along the same axis, which adds symbolism to the monument in Sempion.Find a hotel in the center of Milan
Opening hours and ticket prices
Castello Sforzesco is open for daily visits from 7:00 to 19:00 in the summer and from 7:00 to 18:00 in the winter. Access to the castle is absolutely free. But visiting museums has its limitations.
The museums located inside Sforza are open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17:30. Big church holidays and Monday are not working days. A single ticket to the museum costs 3 euros, and a pass for the season is 15 euros. There is a discount system and a flexible schedule of free visits.
Address, how to get
View Sforza Castle in Milan on a larger map
Sforza is located in Milan, Porta Umberto. You can get to the castle using public transport:
- metro, line MM1 Cairoli (Cadorna - Cairoli), line MM2 Cadorna-Lanza (Cadora - Lanza);
- buses No. 18, 37, 50, 58, 61, 94;
- trams number 1, 2, 4, 12, 14, 19.