Milan is divided into 9 distinct zones that radiate out from the Historical Center (Zona 1) to the periphery. They are identified numerically by the local council, but also have names, and each zone includes many different neighborhoods and quarters. Although every area is not listed here, each plays its own special role in the history of Milan; from the importantissimo historical center to the modern "dormitory quarters" of San Siro.
Centro Storico & Brera
The Historical Center incorporates the fashion district (called the Quadrilatero d'Oro),
Corso Buenos Aires
Northeast of the center are some well-known streets which are popular with residents, businessmen and visitors: Corso Venezia and its intersecting roads are lined with noble families' palaces; in some cases these are still used as residences, in others, they have been converted into luxury offices. The gardens of
Corso Magenta begins at Porta Magenta and leads into the center; this corso is "healthy and wealthy": one half has hardly any shops, but many gorgeous palazzi with exquisite, hidden gardens, while the other half has a multitude of shops, some of which are very prestigious. There are also several interesting churches and museums in this area. The corso is well served by public transport, and it has lots of traffic and few parking spaces during the day, but becomes a great deal more peaceful at night-time.
Southwest of Milan stands the Ticinese-Navigli area, which is a mixture of old and new. Many of the original residents (or their descendants) still live in Ticinese and there are many case di ringhiera - apartments with wrought-iron balconies that face inwards. Blue-collar workers lived here at the beginning of the 20th Century. The apartments have undergone renovation and some now house architects, artists, fashion designers et al. This area is full of bars and shops selling new and vintage clothes, antiques, furniture, as well as basic necessities. The Navigli, the city's canal system, includes two canals: the
Amendola-Fiera & San Siro
Another district that is famous for its exhibitions and trade fairs is Amendola-Fiera; this is a residential area as well, with many tree-lined streets and tall palazzi, or large residential buildings. Most of these palazzi were constructed after 1930, and so they are still in good condition. San Siro is famous for its
Porta Vittoria & Porta Romana
Vittoria is also a popular residential area that has a working/middle-class feel; Viale Lazio (one of the streets in this area) is predominantly made up of residential, leafy avenues; Corso Lodi reverberates with the hum of commercial activity; Viale Umbria is residential and Corso XXII Marzo is filled with shops. Some fashion houses have their headquarters in Vittoria, around Viale Umbria and Corso Lodi. There is still some industrial activity to the east, on Viale Mugello and towards Viale Molise (the large complex of Macello Comunale) and further out, and nearby is the famous wholesale market, Mercato Ortofrutticolo. Further east, between Forlanini's verdant park and Taliedo (heading towards
Città Studi is located in the east of Milan and as the name suggests, is the University district, home to the Polytechnic and several chemistry, biology and pharmaceuticals departments. Many of the buildings here were constructed in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and the overall feel is that of a charming residential area with trees on every street.
To the north of the city lies Isola, located just behind the
Milan's history is full of wealth, intrigue and conflict. Throughout its existence, Milan has known failure and incredible success and has faced both with a spirit and verve that makes this city one of the most famous in the world.
The first known inhabitants of Milan date back to the Bronze Age; the Gauls settled here in the 4th Century BCE and may have given the area the name "place in the middle". The Romans conquered the area in 222 BCE and gave it a similar name, "Mediolanum", and it became an autonomous province (Municipium) under the control of Rome. Its importance grew considerably during the Imperial Age. Thanks to its geographical position at the center of the Padana Plain, merchants and travelers would stop here en-route to the north of the Italian Peninsula, and the city became an important military defense against the barbarians who attacked from northern Europe. By 286 CE, Milan was significant enough to be declared the capital of the Western Roman Empire by Emperor Diocletian, who remained in the Eastern Empire while his western counterpart, Maximianus, moved his residence to Milan. Halfway through the 4th Century it became the second city of the Roman Empire, after Rome. In 313 CE, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which freedom of religion to Christians in the empire. Traces of the Roman Empire can be found in places such as Piazza Cordusio.
Although Milan became less important as the Roman Empire declined, and due to its northern position, suffered greatly from invasions by the Visigoths in 402 CE, Attila the Hun in 452 CE, and the Ostrogoths in 539 CE. In 569 CE, the city was conquered by the Longobards, from which the region of Lombardy gets its name. Milan's rebirth began when Charlemagne conquered the city in 774 CE and took the new title "King of the Lombards". Milan became an autonomous city in the 12th Century and trade prospered, due to its key position in the Po Valley and on the important routes from southern Italy to the Alps. As a result of Milan's wealth, importance and expansion, a new wall with six gateways was built and some of these gates are still visible today. The city built a system of canals (navigli) in the 12th and 13th Centuries, destined for defensive and agricultural purposes, which still defines the city's physiognomy today.
In the 15th century, power passed from the Visconti Signoria to the Sforza Signoria. The economy boomed, especially in terms of crafts, trade and agriculture. Architectural additions at this time include the Ospedale Maggiore (today the seat of the State University), the Lazzaretto (which holds the Rotonda della Besana and which is an open air cinema in the summer), and Castello Sforzesco, a listed building which exhibits works by Bramante and Filarete. Also of great historic importance is Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper (1498), a fresco at the Convent of Maria delle Grazie.
In 1499, the French King Louis XII took Milan, and for the next thirty-five years, the city found itself at the center of continuous battles between France and the Sforza family. When the incumbent duke of the Sforza family suddenly died in 1535, the city passed to Charles V Habsburg of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles V passed the duchy of Milan to his son Philip II, and Spanish rule continued until the beginning of the 18th Century. The architectural highlight of this century was the construction of the Spanish Walls, which today surround Milan's historical center. The city's power and prosperity declined under foreign rule, and in 1630, the Black Death struck the city and greatly reduced the population. Finally, after the War of the Spanish Succession, in 1706 the Savoys of Austria took possession of the city.
Milan began a new phase of expansion, characterized by fiscal and ecclesiastic reform, which culminated in exceptionally rich cultural activity around 1770. Milan fell under Napoleon Bonaparte's control, and the population boomed. It became the capital of the Cisalpine Republic and reaffirmed its cultural and economic importance. As part of Napoleon's architectural and urbanization plans the cerchia dei bastoni ring road was built around the historic center. Other new roads were also built following Paris' system; these are still used today.
The Austrians again took control of Milan in the 19th Century. Neither the educated middle classes nor the lower classes were happy about Austrian rule and in 1848 there was a popular insurrection, which ended with much bloodshed. The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861.
A great deal of the city center dates back to the beginning of the 20th Century, when many areas were redesigned and rebuilt. The city is filled with Fascist "minimalist" houses in impressive tree-lined avenues, workers' houses, and "dormitory districts" which were immense apartment blocks with no real shops or services nearby. Many of these estates soon fell into disrepair.
Fortunately, Milan is being transformed from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Economic revival has made it a rich and interesting city. The "moral capital" of Italy is very different from all the artistic cities dotted around the country. It is the center of economic activity in Italy; the country's Stock Exchange is based here. Milan's fame is also boosted by its role in the world of fashion, by the presence of many industries, its high-tech service sector, and its cultural innovation. Most of Italy's press are situated here. One of the major TV networks - the largest private network in Italy - has its headquarters at the gates of Milan.
Milan is without doubt the city of fashion, shopping and business. Famous fashion streets such as Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga and Corso Emmanuele II also have elegant, luxurious and expensive hotels.
In the centro storico, or the historic center of the city, there are several options for those who want to be close to all the shopping and historical sights located in downtown. These hotels range from the affordable to the more pricey, boutique hotels. The popular Italian chain, Jolly Hotels, has a lovely branch near the Duomo - Jolly Hotel President, which has all the comforts and is quite modern. The American chain, Hyatt, also offers accommodation near the Duomo - the Park Hyatt Milan with ultra-modern facilities and first-class customer service. If you're looking for something smaller and unique, try the Hotel Gran Duca di York, which is half new construction, half 18th-century construction.
There are several different areas in Milan that hold the majority of the hotels, such as Isola and Brera. The well-heeled area of Brera is close to the center, the galleries, and sophisticated boutiques. If you want to stay here, you might choose l'Antica Locanda Solferino, a small hotel which has retained all the charm of old Milan. Another delightful, and expensive, stop for lodging is the incredible Bvlgari Hotel, owned by the famed jeweler Bulgari. If you are traveling to Brera by metro then you should alight at Lanza and Moscova on the red line (MM2), or Cairoli on the green line (MM1).
Ticinese - Navigli
A very lively area, the Navigli canals run through the district, and jazz bars, clubs and restaurants line the banks, while on Saturdays there is a wonderful street market. This is definitely the place to stay if you want to socialize and see the more hip, alternative side of Milan. You might want to stay at the Ariston Hotel, at the bottom of Via Torino: a three-star hotel decorated with ecological and hypoallergenic materials, where smoking is prohibited. There are many small hotels spread out along the Navigli. Some of these are further from the center, such as the Art Hotel Navigli - very convenient for those who come from the autostrada dei Fiori or Liguria.
This area has many hotels for both businessmen and tourists, a lot of these hotels are less expensive but are easy to reach by train, tram and metro; booking is advisable, during important events these hotels are generally full. Many hotels are to be found in one of the most residential areas of Milan, close to the Fiera's pavilions. The Fiera is Milan's Trade Fair and the surrounding areas are always very crowded and filled with traffic. The hotels here are frequented by thousands of people who use the pavilions and stands to show their wares. If you head towards Corso Vercelli, there are two good hotels: Hotel Metrò at Corso Vercelli, 6 and Capitol World Class Hotel on the corner of Via Cimarosa and Corso Vercelli. The Milan Marriott in the commercial area of Milan is seen as a safe bet for many tourists.