Today we’re exploring Milan! Santa Maria delle Grazie (probably the most recognizable attraction in Milan) is the church and convent, an UNESCO World Heritage site, that contains the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. The mural is on a wall in the refectory of the convent. The only two walls that stood after bombs hit Milan in WWII were the wall with the Last Supper and the wall with the mural across from it. Due to the delicate condition of the painting, only small groups are allowed in at a time and each group gets 15 minutes to view the painting. Groups go through a series of air pressure controlled doors in order to help preserve the integrity of the painting. Photography is not allowed, but online you can find some shots of people who snuck a photo. The painting & the history behind the mural made the 15 minutes totally worth the crazy travel adventures, but definitely wasn’t enough time to really take it all in! Let’s talk about Milan. It was never high on my priority list to visit. Due to the extensive bombing during WWII, a lot of the historic buildings were destroyed. It feels much more like a modern city than the rest of Italy. However, it was really important for me to see the Last Supper while in Italy and I am so glad that we made the effort to get there. Milan is a really fascinating city. It is surreal to see modern glass buildings right next to historic structures. Six months in advance, when I attempted to buy tickets to see the Last Supper, they were all sold out. That’s right, I said six months! Cue panic. I was determined to make it happen. After an obscene amount of searching, I was able to find a tour that still had two spots left & included the Last Supper! It involved a hectic day of us flying back in from Paris at 4am (more on that later), arriving in Milan in the morning, being told that we couldn’t check our luggage for our next flight, and making friends with a cab driver who became our driver for the day.
Fun note on cabs in Italy, they are all white. No yellow cabs there. Each cab driver has their own car, which means it can be any type of car from a Mercedes to a Peugeot. Despite horror stories of tourists getting ripped off, we found all of the cabs to be incredibly inexpensive & really convenient. Yes, it’s pricier than a train or bus ticket, but sometimes when adding up the multiple transfer tickets, it was actually cheaper to take a cab and it meant more time at our location. Our cabbie was relaxing in his Mercedes & was looking for a nice low key day so he drove us into town to a great little cafe and settled in with his newspaper and coffee while we explored. He literally just waited until we needed him & was quite adamant that he didn’t need to take other fares. So nice, and exactly who we needed that day!
The church itself is an UNESCO World Heritage site due to the unique combination of architecture that does not exist anywhere else in the world. It was a small country church far from anything until the Duke of Milan Francesco I Sforza ordered construction of a Dominican convent and a church. The church ended up taking decades to create & was continuously added on. The popular style of architecture changed while it was being built & the family wanted to make sure their church was modern and up to date. So they continued building, which is why today it is one of the few examples of Gothic and Renaissance styles sitting side by side!
The courtyard is open to the public & is seen as one of the most peaceful places in the city. I definitely got that feeling!
Near Santa Maria delle Grazie is the “Needle, Thread and Knot” monument. It is a tribute to Milan being the fashion capital of the world. It is a gigantic 1 meter wide and 18 meter high steel needle (picture a five-story building) with an 80 meter colored fiberglass thread that ducks under the street & knots on the other side. It was created in 2000 by Swedish sculptor, Claes Oldenburg, and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. I’ll be honest, I didn’t quite get what it was at first, but it’s really cool to see. For practical reasons, its a great landmark to use while navigating around Milan. It’s located in Cadorna Square, right at the Codorna station which has an express train to the airport. The best part for us is that it’s right inbetween Santa Maria delle Grazie (where you see the Lord’s Supper) and the Castello Sforzesco, which I will be sharing next week!
Check back next week for more adventures through Milan & a video!