Do you know who the patron of a city is?
The patron is a very important person who protects the city, while the patron saint (every city has its own!) is such important that he/she is even saint. This is why – during Sant’Ambrogio festival – the city celebrates this event and all businesses are closed. Furthermore, you will not have to go to school unless you’re not lucky enough and the festival falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
As soon as you will reach this place – either by tube or by bus – you will easily spot the beautiful Basilica, embedded in this beautiful square – finally completed. Just think that because of these works the ObeiObei fair was moved to piazza Castello, where you can still find it! You will visit it later!
At the corner of via San Vittore and via Carducci, in front of a peculiar palace resembling to a castle, you will immediately spot Sant’Ambrogio Basilica. Get closer. It dates back to more than 1500 years ago and it is all-made of bricks – as all buildings used to be. Even the bell towers are made of bricks. Bell towers??
Have you noticed that there are two bell towers? It seems that both Monks and Friars wanted to have their own, so that they built two of them.
The church has a no-frills facade. Don’t be scared, check the openings and we assure you this will be worth the visit. Just know you are entering one of the most beautiful buildings of the city and one of the most important point of reference of the city history.
This church hides legends and stories known to the very few, such as the one of Ambrogio who – while sleeping in his crib – was surrounded by a bee swarm going in and out his mouth.
As the swarm flew away, his father – scared and stunned – said:
«If my son survives, he will surely be a great man!». And that’s the way it was!
If you look carefully – close to the altar – you can see one of the paintings describing the saint’s life, called “the bees miracle“.
Get in the courtyard in front of the main entrance and start looking at the capitals of these 18 columns: there are fantastic and monstrous animals, winged horses, dragons, griffons, mermaids and centaurs. What does it mean? Why all of these creatures at a church entrance? They represent the struggle between Good and Evil. Indeed, you will find an evidence of this struggle, outside the Basilica, on your left. Do you see that white column? Get closer, don’t be afraid… Do you see those two holes in the stone! It is said that the two holes on the column are a mark left by the devils’ horns. You might be wondering “What a weird story!”.
The Devil was stuck there for two days while fighting with Sant’Ambrogio until he freed himself – after struggling for a while – and went back to hell… It is also said that if you get closer to the holes you will be able to hear shouts from hell and smell an acrid sulphur stink – like the one in the Hades. Just try! We don’t want to tell you anything else! Probably, it is just a legend to make people aware on how good and wise Ambrogio was, underlining the importance of his fight against the Evil!
Let’s go back to us… Up to 10 years ago – during Sant’Ambrogio festival – in this square and the streets nearby, the Obej-Obej fair was held. A lively market where sweets, bits and pieces, knick-knacks and Christmas tree decorations were sold. As mentioned before, you will not find it here, rather in front of the Castello Sforzesco – our last stop!
But, what about its name – Obej-Obej?
600 years ago, Giannetto Castiglione – after being entrusted by the Pope with the care of Milanese scoundrels – arrived here. He was so scared not to receive a warm welcome, that he decided to enter the city and give lots of gifts to the huge crowd waiting for him, instead of being furious and angry. At that point, the children were so happy with those presents that they started screaming “oh bej, oh bej”, that is to say “how beautiful, how beautiful”.
Now, if you like, you can take a stroll all around the building. It might take some time, but now the pedestrian area is really lovely!
Nearby – if you want to have a snack or your parents may want to have a coffee – you will be spoilt for choice – above all going towards via San Vittore. We would like to accompany you to Leonardo da Vinci’s Science Museum. The most important technology museum in Italy, it is surely worth a visit! You will easily find it: while walking you will spot – on your left – a widening, which is nothing but the parvis of the beautiful San Vittore church!
Now, giving your back to the Museum, walk along via San Vittore and then turn right, in via Bernardino Zenale, a quiet alley leading you straight to the parvis of another beautiful church – Santa Maria delle Grazie. You will find yourselves to be in one of the most historical areas of the city.
Besides being a beautiful church, Santa Maria delle Grazie is one of the most suggestive buildings of the Lombardy Renaissance. What “Renaissance” is? It is quite difficult to explain, however – since you’re approaching the Basilica – we will try to tell you something more, by explaining the difference between these two buildings.
You surely have noticed that Sant’Ambrogio Basilica is an austere and no-frills building, since – at that time – the whole humanity should have felt to be a little bit scared and subdued by religion, whose main aim was to underline the struggle between Good and Evil. Of course, everything except religion, was considered to be Evil.
We are talking about the Middle Ages – a very long and probably not so happy period of our history. Instead, Renaissance – as the word itself says – was a period of rebirth under many different points of view and – most off all – people started to “learn in order to know” (as you do at school!). Indeed, knowledge gives you the freedom, the freedom to choose. Always keep it in your mind!
Now, let’s go back to the square and the church. This is stunning, isn’t it?
Inside, it is even more beautiful. Go in and lift your gaze. What a beautiful ceiling, it seems to be embroidered. Moreover, look at the light from the rose window up there!
Can you notice the difference between this Renaissance building at the Medieval one of Sant’Ambrogio?
Here, everything seems to be light, soft and graceful.
There are a lot of things to say about this church and you will surely learn more at school. Just know that here – shielded in a room – you will see one of the most beautiful painting works of art: The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (only if you book beforehand). You’re right, the same Leonardo you saw at the Science Museum! By chance, do you know that – at Christmastime – a fairy-tale crèche is set? It changes every year! Go in and see it!
If you like, you can also visit a lovely cloister called “chiostro delle rane”(“frogs cloister”) because of the bronze frogs embellishing the beautiful fountain at its centre. We advise you to continue your tour because there are a lot of things to see and because – besides the crèche – if you love to be immersed in the Christmas atmosphere, you should see Corso Magenta.
Leave the church parvis and go towards the city centre. At No. 61 – on your right – you can have a look at this beautiful and stunning palace called Palazzo delle Stelline. Its courtyard is the jewel in the crown. It is similar to some others Milanese courtyards, however you will be surprised by its calmness. Do you want to know the reason why it is called in this way?
Originally, it was a Benedictine Sisters Monastery and – more than 500 years ago – it hosted poor panhandlers and homeless. 300 years ago turned into a female orphanage – i.e. a place where orphan girls where welcomed and educated, and they were usually called “stelline” (“tiny stars“). They learnt how to sew, embroider, clean, cook… Well, everything your mum can do, right?
Now, continue your tour walking along Corso Magenta. After reaching the crossroad in via Carducci and before keep walking after the traffic light (pay attention and cross only on the zebra crossing, this is very dangerous), we would like to suggest you a very well-known bar keeping its original sign: Bar Magenta. It dates back to more than 100 years ago and it is like a point of reference for the Milanese: indeed, it is surely the oldest one and the best known! If you want to grab a bite or just have a drink, we advise you to go in and have a look. You will see the old furniture and you will feel to be back in time. Have you noticed that golden clock in front of the entrance door? it has nothing to do with modern bars, by the way, if you’re looking for Wi-Fi, here you can find it!
Are you ready to go on?
You will start the second part of this street, the most central one. Look at the palaces and shops lining the street. At Christmastime, they’re all adorned. Among these buildings, you will surely spot one – on your left – which is very tall and majestic.
We are talking about Palazzo Litta, dating back to 400 years ago. This palace was built according to the Baroque style – the art movement that follows the Renaissance. What does people mean with Baroque? It comes from a French word meaning bizarre and weird. Indeed, the Baroque style is identifiable for its irregular, creative and elaborate shapes.
To better see its facade, we advise you to go to the opposite side of the street and – since there is a widening – keep stepping back until you will have a complete view! The stone decorations are so soft and well-carved that you will easily see them. And what about those two men bearing the entrance? Have you noticed them? They must be so fatigued!
Inside, the palace is even more beautiful, but unfortunately – as for many other Italian treasures – you can visit it only in some particular occasions. What a shame! You would surely have appreciated the interiors as well as the huge staircase with its red carpet, the Red Living Room, the Yellow Living Room, the Duchesse Hall and the Mirrors Hall.
In front of Palazzo Litta, just beyond the entrance to the Archaeological Museum (a beautiful place we advise you to visit by following out itinerary Walking around Mediolanum , it deserves more time!) you will find a very plane church… Yet don’t let looks deceive you. Go in and just think that San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is known as the Milanese Sistine Chapel (along with Certosa di Garegnano). Just remember the real Sistine Chapel is located in San Pietro, Rome!
As soon as you will enter the door you will remain speechless. The ceiling seems to be more refined than the one of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the walls – all covered with frescos – will wrap you up in a colourful hug.
It would be impossible – and maybe a little bit boring – to try and explain you the meaning of all these paintings. Maybe, one will catch your eye! Look around you! We are talking about the one depicting Noah’s ark and describing the animals parade ready to sail in order to be saved from the Flood. Just remember that all the artists who worked here were Leonardo da Vinci pupils.
If you’d like to have something special (yet not so cheap) – before turning right – go straight on and you will find Marchesi Pastry – a place beloved by Milanese both for its products and its atmosphere, the same as 200 years ago. Even though you don’t want something to eat, just have a look at the shop windows: furniture, chandeliers and counter are the same as they used to be. Not to mention the wooden ceiling, beautiful!
Now turn left in via San Giovanni sul Muro. and almost at the end of the street – on your left – you will see a beautiful building. It is an opera house called Teatro Dal Verme, designed by Mr. Dal Verme who decided to demolish a former circus-theatre where horse shows where held. A lot of people attended these shows – even though they weren’t so polite. Indeed, most of times, the police had to intervene and bring brawls – that annoyed the neighbours – under control. This is the reason why Mr. Dal Verme – owner of the surrounding area – decided to sort the problem out by demolishing the circus-theatre named Ciniselli. Now you have reached Largo Cairoli, say hello to Giuseppe Garibaldi on his horseback and go straight on to via Beltrami in order to go to the Castle. Can’t you see it? Maybe because of the ExpoGate structure! Even though you have certainly smelt the delicious pancakes and cotton candy flavour.
You will be spoilt for choice and you can start your tour either from your left or your right!
Just have a look all around and enjoy Sant’Ambrogio festival as well as Christmas atmosphere!
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