Castello Sforza in Milan: history, description, interesting facts, how to get there
Castello Sforzesco, or Sforza Castle, is one of the main attractions of Milan, the symbol and pride of this beautiful and ancient city. A huge and seemingly unassuming fortress for its centuries-long and eventful history has experienced many upheavals. But in spite of everything, it stood its ground and today it delights its numerous visitors with its strict and majestic beauty.
Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) is located in the historic center of the city. But at the time of its laying, its location was behind the city stanzas, because it was originally created as a defensive fortress. The decision to build the castle was made by Duke Galeazzo II Visconti, a member of the famous Visconti dynasty, which ruled Milan for over a century and a half starting in 1277.
By the middle of the 14th century, the once influential nobleman began to rapidly lose his political weight, leading to the establishment of the Ambrosian Republic in the city. At this time, the castle was severely damaged when it was partially destroyed by the inhabitants of Milan, tired of the duke’s exorbitant tyranny.
The new owner
The fortress remained empty for a long time. Finally, in 1450 a descendant of Duke Francesco Sforza Visconti received the title of his ancestors and the permission of the Milanese Senate to restore the former family residence. According to the new owner, the bastion was not only to regain its function as a defensive fortress, but also to become a symbol of the city.
Gradually Sforza Castle in Milan was transformed. The fortress walls in the corners got high towers, and in 1473 a chapel called “Corte Duccale” was erected there. At the end of the XV century, the heir of Duke Lodovico Sforza decided to remake the gloomy castle to his own taste, adding to its appearance a little splendor and elegance.
To this end, the best masters of their time were summoned to Milan, among them the famous Leonardo da Vinci. It is known that it was here that his brilliant canvases were created, such as The Lady with the Ermine, which depicted the Duke’s mistress Caecilia Gallerani, and The Beautiful Ferrignora, for which Lucrezia Crivelli posed. There were also splendid ceiling frescoes by Da Vinci, but sadly little remains of them.
Along with splendid interiors of the castle, some of which have survived until our days, it acquired a number of other innovations. Several cozy inner courtyards were arranged, and a graceful square framed by arcades, on which Filaret and Bramante worked. From this time on, the castle once again became the residence of the dukes of Milan.
French and Spanish periods
When the Italian wars broke out, Lodovico Sforzo chose to leave Milan and in his place Sforza Castle was occupied by King Louis XII of France. After his death, the fortress fell into disrepair and in 1521 lightning struck the Filaret Tower, which housed the gunpowder warehouse. The explosion destroyed most of the structure, so it had to be dismantled.
For a time Ferrante Gonzaga, the Spanish viceroy, also resided in the castle. He decided to strengthen the city’s defensive power by literally building it into the center of the new star-shaped fortifications. Under him most of the palace chambers were turned into real barracks, where more than 2 thousand soldiers lived.
The Sforza Castle in Milan was a reliable fortress during the Spanish domination, whose defenses were augmented by massive ramparts and other fortification facilities. According to extant documents, in addition to the soldiers’ barracks, it housed an army church, a hospital, warehouses with foodstuffs and a tavern. The halls, with their sumptuous murals, on which Bramantino and Leonardo had worked, were simply converted into ordinary outbuildings.
Spanish rule was succeeded once again by the French. Napoleon settled in the city. Radical Milanese demanded that he destroy the Sforza castle, so hated by them. However, contrary to their claims, Napoleon decided not only not to destroy it, but on the contrary, to restore a part of the fortress in order to place his soldiers there.
He demolished nearly all the fortifications previously erected by the Spaniards, including numerous ramparts. Moreover, under Napoleon’s own orders, a spacious square was laid out in front of the castle.
In 1861, after the unification of the Italian state, it was decided to rebuild the castle and to give it the status of an architectural symbol of Milan. Luca Beltrami was invited to carry out the restoration work. It is worth noting that the talented architect took this work with extreme responsibility. It was thanks to him that the previously blown up and then completely dismantled Tower of Filaret was fully restored.
In 1900, the historic monument opened its doors to the public for the first time and took its place as the main attraction in Milan. Five years later the renovation of the fortress was completely finished.
World War II
During the war the castle was again subjected to destruction. Aircraft bombs destroyed part of the wall and one of the cozy courtyards. After the war, the historical monument had to be reconstructed for the second time. Large-scale repair works were carried out, during which the interior of the building was thoroughly restored, as well as its exterior.
To enter the inner courtyard of the Sforza Castle (photo below), you need to pass the central gate, located in the Tower of Filaret. It is a multi-tiered majestic building 70 meters high. The tower is decorated with an elaborate bas-relief depicting King Umberto, an ancient clock called “The Sun of Justice” and heraldic frescoes. Once there was a deserted area around the castle that was used for military exercises. Now there’s a beautiful Sempione Park and Piazza delle Armi.
Now inside the Sforza Castle in Milan (photo available in the article) is a vast museum complex and a solid library, which holds truly unique materials about the centuries-old history of this amazing city.
At the moment, everyone has the opportunity to visit the castle and visit its art gallery and its numerous museums, where wooden sculptures, rare antique musical instruments, antique furniture and archaeological finds are on display. In addition, this historical complex preserves the works of such famous masters as Michelangelo Buonarotti, Giovanni Bellini and Mantegna.
The address of Sforza Castle in Milan is Piazza Castello, 27029. At first the fortress may seem unapproachable and rather gloomy. However, after visiting this unique place you become convinced of the extraordinary beauty of its interior. Tourists traveling to Italy for the first time often do not know how to get to the Sforza Castle in Milan. In fact, everything is very simple: you can walk to it from one of the main streets of the city – Via Dante. If you take public transportation, you can get there by bus (routes 18, 37, 58, 94), as well as by streetcar (№ 1, 4, 12, 14). If you want you can reach the fortress by metro (lines MM1 and MM2), getting off at the station Cadorna Triennale.
Working hours of Castello Sforza in Milan are from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, and in summer 19:00 pm. Day off – Monday. Also museums are closed during major church holidays. Entrance to its territory is free. However, for a visit to the museums have to pay 4 euros. For a more detailed tour of this attraction you can buy a season ticket. It will cost 15 euros per person.
It is worth noting that for pensioners who are over 65 years and students, if they show the appropriate document there is a good discount. For them, the ticket will cost no more than 1.5 euros. Children and teenagers under 18 years old are free to enter the castle.
History of Sforza Castle, its museum and underground tunnels, as well as all the complete information you need to visit it.
Sforza Castle in Milan is one of Italy’s most important landmarks. It has long served as a symbol of power for local and foreign rulers. At the beginning of the twentieth century the structure was saved from demolition. Now several civic museums are located there.
History of the Sforza
In 1358, Galeazzo Isco Visconti (the first Duke of Milan) ordered the construction of the fortress. The construction was completed in 1368. The castle originally had a basic layout: four walls, each a hundred and eighty meters (591 feet) long and a square tower at each corner. His successors (Gian Galeazzo and Filippo Maria) expanded the fortress and turned it into a magnificent residence. After Filippo Maria Visconti died without leaving an heir in 1447, the Milanese proclaimed the Ambrosian Republic and completely destroyed the building, seen as a symbol of the Visconti.
The undeveloped republic, at war with Venice, turned to the famous warlord Francesco Sforza for help. Just three years later he seized power and declared himself Duke of Milan. Sforza quickly rebuilt the castle, but this time a central tower seventy meters (230 feet) high, the Torre del Filaret, surrounded by large round towers, was erected. His followers also improved and embellished the structure.
At its height during the reign of Ludovico Sforza, nicknamed “Il Moro,” the fortress was transformed into a luxurious Renaissance residence. The duke turned to the great artists of his time, including Donato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci, to decorate it.
In the following centuries, when Milan was under foreign domination, the castle was abandoned and mostly used as a barracks. The Torre del Filaret, which was used as an ammunition depot, exploded in 1521. During the second half of the sixteenth century, the Spaniards added star-shaped fortifications around the fortress, later partially destroyed by Napoleon’s troops.
After the unification of Italy in 1861, the castle was in such poor condition that the inhabitants considered tearing it down. However, the architect Luca Beltrami saved the dilapidated structure from ruin by proposing to turn it into a public building with space for several cultural institutions. In 1893, Beltrami began repairing the monumental castle. He rebuilt the damaged towers, recreated the moat and demolished the structures that had been added during foreign rule. He even restored Torre del Filaret using the original plans.
The restored Sforzesco Castle opened to the public in 1900. By the way, it can be confused with the castle of Princess Bona Sforza in Rogachev, but that is a different story and territory, too.
It is worth noting that the Sforza Castle and the Kremlin are almost twins, and it is especially obvious if you compare their photos. It is arranged around three courtyards, at the mercy of its many buildings. At each corner stand four imposing towers: two round ones at the main facade, facing the city, and two square ones at the other end. The round towers (31 meters or 102 pounds high) are known as Torre di Santi Spirito and Torre del Carmine. At the rear are two more conventional towers, Torre Castellana and Torre Falconiera.
The main entrance to Sforzesco Castle leads through the highest tower (Torre del Filaret) to Piazza d’Armi, the vast inner courtyard. Another tower (Torre di Bona di Savoia) is visible from the courtyard.
Behind it is the “heart” of the castle – the palatial residences of the Sforza dukes surrounding two small courtyards: the Cortile della Rocchetta on the left and the Corte Ducale on the right.
Rocchetta was the castle’s fortress and last refuge in the event of a siege. During the reign of Louis Il Moro, the residences around the courtyard were magnificently decorated with frescoes. The three galleries flanking the courtyard were designed by three different architects. The Torre Castellana tower in the western corner of Rocchetta was used at the time as a treasury.
The Ducal Courtyard is Renaissance in style and has a beautiful Loggetta di Galeazzo Maria. Several rooms around the Ducal Courtyard are decorated with splendid frescoes of the fifteenth century.
The most famous is the fresco in the Sala delle Asse in the Falconiera Tower, created by none other than Leonardo da Vinci.
In addition, Sforza Castle has civilian museums – Musei Civici. They occupy several floors around the courtyard of Rocchetta and Ducale.
The collection of the Archaeological Museum, containing prehistoric and Egyptian artifacts, can be seen in the basement floors near the Palace of the Dukes. On the first floor is an exhibition of ancient art objects. Highlights include a fourth-century sarcophagus, a fourteenth-century Bernabo Visconti mausoleum, and the Pieta Rondanini, an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo. On the first floor is a collection of furniture and an art gallery with mostly Italian paintings, including Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna.
On the first and second floors of the Rocchetta House are a museum of musical instruments and a collection of applied art. On the first floor you will find historical musical instruments such as a sixteenth century Venetian harpsichord, a glass harmonica and a Flemish double vergine. The collection of applied arts includes many objects in gold, silver, glass, porcelain, ivory and wrought iron from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Visiting Sforza Castle in Milan and its magnificent museums, you can’t bring back ugly photos.
Beneath the castle is a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Some of them were built by Ludovico Sforza in the fourteenth century. He wasn’t exactly a good duke, so the citizens of Milan looked for any opportunity to either do him terrible harm or end him. So, Ludovico built these tunnels so that he could come and go as he pleased. At that time the anger against him was at its height. Rumor has it that one of the tunnels connected the castle to the convent of Santa Maria della Grazia. However, this tunnel was destroyed during World War II.
As for the Spaniards, they added more tunnels to those already existing only because of the war. They were interested in holding the region firmly and did everything they could to that end. Tunneling was part of a strategy devised by the Spaniards. Today, the underground passages in Sforza Castle in Milan are very popular with tourists.
So, the most popular hotels near the Sforza Castle: UNA Hotel Cusan (distance to the castle 200 m), Style Hotel (distance 300 m), Genius Hotel Downtown (350 m) and Brera Apartments in Garibaldi (450 m).
The Castle is open from 7:00 to 19:00 in summer and from 7:00 to 18:00 in winter. Entrance is free, but you must pay a fee to visit the museums. They are open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 to 17:30. Not open during religious holidays and Mondays. A single entrance costs 3 EUR, access for the season – 15 EUR.
The castle is located in the district of Umberto. It can be reached by metro, bus or streetcar.