The Duomo and the historic centre of Milan
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Duomo and historical centre

The Duomo, majestically overlooking the large eponymous piazza, is unquestionably one of the major symbols of Milan, together with the Teatro alla Scala and the Castello Sforzesco. However, the city centre, which has long been identified with the economy and finance of Piazza degli Affari, has a lot more to offer visitors: to the eastern side of the piazza lies Corso Vittorio Emanuele which is one of the city’s busiest shopping thoroughfares ; to the north is the stunning  Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan’s sitting room; to the south, via Torino, a major commercial artery from which narrow and picturesque streets branch off leading to enticing tucked-away corners of Milan; then to the west is the medieval Piazza dei Mercanti and the scenic Via Dante from which visitors can admire the Castello Sforzesco.

Piazza del Duomo, the pulsating heart of the city
At the far end of Piazza Duomo, which incorporated the medieval quarter in the nineteenth century, the imposing outline of the Duomo creates a jagged silhouette of pointed spires. To really understand the city of Milan it is best to start from this point: not only by visiting the interior of the cathedral but also by going up to the roof terraces to admire the splendid view over the city. The piazza is surrounded by buildings with different styles of architecture: in front of the Duomo lies Palazzo Carminati - once a symbol of "Milanoshopping" due to the numerous neon placards that adorned its facade - while the sides of the piazza are flanked by the opposing southern and northern porticoes. To the south stand Palazzo Reale, which hosts exhibitions, and the Museo del Duomo which both lie alongside Palazzo dell’Arengario - a connecting element between the "old" and "new” cities - which houses the Museo del Novecento (Museum of the Twentieth Century).

Milan’s sitting room: luxury shopping and art
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the city’s "sitting room" and, for over a century, has been the Milanese meeting place of choice: the charm of its coffee shops and the appeal of its restaurants and stores with all major national and international brands make it a real symbol of luxury. The centre of the octagon is the site of a good luck ritual, very popular with the tourists: if you wish to return to Milan you must place your right heel on the "bull's balls", depicted on a mosaic floor, and swivel around on yourself three times.
Heading northwards through the Galleria we arrive in Piazza della Scala - with its famous Theatre - which is the Milanese financial and political nerve centre from which narrow streets branch off, each with its own particular identity. The historic seat of the Banca Commerciale Italiana also overlooks Piazza della Scala and is now flanked by the Gallerie d’Italia museum. Behind Palazzo Marino, lies the compact and austere Piazza San Fedele, with the Jesuit church faced by the monument to Alessandro Manzoni, and then piazza Belgioioso and Piazza Meda that lead onto an evocative network of winding narrow streets aligned with noble palazzi.

From Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza San Babila
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II is the extensive artery that connects Piazza del Duomo to Piazza San Babila. It is a pedestrian zone with a succession of shops covered by lofty porticoes and is one of the best places for shopping or strolling in Milan. The post-war reconstruction resulted in a series of small commercial galleries that branch off from the side of the street and lead to "satellite" piazzas comprising, amongst others, piazza del Liberty. Between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Europa stands the seventeenth-century church of San Vito al Pasquirolo while, continuing along the corso on the east, we come across the Basilica of San Carlo al Corso. The pedestrian zone that characterises the historical centre of the old town terminates in Piazza San Babila where, in the late Roman era, the waters of the river Seveso were channelled towards the nearby Herculean Spa. Currently, the layout of the piazza - with the seventeenth-century Basilica of San Babila - reflects the architectural redevelopment carried out the ‘30s.

Via Torino: the Commercial District and the hidden city
Via Torino is an important route linking Piazza Duomo, the Colonne di San Lorenzo and the Navigli and is one of the oldest streets in Milan characterized by a time-old tradition of trade. However, aside from the inviting lure of the shops there are also glimpses of a little-known that Milan merits some small detours: from the Renaissance jewel of the Basilica of Santa Maria presso San Satiro to the beautiful and hidden-away piazza Sant'Alessandro. Then there is a place where it seems that every period of history has left its mark: this is Piazza San Sepulchre which stands on the site of the ancient Roman Forum. It is overlooked by the homonymous church, which was founded between the X and X1 centuries and the Biblioteca and Pinacoteca Ambrosiana whose entrance is in the nearby Piazza Pio XI.

From the medieval heart of Milan to the Castello Sforzesco
Via dei Mercanti, which is now a pedestrian area, covers the short distance between Piazza del Duomo and piazza Cordusio. The spiers of the Duomo soar close by but it takes just a few steps to reach the discreet and secluded enclave of Piazza dei Mercanti: the memory of medieval Milan.
Just a few metres further on the scenery changes again: via Dante starts from piazza Cordusio and has been a pedestrian area since 1996. It buzzes with bars, shops, open-air photography and temporary exhibitions and the imposing Castello Sforzesco can be admired from a distance. Well worth a visit, in a small side street, is the Teatro Grassi with its beautiful cloister. Between Cordusio and via Meravigli is yet another different scenario: piazza degli Affari was constructed between 1928 and 1940 on an area that housed the Mint in the early Middle Ages and, until the ‘90s, was the financial heart of the city due to the presence of the Stock Exchange and the “mercato gridato” trading floor.

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