Due to its strategic position, Milan had a very complex history. The settlement of Insubres Celti, created around 600 BC, was occupied by the Romans in 222 BC. It was called Mediolanum and in 286 became the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Emperor Maximian built gigantic monuments: a circus (470×85 mt), a thermal baths ("Terme d'Ercole"), a large complex of imperial palaces, a large stone wall with many towers (over 4 km). Here the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, granting tolerance to all religions within the Empire, thus opening the way to Christianity as the dominant religion.
The city was besieged by the Visigoths (402 a.c.), sacked by Attila king of the Huns (452 a.c.), conquered and destroyed by the Ostrogoths (Gothic War, 539 a.c.), conquered by the Lombards in 569 and then by Charlemagne, king of the Franks in 774. Frederick I Barbarossa destroyed it in 1162 during one of the wars between the city-states of northern Italy.
A period of peace followed: Milan prospered as a centre of trade and became one of the largest European cities. In 1395, Gian Galeazzo Visconti became the first Duke of Milan. In 1447 Filippo Maria Visconti died without a male heir and the Ambrosian Republic was established. In 1450, Milan was conquered by Francesco I Sforza, which made it a leading city of the Italian Renaissance.
François I later attempted to seize the duchy, but was defeated in the battle of Pavia in 1525 and northern Italy, including Milan, passed to the Spanish Habsburg emperor Charles V. The Italian possessions, including Milan, remained with the Spanish line of the Habsburgs, while Ferdinand's Austrian Habsburg line ruled the Holy Roman Empire. The Great Plague of Milan in 1629-31 (60,000 dead people out of 130,000), devasted the city and was seen as the symbol of Spanish bad rule and decadence.
In 1700 the French troops tried to conquer all the Spanish possessions supporting the claim of the French Philip of Anjou to the throne of Spain but in 1706 they were defeated and forced to surrender northern Italy to the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1713-1714, the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt confirmed Austrian sovereignty over these possessions of Habsburg Spain, including Lombardy and its capital, Milan. Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, declared Milan the capital of the Cisalpine Republic, then the capital of the Kingdom of Italy and he was crowned King of Italy in the Cathedral.
The Congress of Vienna returned Lombardy to Austrian control in 1815, but in 1848, Milan rebelled against Austrian rule and the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia sent troops to protect the insurgents. A plebiscite ratified the unification of Lombardy with Piedmont-Sardinia, but the Austrians routed the Piedmontese army and reasserted their control over northern Italy. About ten years later, Piedmont signed an alliance with the Napoleon III in order to defeat Austria and establish a large Italian state in the region. Milan and the rest of Lombardy were incorporated into Piedmont-Sardinia, which then proceeded to annex all the other Italian statlets and proclaimed the Kingdom of Italy on 1861.
The political unification of Italy enhanced Milan's economic dominance over northern Italy. Milan became the hub of the large northern Italy rail network and, opening the Gotthard (1882) and Simplon (1906) railway tunnels, the major South European rail hub for goods and passenger transport. Milan and Venice were among the main stops of the Orient Express, operating from 1919. Abundant hydroelectric resources supported a strong steel and textile sector, local banks dominated Italy's finance, and Milan became the leading financial centre with a rapid industrialization (end odf 1800s).
Milan large industrial and transport facilities suffered extensive damage in the Second World War. The reconstruction effort and the "Italian economic miracle" attracted a large internal migration and the population grew from 1.3 million in 1951 to 1.7 million in 1967.
In the 1980s, Milan became one of the world's fashion capitals with houses like Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana and destination of business tourism, notably from America and Japan, while the stock exchange increased its market capitalisation more than five-fold. Berlusconi's housing projects (Milano 2 in 1980s and Milano 3 in 1990s) brought new economical and social strength.
In the early 21st century, huge former industrial areas were converted into the business districts of Porta Nuova and CityLife, radically changing the city's skyline. The exhibition center moved to a much larger location near Milan and the decline in manufacturing activity was offset by the expansion of publishing, finance, banking, fashion, information technology, logistics and tourism. The successful re-branding of the city as a center of global innovation has allowed it to host major international events such as Expo 2015 and the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Business and Fashion
Whereas Rome is Italy's political capital, Milan is the country's industrial and financial heart. Main insurance companies and banking groups are located in the city, as well as a number of asset management companies. Milan Stock Exchange (225 companies listed on it) and ABI (Italian Banking Association) represent the Italian banking system.
Porta Nuova is the main business district of Milan and one of the most important in Europe, hosting the Italian headquarters of global companies, such as Accenture, AXA, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, China Construction Bank, Finanza & Futuro Banca, FM Global, Herbalife, HSBC, KPMG, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Panasonic, Pirelli, Samsung, Shire, Tata Consultancy, Telecom Italia, UniCredit, Unipol-Sai. Other large multinational companies, such as Allianz, Generali, Alleanza Assicurazioni and Pricewaterhouse Coopers moved their headquarters in the new CityLife business district, located in the prevoious location of the Milano Fairs.
Since the late 1800s, Milan has been a major industrial and manufacturing centre. Alfa Romeo (cars) and Falck (steel) employed thousands of workers until the recent closure of their sites. Here are based global industrial companies (Edison, Riva Group, Saras, Saipem, Techint, ...), chemicals (Mapei, Versalis, Tamoil), home appliances (Candy), hospitality (UNA Hotels & Resorts), food & beverages (Bertolli, Campari), machinery, medical technologies (Amplifon, Bracco), plastics and textiles, construction (Webuild), retail (Esselunga, La Rinascente) and utilities (A2A, Edison S.p.A., Snam, Sorgenia).
Milan is an important national and international media centre: newspapers (Corriere della Sera, Il Giorno, Il Giornale, l'Avvenire, and Il Sole 24 Ore, Leggo and Metro), fashion periodicals (Abitare, Casabella, Domus, Flash Art, Gioia, Grazia, and Vogue Italia), weekly news magazines (Panorama and Oggi), TV networks (RAI, public tv service broadcaster, Mediaset Group, Telelombardia and MTV Italy), radio stations (Radio Deejay, Radio 105 Network, R101 Italy, Radio Popolare, RTL 102.5, Radio Capital, Virgin Radio). In addition, it hosts the headquarters of the largest publishing companies (Feltrinelli, Mondadori, RCS Media Group, Messaggerie Italiane, Giunti Editore) and IT companies (Google, Italtel, Lycos, Microsoft, Virgilio and Yahoo!).
Business tourism and shopping are important components of the local economy, because Milan is considered a leader in design and fashion. It ranked as the world's 15th-most visited city in 2018 with 8.81 million registered international arrivals. The main tourists' interests visiting Milan is shopping and architecture.
Its hub for event management and trade, FieraMilano, is the world's fourth largest exhibition hall and Europe's largest permanent trade exhibition. This region is well known for high-quality furniture and interior design industry. Salone Internazionale del Mobile is one of the most prestigious international furniture and design fairs.
Milan is one of the fashion capitals of the world, with New York , Paris, and London and the center of Italian prêt-à-porter industry. Its fashion sector encompasses 12,000 companies, 800 show rooms, 6,000 sales outlets, and the headquarters of global fashion houses such as Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Luxottica, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Zegna. Four weeks a year are dedicated to fashion events. The Fashion Week twice a year is one of the most important events in the international fashion system.
The fashion district "quadrilatero della moda" (Via Monte Napoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant'Andrea, Via Manzoni and Corso Venezia), is the most prestigious shopping environment and one of the world's oldest shopping malls. A must for tourists and professionals making shopping in Milan.
But Milan has also a number of historic and artistic legacy of its history described above. The well-preserved Colonne di San Lorenzo are the few remains of the Roman colony. We suggest visiting the splendid basilicas created in the 4th century by Sant'Ambrogio, bishop of Milan (Sant'Ambrogio, San Nazaro in Brolo, San Simpliciano and Sant'Eustorgio) and the Duomo, built between 1386 and 1877, the fifth-largest cathedral in the world and the most important example of Gothic architecture in Italy. The gilt bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, placed in 1774 on the highest pinnacle of the Duomo, is a symbol of the city.
Then the 15th century Castello Sforzesco, ancient Visconti fortress enlarged and embellished by the Sforza, home to an elegant Renaissance court, surrounded by a walled hunting park. And the examples of Renaissance architecture (Ospedale Maggiore, Santa Maria at San Satiro, gallery of Santa Maria delle Grazie and three cloisters for Sant'Ambrogio): Tuscan models bored by the alliance between Francesco Sforza and the Florentine Cosimo de 'Medici.
The Ambrosiana Library and the Ambrosiana Picture Gallery are evidence of the Counter-Reformation period with the Spanish domination (16th-17th centuries) when San Carlo Borromeo and Cardinal Federico Borromeo promoted the culture and notable Baroque churches and palaces were built.
During the eighteenth century the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria brought significant innovations, such as the Teatro alla Scala, inaugurated in 1778, and the renovated Royal Palace. Palazzo Belgioioso and Villa Reale, later official residence of the Austrian viceroys, are among the best examples of neoclassical architecture in Lombardy.
In the Napoleonic period 1805-1814 Milan was remodeled as the capital of Italy: large avenues, new squares (Porta Ticinese and Foro Bonaparte), cultural institutions (Pinacoteca and Accademia di Belle Arti), Arco della Pace (compared to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris). In the second half of the nineteenth century Milan is involved in the Second Industrial Revolution as the main European capitals: the period of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (inspired by the Burlington Arcade in London), Galleria del Corso and the Monumental Cemetery, in neo-Romanesque style.
The beginning of the twentieth century brings Art Nouveau (called Liberty in Italy): examples are Palazzo Castiglioni, Hotel Corso, Casa Guazzoni and Casa Berri-Meregalli. A new and eclectic architecture appears in the Cova Castle (neo-medieval style) and in the large Central railway station (Art Deco mixed with Fascist architecture).
In the 1950s and 1960s, strong residential and commercial demand led to extensive urban sprawl with satellite cities. In this period the Pirelli and Velasca Towers were built. Recently deindustrialization has led to the renewal of the former industrial areas, transformed into modern residential and financial districts: Porta Nuova in the center of Milan, the new FieraMilano on the outskirts of Rho and its old exhibition area that becomes Citylife, with residential areas, museums, an urban park and 3 skyscrapers designed by famous architects. Also noteworthy is the Vertical Forest, made up of two residential skyscrapers with walls covered by 2000 species of trees: an ecological message awarded as "the most beautiful and innovative skyscraper in the world" in 2015 and included among the "fifty most iconic skyscrapers in the world" in 2019.