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City Center Museums and Galleries (Self Guided), Milan

Milan is not only the business and fashion center of Italy, it also a cultural center. The city of Milan offers numerous cultural activities, as well as countless art galleries and museums that exhibit some of the world's most famous and imposing artworks and artifacts. Most of these cultural centers are located in the very heart of Milan and within a pleasant walk.
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City Center Museums and Galleries Map

Guide Name: City Center Museums and Galleries
Guide Location: Italy » Milan (See other walking tours in Milan)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: karen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Museo della Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
  • Museo Civico Archeologico
  • Pinacoteca Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle Art Gallery)
  • Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery)
  • Poldi Pezzoli Museum
  • Manzoni Museum
  • Museo del Duomo (Cathedral Museum)
  • Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library)
Museo della Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio

1) Museo della Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio

The Museum of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, established in 1949, contains sacred finds relevant to the Basilica including mosaics and church furnishings. It was established to document the history of the Basilica through a precious collection of artworks and liturgical objects. The gold and silver cross which St Charles Borromeo carried in 1576 in a thanksgiving procession to mark the end of the plague is displayed here among other highlights such as the original chapel and some amazing mosaics.

Why You Should Visit:
Entry to the basilica costs nothing, but if you wish to visit the museum then you will pay just a couple of euros.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-12pm / 2:30-6pm; Sun: 3-5pm
Museo Civico Archeologico

2) Museo Civico Archeologico

Museo Civico Archeologico is a small and fascinating museum that reveals information about the Milan during the era of Roman Empire. It shows how Milan unexpectedly became the capital of the empire in the fourth century A.D.

The museum has some unique masterpieces of art in its collections. The most important of which include the Trivulzio's cup, a rare example of intact diatret glass from the Roman times; patera from Parabiago, beautiful example of silverware of the late Roman Empire and the art from Gandhara, the region between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The building of the museum is also very interesting as it has been constructed inside the structures of the Roman Circus. Remains from the Roman times can be seen present all around the museum.

The Municipal Archeological Museum has its home in the Benedictine Monastery since the 1960s. Established through a merger of the Brera Archeological Museum and the Municipal Art Museum, it houses items from the rich numismatic collection of Greek, Italian and Etruscan masterpieces. All the documentation of sculptures, ceramics and mosaics dating from the prehistoric to the modern age are housed in there. It has an interesting section of the items excavated from Palestine along with a complete section showing historic treasures from the Necropolis of Lovere. The Archaeological Museum is also famous for its rich scientific activity and for its accurate publications on the collections it houses.

A visit to the museum will give you a real insight into the history of the Milan during the Roman Empire.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Sunday 9 am - 5.30 pm.
Pinacoteca Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle Art Gallery)

3) Pinacoteca Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle Art Gallery)

Inaugurated in 1878, this well-known art gallery is part of the complex of the Sforza Castle Museums in Milan. The gallery displays over 230 artworks, which include masterpieces by Titian, Andrea Mantegna, Canaletto, Antonello da Messina, Pisanello, Vincenzo Foppa, Giovanni Bellini, Correggio, Bernardino Luini, Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto and others. The complete collection of the museum, enriched in the last two centuries by donations of illustrious citizens and collectors, now has more than 1500 artworks.

The first rooms of the Pinacoteca are dedicated to religious paintings of the 15th and 16th centuries with artworks by Vincenzo Foppa, Bergognone, Bramantino, Carlo Crivelli, Bernardino Luini and other Lombard and Italian Renaissance painters. This part of the museum includes the "Trivulzio Madonna" by Andrea Mantegna, dating from 1497 (another "Trivulzio Madonna" by Filippo Lippi is also in the museum).

The second half of the Pinacoteca displays artworks from the 16th, 17th and 18th century. This includes both secular and religious works from artists such as Canaletto, Giambattista Tiepolo, Bernardo Bellotto, Titian and Tintoretto.

Some portraits of the Sforza family members from the 15th-16th centuries century are also on display in the museum.

Definitely get the audio guide and be prepared with a proximity card for your payment as for some odd reason they do not have the capability of accepting the usual chip card (fortunately, Google Pay works).
While there are 14 different exhibitions in the Castle itself, please note that some of these are closed in the afternoon. A ticket for all exhibitions in the Castle comes at a very reasonable cost.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5:30pm
Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery)

4) Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) (must see)

Pinacoteca di Brera is an art collection in Milan containing one of the prime collections of Italian paintings obtained from churches and monasteries taken over during the Napoleonic rule. Though humble in size, the Pinacoteca displays superb and exclusive works by major Italian artists from the 13th to the 20th centuries.

There are nearly 40 rooms containing Italy's greatest masterpieces, including Andrea Mantegna's amazingly foreshortened "Dead Christ", Raphael's "Betrothal of the Virgin", and Piero della Francesca's "Madonna with Saints". The museum also exhibits more than 500 paintings of the Venetian school and Lombard school from the 14th to the 19th century. Precious paintings are exhibited in the chronological order from the 14th century to the Renaissance period so that you can see the progress of artistic techniques.

Pinacoteca di Brera is situated on the street of the same name where there are many traditional cafes loved by local people. As you enter from the main gate, you are welcomed by the statue of Napoleon. The Accademia di Belle Arti is situated on the 1st floor of the building and many young students and artists have joined it. The Brera Picture Gallery is on the 2nd floor.

A restoration laboratory is also working in the gallery where precious pieces of art are restored. There is also a modern art section with paintings of Modigliani and Picasso. The garden behind the Pinacoteca is a lovely little spot full of aromatic herbs, flowers, climbers and vegetable gardens. Europe's oldest ginkgo biloba trees, reaching a height of 30 feet, were also brought here from China in the early 1700s.

Why You Should Visit:
The gallery has recently been redone, and you can tell how much thought has been put into curation from minor details like the color of the background walls.
After you finish your visit, you can explore the lovely and interesting neighborhood of Brera for food & drinks – great way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Take a good look at the free map to understand the flow of the gallery and find the rooms that interest you directly. To more fully appreciate the paintings, get the audio guide as well.
Another advice would be to use the seats when available as there is a lot to see here and a sit down to take it in every now and again is highly recommended.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 8:30am-7:15pm (ticket office closes at 6:40pm)
Every 3rd Thursday evening of the month, for Brera/Music performances:
8:30am-10:15pm (ticket office closes at 9:40pm)
Poldi Pezzoli Museum

5) Poldi Pezzoli Museum (must see)

Founded in 1881, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum was originally a private collection of Poldi Pezzoli and his mother, Rosa Trivulzio, and featured 19th-century Northern Italian and Flemish paintings along with a number of decorative art pieces including textiles, porcelain, glass, clocks, jewelry, and metal works.

In 1818, Poldi Pezzoli inherited great wealth from his uncle Giuseppe Pezzoli which included the beautiful palace and the garden filled with statues and fountains. He then spent his entire life decorating the house with paintings (spanning the 14th through 18th centuries) and eventually garnered 3,000 pieces of art.

During WWII, heavy bombings in one night destroyed all the main Milan museums. The Poldi Pezzoli palace was also severely damaged, yet the works of art – previously moved to a safer place – remained unharmed. From the 1950s onwards, the Association of Friends of the Museum and private Milanese donators replenished the collection further, making it one of the finest in Europe.

Why You Should Visit:
If you like to see what a man (and his mother) personally collected and kept in their home, this is a wonderful collection.
The building itself is gorgeous and you could spend much time observing the architecture and decoration of each exhibiting room.

This museum is one of the very few places open on a Monday and is certainly inexpensive, so spending just a little extra for the audio guide is surely worth it.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Mon: 10am-6pm
Manzoni Museum

6) Manzoni Museum

Situated in the heart of Milan, Casa del Manzoni (Manzoni Museum) is a magnificently elaborated ex-residence of an Italian author and poet Alessandro Manzoni. Born in 1785, he was second in Italian literature only to Dante. Manzoni died a tragic death when he fell down the steps of San Fedele in 1873.

Inside the house where Manzoni once lived, everything seems to be frozen in time. There is an evocative atmosphere inside the rooms. All Italian schoolchildren study “I Promessi Sposi” (The Betrothed) and “Il Cinque Maggio”. Author’s desk is still present in the very room where the author wrote some of the most significant works in Italian literature and where Manzoni met Garibaldi in 1862 and Verdi in 1868. Pictures, prints and souvenirs donated by collectors such as Pietro Brambilla are on display here.

Many important people visited Manzoni house including Garibaldi, Verdi and author Tommaso Grossi. The interior of the house is very well preserved. National Centre for Manzoni Studies has been opened here along with a large library including over 40,000 books and the complete work of Manzoni. The building also hosts the National Manzoni Studies Centre and the Manzoni Museum.

Manzoni’s hobbies included botany and gardening and the presence of beautiful gardens here was one of the reasons of him buying the house. Tommaso Grossi also had a studio in the Manzoni home and he lived happily there for a long time. 

Casa del Manzoni is not just an outdoor museum; rather it is a masterpiece of architecture. Alive and stunning, it is an integral part of the monumental wealth of the city and treasure chest of great artistic significance.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Friday: 10 am - 6pm; Saturday: 2 pm - 6 pm.
Museo del Duomo (Cathedral Museum)

7) Museo del Duomo (Cathedral Museum)

The Museum del Duomo preserves artifacts and works of art that used to be located in the Duomo itself, as many items in the collections require special preservation and restoration. With its total 26 rooms spread across an area of 2000 sqm, the museum exhibits the items in chronological order, allowing one to follow on the cathedral's path since its founding in 1386 until the twentieth century.

Why You Should Visit:
Entry here is included in the Duomo ticket and the cool dark rooms also offer some respite from the heat of the city while you take in the beautiful pieces that make up the church's history. One of the major interest here is the magnificent 1:22 wooden scale model of the Duomo – a feat in itself!

If you want more info in English you can also rent an audio guide.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 10am-6pm (last ticket: 5pm; last entry: 5:10pm)
Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library)

8) Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library) (must see)

Biblioteca Ambrosiana is a historic library in Milan. Named after Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, it kept and organized the great databases of European culture. The famous Pinacoteca Ambrosiana – or the Ambrosian art gallery – is also present in the library.

Named after Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, the library was founded in 1609 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, whose agents scoured Western Europe and even Greece and Syria for books and manuscripts. Some major acquisitions of complete libraries were the manuscripts of the Benedictine monastery of Bobbio (1606) and the library of the Paduan Vincenzo Pinelli, whose more than 800 manuscripts filled 70 cases when they were sent to Milan and included the famous Iliad, the 'Ilias Picta'.

One innovation was that its books were housed in cases ranged along the walls, rather than chained to reading tables, the latter a medieval practice seen still today in the Laurentian Library of Florence. A printing press was attached to the library, and a school for instruction in the classical languages.

In 1603, a building was constructed to house the cardinal's 15,000 manuscripts and printed books who gave his collection of paintings and drawings to the library. Shortly after the cardinal's death, his library acquired twelve manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci, including the 'Codex Atlanticus'. The library now contains some 12,000 drawings by European artists, from the 14th through the 19th centuries, which have come from the collections of a wide range of patrons and artists, academicians, collectors, art dealers, and architects. Prized manuscripts were requisitioned by the French during the Napoleonic occupation, and only partly returned after 1815.

***Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces Tour***
Among these treasures, Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus is one of the most famous. The codex is a 12 volume set of drawings and writings Leonardo created between1478-1519. The largest collection of Leonardo’s writings, the Codex Atlanticus touches every area of human knowledge: Mechanics, mathematics, astronomy, botany, geography, physics, chemistry, architecture and philosophy as well as the artist’s projects, drawings, inventions and fables. For conservation purposes, the display of 22 files in the library’s Federiciana Hall rotates every three months.***PH***

The library also houses Christian and Islamic Arabic manuscripts, 11th-century diwan of poets and the oldest copy of the 'Kitab Sibawahaihi'. The building was damaged in World War II, with the loss of the archives of opera libretti of La Scala, but was restored in 1952 and underwent major restorations in 1990–97.

Artwork at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana includes da Vinci's "Portrait of a Musician", Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit", and Raffaello's natural-size sketch of the "The School of Athens" that you normally visit at the Vatican in full color (here you can see it in pencil and carbon).

Why You Should Visit:
Overlooked by most tourists, on a weekday you'll have this incredible library/gallery nearly to yourself.
You'll get to see art restorers at work, peculiar Renaissance masterpieces and a brilliant building.

The map/guide given out is clear, with all main highlights identified, but if you're pressed for time, a guided tour of the highlights is advisable.
Apparently, there's also a paid audio guide (English/Italian) which gives some interesting insights about each room and many artworks.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am-6pm

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