Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Milan

Milan may be a world fashion capital and a European financial capital, but religion, and "the church" in particular, remain a major part of Milanese life. The city boasts a number of world-class religious buildings that include Milan Cathedral, which is the third largest religious structure in Europe, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, also known as "Sistine Chapel of Milan" for its beautiful interior paintings, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the world's most famous mural "Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci is found. Take this self-guided walking tour to visit these and other historic churches in Milan.
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Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Milan (See other walking tours in Milan)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
  • Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Church of Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus)
  • Basilica of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence Church - Oldest Church in Milan)
  • Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose Church)
  • San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore (Church of St. Maurice in Major Monastery)
  • Santa Maria delle Grazie Church, "The Last Supper" Fresco
1
Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)

1) Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) (must see)

The Milan Cathedral, otherwise known as the Duomo, is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan and the largest church in Italy (the third largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world) covering an area of 12,000 sqm and weighing a staggering 325,000 tons!

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Mary Nascent and has been the epicenter of the city's life since 1386. Its foundation was laid by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who died in 1402 when only half of the structure had been finished, upon which the construction came to a standstill for almost 80 years because of the lack of funds and ideas. It resumed only in 1500, and by 1510 the octagonal dome was completed – embellished with four series of 15 statues representing different characters from the Bible.

In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte forced completion of the façade, which overall took another seven years of work. In honor of his efforts, a statue of Napoleon was erected at the top of one of the spires. Later, the Duomo also hosted his crowning ceremony. However, it wasn't until the 20th century, with the completion of the last gate, that the centuries-long construction of the cathedral was finally over, marked by inauguration on January 6, 1965.

A climb to the roof, much as a descend to the Paleo Christian baptistery beneath the west side of the Duomo are the highlights of a visit here. The rooftop offers a closer look at the intricate details of the spires and the gargoyles adorning it, plus a breathtaking view over of the city, some 70 meters above ground, replete with myriads of statues, pinnacles, tracery and flying buttresses. In order to get there, visitors have to traverse 201 stairs up through a winding narrow passageway, which is a bit tiring. Still, those who wish, can spare the effort and use an elevator.

Why You Should Visit:
Milan's one truly must-visit sight – a vast riot of ornate religious sculpture on the exterior, and the interior sublimely huge.

Tip:
Buy an online skip-the-line ticket that covers entry and access to the elevator.
The surrounding piazza comes at its finest at night when the cathedral's façade is lit by white lights.

Opening Hours:
[Cathedral] Daily: 8am-7pm (last ticket: 6pm; last entry: 6:10pm)
[Rooftops] Daily: 9am-7pm (last ticket: 6pm; last entry: 6:10pm)
2
Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Church of Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus)

2) Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Church of Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus)

The Santa Maria presso San Satiro (Saint Mary near Saint Satyrus) is a church commonly known as San Satiro. Located just south of the Duomo di Milano, this Italian Renaissance building is famous for its optically illusional, false apse – an early example of trompe-l'œil, attributed to Donato Bramante.

The church sits on the site of a primitive place of worship built by the archbishop Anspertus in 879, dedicated to Saint Satyrus, confessor and brother of Saints Ambrose and Marcellina. The current edifice was erected between 1472 and 1482, commissioned by Duchess Bona di Savoia and Duke Gian Galeazzo Sforza who wanted a huge temple although the available location was very small due to the presence of the busy Via Falcone behind. Many famous architects designing churches in those days had to deal with the extreme shortage of space.

In order to solve this problem, Bramante devised an ingenious solution by painting an optical illusion to compensate the choir truncated to an awkwardly small depth of only 90 cm (3.0 ft), and thus realized one of the first examples of trompe-l'œil in the history of art. Though architectural optical illusion was popular in the late Renaissance and Baroque, Bramante gave it an entirely new dimension. If you stand at the entrance, you will have an impression of a much deeper space of the altar, extending far behind than it is physically possible. Special lighting inside the church was used to help create this effect. The magic, however, quickly disappears when you step aside from the main axis of the church, and reappears again when you step back.

Why You Should Visit:
There aren't many places like this in Milan: small, half-hidden, and ready to reveal themselves only to those who know how to discover them.
Entry is free and photos are allowed, so you can easily have a look at the views of its interior. The perspective effect at the end is simply stunning.

Tip:
As in other churches in town, volunteers will offer you a short explanation about the history and art of the building, so be sure to take advantage.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-12pm / 2:30-6pm; Sun: 2-5:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Basilica of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence Church - Oldest Church in Milan)

3) Basilica of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence Church - Oldest Church in Milan)

Founded in the 4th century, Basilica of Saint Lawrence is the oldest church in Milan. Dedicated to Christian martyr St. Lawrence, it was among the largest church buildings in the Europe. Its foundations were laid with the huge blocks taken from other Roman sites and its interior was done is a unique manner with the lower half decorated with marble and the upper half adorned in mosaics.

The current Basilica of San Lorenzo was rebuilt in the 11th century. In the 16th century, it was redecorated and renovated. It has a dome and four towers and its structure is similar to that of Constantinople’s Hagia Sofia. Despite all the renovations, the church has retained the original Byzantine structure.

The church consists of an open central area surrounded by an ambulatory. The plan of the building is a quatrefoil with four semicircular recesses of two storey and five arches per recess. There is a separate gallery for female worshippers now disappeared to some extent. Baroque style was incorporated while reconstructing the original dome. Front of the church is lined with sixteen ancient Roman columns with the church retaining its original octagonal floor plan.

A copy of a statue of Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, stands elegantly outside the church. The great dome, the highest in Milan, is a 16th century addition. A coffin in the chapel contains the remains of Galla Placidia, sister of Honorius, last emperor of Rome and wife of Ataulf. Behind the altar, a staircase leads to a room that looks like a tomb. It contains the original foundations made from the materials taken from a Roman arena.

The Basilica of S. Lorenzo underwent several fires and renovations. But the basilica maintained many of the ancient structure's elements. A huge quadrangular hall was built by using the materials from the columns of a 2nd century building. Probably built at the beginning of the 5th century, it lies opposite to the Basilica. At present, the columns are all that remains of the monumental hall front.

The chapel has an octagonal structure and is considered to be the most magnificent among the existing octagonal buildings of the Romans. The most precious treasure is represented by the bits and pieces of mosaics once used in decorating the whole place. The Basilica's style has an elementary role in western history of art and architecture, and has been reproduced many times.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose Church)

4) Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose Church)

The Church of Sant' Ambrogio is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. It is considered to be one of the most ancient churches in Italy and one of the most historically interesting medieval buildings in Lombardy. The church was named after St. Ambrose who consecrated it in 386. When he died in 397, he was buried beside the bodies of St. Gervase and St. Protasius buried inside the Church.

Originally the church was known as Basilica Martyrum. It was a small three-aisled, transept-less church and was situated in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. The church was damaged in the August 1943 bombings. Architect Ferdinando Reggiori restored the building to its original form in the first half of the 12th century.

Like many Lombard churches, this one is also made of brick; the clay in this region fires to a deep red. The Old Monk's Tower dated to the 10th century whereas the Canon's Tower dated back to the 12th century. Lombard churches are also characterized by the presence of huge gable over the nave and by a tall square belfry. 

Why You Should Visit:
The impressive architecture is best to be seen from afar and you won't be disappointed at entering. You won't find fancy, elaborate gilded decorations but will be able to see 6th-century columns, a 4th-century mosaic, a 10-century ciborium, medieval statues, Renaissance frescoes and a magnificent golden altar from the year 835.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-12:30pm / 2:30-6pm; Sun: 3-5pm
Free admission
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore (Church of St. Maurice in Major Monastery)

5) San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore (Church of St. Maurice in Major Monastery) (must see)

San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is an old church that dates back to 1503. The church is often called "Sistine Chapel of Milan" due to its stunningly beautiful interior paintings. Literally, everywhere you look is covered with artwork.

The church was originally attached to the most important female convent of the Benedictines in the city, Monastero Maggiore, which is now in use as the Civic Archaeological Museum. The church today is used every Sunday from October to June to celebrate in the Byzantine Rite, in Greek according to the Italo-Albanian tradition. It is also used as concert hall.

The complex was founded in Lombard times, partially re-using ancient Roman edifices. Of these there remain a polygonal tower, a relic of the ancient Maximian walls, and a square one, originally part of the lost Hippodrome and later adopted as the church's bell tower. The monastery is now home to Milan's Archaeological Museum.

The construction began in 1503 under design of Gian Giacomo Dolcebuono in collaboration with Giovanni Antonio Amadeo. The edifice was finished fifteen years later by Cristoforo Solari, divided into two parts: one for the faithful, one for the nuns. Until 1794 the latter were strongly forbidden to cross the dividing wall.

The most important artwork of the church is the cycle of frescoes from the 16th century covering the walls. The dividing wall has frescoes depicting the Life of San Maurizio by Bernardino Luini which flank an altarpiece with an Adoration of the Magi by Antonio Campi. The chapels in the faithful's area are by Aurelio Luini, son of Bernardino, and his brothers. The counterfaçade has a fresco by Simone Peterzano (1573). In the right side Bernardino Luini also frescoed the Chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria (1530). Frescos are also influed by Forlivese school of art (Melozzo da Forlì and Marco Palmezzano).

If you love religious art, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is a must-see on your Milan itinerary.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Santa Maria delle Grazie Church, "The Last Supper" Fresco

6) Santa Maria delle Grazie Church, "The Last Supper" Fresco (must see)

Santa Maria delle Grazie (the Church of Holy Mary of Grace) is a world-famous church and Dominican convent in Milan, included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. The Duke of Milan, Francesco I Sforza, ordered the building of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the 15th century. The design of its apse has been attributed to Donato Bramante, who at that time was in the service of the Duchy. While adhering to the overall Gothic style of the convent, he added some Romanesque touches as well.

The church is primarily famous for the mural of The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo Vinciano) found in the refectory of the convent. Created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza and the Duchess, this 15th-century wall painting was made on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster, and, thus, is not truly a fresco. A fresco cannot be altered as the artist works; therefore, Leonardo decided to paint on the stone wall and then cover it with a sealing layer. The work began to deteriorate a few years after he had finished it. Two early copies of "The Last Supper", thought to be the work of Leonardo's assistant, still exist.

During World War II, on the night of 15 August 1943, an allied aerial bombardment hit the church and the convent. Much of the refectory was destroyed, but some walls survived, including the one holding "The Last Supper", which had been sand-bagged for protection. The preservation works continuously done ever since, and hopefully in the future, are believed to maintain this painting intact for many centuries to come.

Why You Should Visit:
Viewing "The Last Supper" in its own setting will make you feel more appreciative of the single point linear perspective and the 3D effect so cleverly used by Da Vinci.

Tip:
To view "The Last Supper", make sure to book your tickets well in advance on the official website, as they are usually sold out within at least two weeks prior to the sought date.

Opening Hours:
Daily (exc. Sundays & Holidays): 10am-12:20pm / 3*-5:30pm (* in July at 3:30)
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Milan, Italy

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City Center Museums and Galleries

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Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpieces

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles

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