History of Milan
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Milan's history is
a story of wealth, intrigue and conflict. Throughout its
existence, Milan has known failure and incredible success and
has faced both with a spirit and verve that makes this city one
of the most famous in the world.
The first known inhabitants of Milan date back to the Bronze Age;
the Gauls settled here in the 4th century B.C. and may have
given the area the name place in the middle. The magnificent
Romans conquered ' Mediolanum' at the beginning of the 3rd
century B.C. and it became an autonomous province (Municipium)
under the control of Rome. Its importance grew considerably
during the Imperial Age. Thanks to its geographical position at
the centre of the Padana Plain, merchants and travellers would
stop here en-route to the north of the Italian Peninsula, and
the city became an important military defence against the
blood-thirsty Barbarians who attacked from northern Europe.
Milan was significant enough to become an Imperial residence in
the 3rd century A.D. and halfway through the 4th century it
became the most powerful city in Europe, after Rome.
Christianity spread rapidly in the city, and Milan became one of
the most important centres of the Christian faith. Traces of the
Roman Empire can be found in places such as Piazza Cordusio.
Although Milan became less important as the Roman Empire
declined and suffered an invasion by the Longobards in the 4th
century, its rebirth began with Carolingian rule in the 8th
century A.D. and the city went from strength to strength. Milan
became an autonomous city and an increase in trade helped
enormously. As a result of Milan's wealth, importance and
expansion, a new wall with six gateways was built and some of
these gates are still visible today. The city acquired a canal
system, which was destined for defensive and agricultural
purposes. The birth of this Navigli (Canal) system still defines
the city's physiognomy today.
In the 15th century, power passed from the Visconti signoria to
the Sforza signoria. The economy boomed, especially in terms of
crafts, trade and agriculture. Architectural additions at this
time include the Ospedale Maggiore (today the seat of the State
University), the Lazzaretto (which holds the Rotonda della
Besana and which is an open air cinema in the summer), and
Castello Sforzesco, a listed building which exhibits works by
Bramante and Filarete.
Prosperity can often bring jealousy and conflict; Milan found
itself at the centre of continuous battles between France and
the Austrian House of Hapsburg. The Sforza family came and went,
and the city was finally reduced to a province under Spanish
rule. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Black Death
greatly reduced the population and threw the city into economic
decline. The architectural highlight of this century was the
construction of the Spanish Walls, which today surround Milan's
At the beginning of the 18th century, control of the city passed
from the Spanish to the House of Hapsburg. Milan began a new
phase of expansion, characterized by fiscal and ecclesiastic
reform, which culminated in exceptionally rich cultural activity
around 1770. Milan fell under Napoleon Bonaparte's control, and
the population boomed. It became the capital of the Cisalpine
Republic and reaffirmed its cultural and economic importance. As
part of Napoleon's architectural and urbanization plans the
"cerchia dei bastoni" ring road was built around the historic
centre. Other new roads were also built following Paris' system;
these are still used today.
The Austrians again took control of Milan in the 19th century.
Neither the educated middle classes nor the lower classes were
happy about Austrian rule and in 1848 there was a popular
insurrection, which ended with much bloodshed. The Kingdom of
Italy was proclaimed in 1861.
A great deal of the city centre dates back to the beginning of
the 20th century, when many areas were redesigned and rebuilt
the city is filled with Fascist minimalist houses in impressive
tree-lined avenues; workers' houses and dormitory districts ,
which were immense apartment blocks with no real shops or
services nearby - these estates soon fell into disrepair.
Fortunately, Milan is being transformed from an ugly duckling
into a beautiful swan! Economic revival has made it a rich and
interesting city. The "moral capital" of Italy is very different
from all the artistic cities dotted around the country. It is
the centre of economic activity in Italy; the country's Stock
Exchange is based here. Milan's fame is also boosted by its role
in the world of fashion, by the presence of many industries, its
high-tech service sector, and its cultural innovation. Most of
Italy's press are situated here. One of the major TV networks -
the largest private network in Italy - has its headquarters at
the gates of Milan.
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