You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
On the festive Via Fiori Chiari, we're just left the Brera Art Gallery in Milan and are making our way about 500m along to pay another visit to the Sforza Castle, or Castello Sforzesco. It's still 23 February 2018.
There's lots more to see in Milan, no doubt, but with one thing or another, every time we end up visiting just the Brera, the Sforza Castle, maybe the Cathedral and/or the odd special exhibition. By which time, we're exhausted.
Usually we stay outside the city (like in Orta) and come in for the afternoon, no time for ample explorations, but once we stayed downtown in the King Mokinba Hotel and got treated to a rainy demonstration by 200,000 worthy citizens against Berlusconi.
A grim day in Milan, with colorful trams
Castello Sforzesco, by the side entrance. The fortress here was first ordered up by Galeazzo II Visconti in 1368, and enlarged by his Visconti successors to its present size, a huge square 180m on each side, but when, on the death without male heirs of the third Duke of Milan the awful Filippo Maria Visconti in 1447, the republican old guard, with the help of the law school of the University of Padua and the professional soldier Francesco Sforza, the Duke's son-in-law, set up the Golden Ambrosian Republic and destroyed the Viscontis' fortress. ('Ambrosian' alludes to St Ambrose, the 4th century Bishop of Milan and patron saint of the city.)
Oh good, the drawbridge is up. The next few years were a mess. As the citizens broke into angry Guelph and Ghibelline factions, Sforza led the army in resisting Venice's capitalizing on the situation (Pavia, Lodi, and Piacenza immediately went over to the Venetians) -- when Venetians besieged Cremona, Sforza's wife Bianca Maria Visconti led the defenses until Francesco could relieve the city; he regained Pavia quickly, took Caravaggio by siege, besieged Brescia, etc., and the Milanese leaders began to fear him more than they did their enemies. They betrayed Sforza, hired more mercenaries against him, and fell to violence amongst themselves, so Sforza made a deal with the Venetians and kept his army on the move.
Next, however, the Venetians began to fear Sforza, too, and they betrayed him as well, so he defeated a Venetian force under Sigismondo Malatesta and set about starving Milan into submission. Finally in February 1450, after an internal coup, Milan opened its gates, the populace with whom Sforza had become popular by his chivalric behavior welcomed him, he accepted Milan's terms and set about distributing free food to the people. In March, he declared himself the new Duke of Milan (in right of his wife), pardoned his enemies amongst the locals, and, with Florence, continued the war against Venice and the Kingdom of Naples that only ended with the Treaty of Lodi in 1454. He was recognized as de facto Duke by the other powers, though the title wasn't confirmed by the Emperor until 1494 for the third Sforza Duke.
This is called the Filarete Tower, designed by Antonio Averulino, called il Filarete, in 1452 -- alas, the original collapsed in 1521, and this is a copy faithful to the original design made by Luca Beltrami and christened in 1905. As early as 1452, Francesco Sforza began building an impressive new fortress, assuring the nervous populace that it was intended only enhance Milan's prestige with a fine new ducal residence and to defend against external enemies. (See the Castle's official website on the history of the place.)
In 1468, Francesco's son, Galeazzo Maria the 5th Duke, and his wife Bona of Savoy, took up residence in the castle and continued the work, completing the Rocchetta Keep soon after. Galeazzo Maria was a jerk and got himself assassinated in 1476, and his wife Bona acted as regent for her son Giangaleazzo Maria whilst Francesco's younger son, Ludovico il Moro ('the Moor') sought real power; the Duchess had the keep built that is named after her and holed up in it with her son, until Ludovico sent her into exile, declared himself the boy's regent, and set about turning the castle into a fine palace, employing some of the best help around, including Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante.
The two huge round towers were built for Francesco Sforza in 1452, but the square tower on the right, called the Bona Tower, was fortified by the regent Bona of Savoy so that she could keep watch over the whole fortress complex and bolt the door as needed on Ludovico il Moro and his friends.
Becoming the Duke himself in 1494, and getting that officially confirmed by the Emperor Maximilian I, Ludovico made a big mistake by inviting the French to come to Italy and take his side in regional disputes. The French came, under Charles XIII, swarming over Pisa, Florence, Rome, and sacking Naples before pulling back to France. His successor Louis XII, however, decided in 1499 to have another go, but this time went for Milan, to which France had a century-old claim, and threw Ludovico il Moro out.
Milan remained in play until the young French king Francis I won a battle in 1515, but then lost one at Pavia in 1525, and the city and territory passed into the control of the Habsburgs' Holy Roman Empire, first under the Spanish branch, and after 1706 under the Austrian branch, until Napoleon arrived in 1796. Under the Spanish administration, the fortress became more and more of a solely military character, and the residential and courtly functions gravitated to the Ducal or Royal Palace near the Duomo.
The look of the castle evolved, too, as it was used primarily as a barracks, and the architecture of the star-shaped bastion fort (often called the trace Italienne) of the age of artillery replaced the late medieval model.
It's time to go see some of the art.
These are the Lombard rooms, with works from the Lombard period (late 6th to late 8th centuries, with influences extending far longer) -- that's a king's elaborate sarcophagus.
The leaders of the original Lombard invaders, in 568, were Aryan Christians, but they converted gradually and by 700 were more or less Roman Catholics, politically at least. Their followers were likely still hanging onto the Scandinavian traditions.
Kristin, obliging the photographer in recalling a familiar scene from some years ago
The 'Thunderbolt of Italy' -- meet Gaston de Foix, Duke of Nemours, who inherited command of the French armies in northern Italy in May 1511, in the War of the League of Cambrai, and promptly energized his forces, drove the Spanish out of their siege of Bologna, dashed up to defeat the Venetian army and take Brescia, and brilliantly defeated the Spanish with their German mercenaries at the Battle of Ravenna in April 1512, but got shot dead in the process. He was 22 when he died.
Handsome chap (probably insufferable in light conversation)
Gaston's sarcophagus and scenes of his battles, commissioned by the French rulers in Milan to Agostino Busti in 1517, were never assembled properly because of rapidly changing perceptions of who was in charge where at the time.
The gate leading out the back of the castle into the vast Parco Sempione
The courtyard of the Roccheta Keep, that is, the 'fortress within the fortress'
A carved-wood Mary Magdalene by Giovanni Angelo del Maino, ca. 1525 (We collect Mary Magdalenes.)
St John, Mary, and Magdalene from a carved wooden tableau attributed to the Maestro del Compianti, Master of the Mourned, ca. 1515. The pose of Mary Magdalene, for a standard Crucifixion scene, is priceless.
Through the decorative arts museum
A Mechanical Satan -- turn the crank and watch out! Perhaps suitable for a sardonic exhibition loan to the atrium of the US congressional building.
A cute cassettone or chest of drawers, 18th or 19th century, with lots of heads on it.
The courtyard in the Roccheta Keep, the part of the castello facing out towards the park, as we're wending towards the exits
Four gentlemen are crossing the courtyard in berets wearing what might be called 'camouflage' except that they're in the middle of a tourist attraction and stand out a lot, and carrying submachine guns with (at least in one case) the finger inside the trigger guard, which doesn't sound like a good idea at all.
A drawing of the Sforza Castle in the days of the bastions and ravelins.
Out the front gate, facing the Piazza Castello. We need to thank mainly Luca Beltrami, who led the careful restorations, 1891–1905, after years of Austrian abuse, and to those who carried out the repairs after the British and Americans bombed the daylights out of the place in 1943.
A parting look at the Filarete Tower à la Beltrami
Back home to Lodi in the rain
Next: A brisk walk round Crema