Sforza Castle

Milan, Italy

Sforza Castle was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remnants of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Extensively rebuilt by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city's museums and art collections.

History

The original construction was ordered by local lord Galeazzo II Visconti in 1358–c. 1370. His successors Gian Galeazzo, Giovanni Maria and Filippo Maria Visconti enlarged it, until it became a square-plan castle with 200 m-long sides, four towers at the corners and up to 7-metre-thick walls. The castle was the main residence in the city of its Visconti lords, and was destroyed by the short-lived Golden Ambrosian Republic which ousted them in 1447.

In 1450, Francesco Sforza, once he shattered the republicans, began reconstruction of the castle to turn it into his princely residence. In 1452 he hired sculptor and architect Filarete to design and decorate the central tower, which is still known as Torre del Filarete. After Francesco's death, the construction was continued by his son Galeazzo Maria, under architect Benedetto Ferrini. The decoration was executed by local painters. In 1476, during the regency of Bona of Savoy, the tower with her name was built.

In 1494 Ludovico Sforza became lord of Milan, and called numerous artists to decorate the castle. These include Leonardo da Vinci (who frescoed several rooms, in collaboration with Bernardino Zenale and Bernardino Butinone) and Bramante. In the following years, however, the castle was damaged by assaults from Italian, French and German troops; a bastion, known as tenaglia was added, perhaps designed by Cesare Cesariano. After the French victory in the 1515 Battle of Marignano, the defeated Maximilian Sforza, his Swiss mercenaries, and the cardinal-bishop of Sion retreated into the castle. However, King Francis I of France followed them into Milan, and his sappers placed mines under the castle's foundations, whereupon the defenders capitulated. In 1521, in a period in which it was used as a weapons depot, the Torre del Filarete exploded. When Francesco II Sforza returned briefly to power in Milan, he had the fortress restored and enlarged, and a part of it adapted as residence for his wife, Christina of Denmark.

Under the Spanish domination which followed, the castle became a citadel, as the governor's seat was moved to the Ducal Palace (1535). Its garrison varied from 1,000 to 3,000 men, led by a Spanish castellan. In 1550 works began to adapt the castle to modern fortification style, as a hexagonal star fort, following the addition of 12 bastions. The castle remained in use as a fort also after the Spaniards were replaced by the Austrians in Lombardy.

Most of the outer fortifications were demolished during the period of Napoleonic rule in Milan under the Cisalpine Republic. The semi-circular Piazza Castello was constructed around the city side of the castle, surrounded by a radial street layout of new urban blocks bounded by the Foro Buonoparte. 

After the unification of Italy in the 19th century, the castle was transferred from military use to the city of Milan. Parco Sempione, one of the largest parks in the city, was created on the former parade grounds.

The government of Milan undertook restoration works, directed by Luca Beltrami. The central tower, known as the Torre Filarete, above the main city entrance was rebuilt, on the basis of 16th-century drawings, between 1900 and 1905 as a monument to King Umberto I.

Allied bombardment of Milan in 1943 during World War II severely damaged the castle.

Museums

The Castello complex includes several museums, some of the described below.

Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco is an art collection which includes Andrea Mantegna's Trivulzio Madonna and masterpieces by Canaletto, Tiepolo, Vincenzo Foppa, Titian and Tintoretto.

The Museo d'Arte Antica has a large collection of sculpture from the late antiquity, Mediaeval and Renaissance periods. The various frescoed rooms of the museum house an armoury, a tapestry room, some funerary monuments, the Rondanini Pietà and two mediaeval portals.

Egyptian Museum hosts a mummy dating from the Greco-Roman period, from Thebes, and Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi are exposed in the mummies, sarcophagi and funerary mask section, while some papyri of the Book of the Dead are exposed in the Funerary Cult section.

Museum of Musical Instruments of Milan exhibits over 700 musical instruments from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries with particular attention to Lombard instruments.

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Details

Founded: 14th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in Italy

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Sherry Jiang (12 months ago)
Great museum! It’s well worth the price (5for full price). Fantastic sculptures, icons, paintings and furnitures. Saw some of the most exotic music instruments in my life.
Jon Vick (12 months ago)
This was a picturesque Castle in the middle of a lovely, large park. Unfortunately we went on a Monday and so the museums (which seemed like they would be very interesting) were closed but we had an incredibly enjoyable time nonetheless. This is an oasis of calm and history in the centre of Milan. Beautiful and we would strongly recommend a visit.
Lucia (12 months ago)
Nice and interesting place. Here you can find museums and art gallery where different exhibitions take place. There is a good ice-cream kiosk by the entrance, so don't miss to try the dessert)) The entrance is free but you must take tickets for museums and galleries. Behind the castle a beautiful park is.
Liz Ruddy (12 months ago)
Amazing. Clean. Relaxing. Great place for family or couples. Be careful of people trying to put you little bracelets on you. After you say no but they tie it on your wrist they ask for money. I suspect they are also good pickpockets. Keep your items close to you. Just keep walking.
Ben L-P (12 months ago)
More than meets the eye. The courtyard is amazing and the rich history is well explained there. Didn't have enough time to visit the museums but there were several housed in the palace itself that are likely worth a visit too!
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