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

Menny Levinski (5 months ago)
Magnificent historical castle downtown Milan. It's huge and clean, surrounded by beautiful gardens. Suites for hiking and woundering around, taking photos. There are no restaurants inside the perimeter, bring your own food & drink.
erez melamed (5 months ago)
This castle is one of the most, if not the most, impressive and beautiful fortresses / castles I've been in. A real must seen! The size, built ornaments, towers, walls, ditch - all are great sights. And there are multiple museums inside... With the triumfh arch and beautiful garden near by, this can fill half a day of great sight seeing.
Bogdan Marcelan (6 months ago)
I was happy to take the time with my family and we saw all the attractions inside the castle. There are a lot of them. Of particular interest is the work said to be Leonardo. I wasn't allowed to record that either. Other things are also interesting. The castle is a bit dark from the outside.
Aisha Ali (6 months ago)
Been to Milan before, but only pictured this beauty from the outside as it was night. This time, I arrived early in the morning to visit this historical beauty (which proved to be a good idea as the hot weather still hasn’t set in). The castle is a must visit to anyone in the area for its historical significance. One thing to note is, if you are traveling by car, make sure to know your parking areas beforehand as you might face trouble finding a place to park! fun travels!
Vin Chenzo (7 months ago)
Such an amazing structure with a lot of history. It is free to visit and was not busy at all on a Saturday July afternoon. There is a tourist information point to get leaflets in multiple languages about the castle and the park next to it is beautiful too. This is definitely worth a visit if you are coming to Milan.
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