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Royal Palace of Milan

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Royal Palace of Milan

Palazzo Reale and the square in front as seen from the roof of the Duomo, among the marble spire

The Royal Palace of Milan (Italian: Palazzo Reale di Milano) was the seat of government of the Italian city of Milan for many centuries, but today is an important cultural centre, home to expositions and exhibitions.

Originally designed with a system of two yards, then partially demolished to make way for the Duomo, the palace is located to the right of the facade of the cathedral in the opposite position with respect to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. The facade of the building, following the line of the ancient courtyard, forming a recess with respect to Piazza del Duomo, known as the Piazzetta Reale (English: Small Royal square).

Of particular importance is to remember the Hall of Caryatids on the first floor of the building, which occupies the site of the old theatre burned in 1776 and is the only environment survived the heavy bombing of the 1943 when it lost the neoclassical interiors.



The royal palace has ancient origins. It was first called the Palazzo Vecchio Broletto and was the seat of city's government during the period of medieval communes in the Middle Ages.

The palace became a key political centre during the rules of the Torriani, Visconti and Sforza households. After the construction of the Cathedral, there was an important renovation under the government of Francesco Sforza.

16th century

Between the late 15th and early 16th centuries, with the fall of the Sforza governments and the French invasion, the Castello Sforzesco, which until then was the official residence of the Dukes of Milan had become increasingly more a fortress suited for weapons. It was under French rule of Louis XII before and of François I, which proceeded to move the seat of the court to the current Royal Palace.

It is thanks to the arrival of the Governor Ferrante Gonzaga in Milan, who took permanent residence in the city from 1546, that the building flourished, elevating the ducal court to a true palace and governor's residence in Milan. The Gonzaga were the first to inaugurate the work to complete the rooms of the complex.

To pursue these projects, we know that the Gonzaga governor demolished the old church of Sant'Andrea al Muro Rotto, annexing the land area of the building, while an interior road and enclosed courtyard leading from the church of San Gottardo.

New renovations of the building were chosen at the end of the 16th century with the arrival of Governor Antonio de Guzman y Zuniga, Marquis of Ayamonte, who was able to recruit Pellegrino Tibaldi, the architect for the archbishop Charles Borromeo, already engaged in the work of the Duomo in the archbishop's palace and the courtyard of the royalties. Tibaldi worked on the construction of the building from 1573 in 1598 and it was in these years which the pictorial decoration of the apartments noble porticos, of the private chapel and the church of San Gottardo was rebuilt. Several major artists of the time undertook this task, including Aurelio Luini, Ambrose Figino, Antonio Fields and naturally Pellegrino Tibaldi himself, while other stucco and grotesque works were built by Valerio Profondavalle, a Flemish artist-impresario who had also produced some windows for the Duomo of Milan.

This was the era when the first Court Theater was completed, the beginning of a long process that ended only in the 18th century with the final construction of La Scala.

17th and 18th centuries

Portrait of Maria Theresa of Austria made by Anton von Maron and kept in the Palazzo Reale in representation of the importance of its role for the city of Milan

On 24-25 January, 1695, a fire destroyed the Court theater. Reconstruction and expansion of a new ducal theater did not begun until 26 April, 1717, when Milan, now part of the Austrian Monarchy as a result of the War of Spanish Succession, received its first Austrian governor, the Count of Loewenstein. The new theater was larger, with four tiers of boxes and a gallery, in the shape of a horseshoe. The design was commissioned from Francesco Galli Bibbiena, who employed his pupils Giandomenico Barbieri and Domenico Valmagini. The completed theater was inaugurated on 26 December, 1717 with the opera Constantino by Gasparini. At that time, the theater sported an adjacent Riddotino for gambling and drinking.

A second fire damaged the ceremonial halls of the palace in 1723. Then Austrian magistrate, Wirich Philipp von Daun, commissioned restorations, updating the wings of the Cortile d'Onore (Honor Courtyard) in a livelier style, whitewashing walls and framing the windows with baroque frames designed by Carlo Rinaldi. The church of San Gottardo was rebuilt in a baroque style and is now renamed the Royal Ducal Chapel.

The cortile d'onore wings housed the chancellery, magistrate and accounting offices, the mint, and other government offices. The governor and the Privy council met in new rooms built at the north side of the garden. The piano nobile was restored, including the Salone dei Festine and the Salone di Audienzia (now Hall of Emperors). The Governor was housed in the northern and southern wings of the courtyard.

In 1745, Gian Luca Pallavicini became governor and minister plenipotentiary of Milan. At his expense, he refurbished the interior with new furniture and decorations, employing architect Francesco Croce, active with the Cathedral Workshop. Croce commissioned tapestries reproducing Raphael works from the Gobelins factories. The halls of Festini and Audienzia were fused to create the present larger ballroom called Hall of the Caryatids with boxes built to hold an orchestra. Pallavacini also commissioned a salon for gala dinners. When Pallavacini left in 1752, he sold his furniture and decor to the state.

Reconstruction by Piermarini

Piermarini 18th century Facade.

The Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este, a son of Maria Theresa of Austria married Maria Beatrice d'Este in Milan in 1771. For their wedding, Ascanio in Alba by Mozart was staged in the palace. Mozart almost gained an appointment in the Milan court. Maria Beatrice was the heir for the Duchy of Modena and Reggio, and the young archduke was named governor of the Duchy of Milan, and a decade later of Lombardy. Ferdinand had hoped to build a new palace, but settled on increasing the rooms forming part of the Royal residence, but moving many of the administrative offices.

The neoclassical grand staircase of the building

Rebuilding in 1773 was directed by Giuseppe Piermarini, in collaboration with the Viennese Leopold Pollack. Piermarini lifted the side of the courtyard to the Cathedral, with the other three, creating the Royal Piazetta, and it geometric design on the pavement, then the largest square of the Cathedral. The renovation had to balance the demands of the archduke and the financial limitations imposed by Vienna. Piermarini constructed the present neoclassical facade.

Fire struck again, destroying the Court Theater on February 26, 1776. This time the fire-prone Court Theater was built elsewhere, now Teatro Alla Scala, which became one of, if not the first public opera houses. A smaller court theater, now Lyric theater, was built at the site of a demolished school.

The interior underwent transformations. The largest-scale enterprise is undoubtedly represented by the famous Hall of Caryatids. Is simultaneously restored the ducal chapel of St. Gotthard getting a new altar and decoration inerna neoclassical style. It is saved only the bell tower, considered a model of architectural beauty of the idea of the time of Azzone Visconti.

Archduke ordered more Gobelin tapestries with the stories of Jason and those of Raphael Pallavicini. The rooms are decorated in stucco by 'Albertolli, frescoed by Julian Traballesi and Martin Knoller, a cycle of works that will end only in the 19th century due to the intervention of Andrea Appiani before and Francesco Hayez then.

Piermarini tasks officially ended on 17 June 1778, when the Archduke moved back into the new Palazzo Reale.

Napoleonic era and restoration

One of the paintings commissioned commemorative Andrea Appiani for Palazzo Reale in Milan depicting the triumph of Napoleon, shown above in the style of the era as an emperor Roman

In 1796, French rulers, specifically Napoleon Bonaparte occupied and ruled Lombardy for nearly two decades. The Palace was renamed the National Palace and became the seat of the main governing bodies of the new republic, namely the military command, first and then the Directory. When the Austro-Russians regain control of Milan in 1799, the French government hastily sold most of the furnishings of the building at auction as well as allowing the looting of other halls of the population.

It will only be in 1805 that the building will again rise, inter alia, reaching its peak of splendor. It would indeed be in the same year that Milan will become the capital of the newborn Kingdom of Italy consisting of Napoleon's adopted son Eugène de Beauharnais who was appointed Viceroy and take residence right in Milan's Palazzo Reale. Milan is the capital of a vast kingdom that includes all of northern Italy and as such also the home of the new government needs to be worthy of this privilege.

It is therefore repair damage caused by war and purchase new furnishings and lavish the same Eugène de Beauharnais about enlargement of the building at the rear thanks to a project entrusted to Luigi Canonica, which adds to the entire block now occupied by the council offices where they are fitted to the new stables, a large riding school and many local offices, all in austere neo-classical style (the project was completed years later by Tazzini that was also the author of the facade on Via Larga) from handling, known as "The Lady Knight" and the place of horse shows, was entered through a bridge on the court theater Restrelli (theatre Cannobiana) to Andrea Appiani was given the completion of the frescoes in the halls of representation that will be opened the 8th of May 1805 during an official visit to Napoleon at Milan.

With the fall of Napoleon in 1814, the kingdom of Italy in Milan toppled the huge palace begins a slight loss of importance, immediately recovered with the restoration. Under the Austrians, was formed on Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia and as such the Palazzo Reale in Milan will serve as the seat of the new viceroy of a wide realm. Adelaide, Queen of Sardinia was born here in 1822.

The building era and loss of the Hall of Cariatidi

The festivities for receipt of Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany Cariatidi held in the Hall of the Palazzo Reale in Milan on 17 October 1875. This is one of the rare images where you can see how the Hall of Caryatids was to appear before its destruction by fire in 15 August 1943.
The Emperor's room in 1875

With the annexation of Lombardy to Piedmont domains in 1859, the palace became the seat of the new governorship of the city of Milan, led by Massimo d'Azeglio who start up the 13 February 1860 to leave his post later that year. With the proclamation of the kingdom of Italy in the 1861, the palace became the property directly from the Savoy family, but they tended to stay there very little since Milan was no longer the capital of a kingdom. Umberto I, resided mainly in the Villa Reale di Monza and how this little trodden ground of Milan and after his assassination in 1900 the son Vittorio Emanuele III will tend to stay away from hot environments Milan. The last official receipt dates back to 1906 for the Universal Exhibition.

In 1919 the last official visit to the palace was that of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who was welcomed in Milan by Victor Emmanuel III of Savoy. On October 11 of that same year, the palace was sold by the House of Savoy to the Italian state, however, on the condition that the apartments remain available to the royal family.

With the sale to the public land Averre the second massacre at the palace Piermarini. The first was the case in the creation of the new Piazza del Duomo, when it shortened the sleeves east of the palace is spoiling the proportions of the palace square. Second havoc, aveviene neglianni '30, when is shortened by at least another 60 metres, the so-called "long sleeves" to build the Arengario. This has definitely ruined beauty of the building, linked largely to the proportional relationships between the bodies. Same goes for the square. Other destruction of 1925 included demolishing the works of Canonica and Tazzini to build the municipal offices.

The whole building was heavily damaged during the night of 15 August 1943 when the city was hit by a bombardment English against the Nazi occupiers. In fact the bombs were not directly hit the building, but it was destroyed by fire unleashed in neighbouring buildings that erode the attic of the Hall of Cariatidi, burning the wood warping and causing the collapse of large trusses that in their fall overwhelm the time, the balcony and split in several places and the floor. The high temperature in the room overheated unleashed stucco and turned the color and the constituent material, permanently ruining the famous hall, including Appiani paintings that were kept.

Will be after the war in 1947 that the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage will give the start to the work of recovery of the building and specifically the Hall of Caryatids. It is thus achieved a new flooring and a new roof of the hall floor, without the reconstruction of earlier decorations (of which, however, has ample documentation) in the choice of leaving a testimony of the war in Milan.

The room repurchases great reputation from 1953 when, in a show of Picasso in Milan, the Spanish artist chooses it as the venue to welcome his work, Guernica, with a clear symbolic purpose.

Only from 2000, moreover, the room has regained the actual former glory with a very careful restoration that has removed the blackening on the walls caused by the fire of the 1943 and ordered consolidating all surfaces (structural and painting). On the cover of the ceiling, previously white, have been reported to drawing sketches of how the ceiling of the room had to appear before the collapse.

The Museum of the Palace

Only at the beginning of 21st century, more than fifty years after destruction during the war, is the Royal Palace finding a central role in the social and cultural life of Milan. Although still under the third stage of restoration, which will return the entire building to its former glory, the first two stages have been completed. This allows visitors the chance to admire the halls of the Palace Museum with an itinerary through the four seasons of the historic Palazzo: the era Teresiana and Neoclassical, the Napoleonic era, the Restoration and the Unification of Italy.

The restoration took place through a complex task of reconstruction of the original furniture to allow a wider and more articulate historical and stylistic reading of court life. The first visible halls belonging to the neoclassical period, with reconstruction ranging from Giuseppe Piermarini to Napoleonic times, are those that best explain the splendor of the "enlightened" era, in which the city had a major role in Europe. The third phase of restoration, still in progress, will return to the museum rooms of the old apartmentreserve, in which the royal ways of living of the 19th century are documented and maintained.

Cultural centre

The Royal Palace is a cultural centre in the heart of the city coordinated with three other exhibition venues: the Rotonda della Besana, the Palazzo Region and Palazzo dell'Arengario.

The building played an important role with regard to art in Milan, as shown by the great success of the exhibition of recent years that have included Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and other painters and sculptors. Fundamental is the exhibition opened at the Palazzo Reale in 2009 on the centenary of the birth of Futurism.

Since November 4th,2013 the collection of the Great Museum of the Duomo of Milan (Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano in Italian) is is shown to the pubblic in a wing of the Palace. [1]


  1. ^


  • Melano, Oscar Pedro Milano di terracotta e mattoni, Mazzotta, 2002.

External links

  • Comune di Milano - Palazzo Reale

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