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Milan - History

Milan History

Discerning couture consumers flock to the via Monte Napoleone

Milan is said to have been founded by Celtic tribes, who settled along the Po river in the 7th century BC. In 222 BC, Roman legions marched into the territory, defeated the locals and occupied the town, which they called Mediolanum (middle of the plain). The city's key position on the trade routes linking Rome with northwestern Europe ensured its continued prosperity, and it was here in 313 AD that Constantine I made his momentous edict granting Christians freedom of worship.

The city endured centuries of chaos caused by waves of barbarian invasions. It formed a commune (town council) in the 11th century, leading the city into a period of rapid growth. Perhaps because of this success, the city did not get along well with its neighbors.

The Holy Roman emperor, Frederick I (Barbarossa), decided to exploit the local conflicts, and attacked Milan in 1162. The surrounding towns, galvanized by a common and annoying enemy, banded together as the Lega Lombarda, kicking Frederick to the curb in 1176.

From the mid-13th century, the city was governed by a succession of important families: the Torrianis, the Viscontis and the Sforzas. Under the latter dynasties, Milan enjoyed considerable wealth and power. The city came under Spanish rule in 1535 and was given to Austria in 1713 as part of the Treaty of Utrecht. Austrian power-broker Maria Theresa left her mark on the city; the facades of La Scala and the Palazzo Real remain her favorite shade of yellow. Napoleon made Milan the capital of his Cisalpine Republic in 1797 and his Italian Republic five years later. It hosted his coronation as King of Italy in 1805.

Austria regained control of the city from 1814-1859. It wasn't long before troops under Victor Emmanuel II and Napoleon III wiped up the Austrian forces at the Battle of Magenta. Milan was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.

During WWII central Milan was heavily bombed, and the opera house in particular was blown to smithereens. Fittingly, Mussolini's career also ended in Milan - his corpse was hung upside down from the roof of a petrol station on Piazzale Loreto after he was shot trying to flee the country.

The post-war industrial boom - led by car manufacturing - and greater access to northern Europe via the new Alpine tunnels led to a spurt of growth accompanied by industrial unrest. The Red Brigades terrorised Milan and other centres of industry throughout the 1970s. In the 1990s, local political elites were torn apart by kickback scandals that went to the top of the region's political, administrative and commercial elites. Extremist parties such as the nationalist Lega Nord benefitted from the resultant political vacuum.

Organised crime continues to be the perpetual scourge of Milanese civic life. In January 1999, nine people were murdered in nine consecutive days, prompting the Milanese mayor to adopt a New York-style 'zero tolerance' policy. It did little to discourage the criminals - in December 2000, a bomb was discovered on the roof of Milan's Duomo.

In 2002, a small plane crashed into the 25th floor of the city's 30-storey Pirelli skyscraper building, killing two lawyers inside.

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