From the inner courtyards of the marvellous Liberty villas to the sites that bear witness to the rich history Milan never ceases to surprise. A Secret Milan, a Hidden Milan, an Underground Milan: let's discover the ten hidden places in Lombardy's capital.
1. Leonardo's Vineyard
Not far from the refectory adjacent to Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses Da Vinci's famous Last Supper is the House of the Atellani. Behind the elegant fifteenth-century residence you can find one of the hidden secret sights of Milan, the vineyard that was donated to Leonardo da Vinci by Ludovico il Moro. So valued by the painter that it was mentioned in his will, Leonardo's Vineyard has recently been restored to its former gloryand certainly represents one of the the ten most picturesque hidden places in Milan.
2. Ca' Granda Historic Archive and Burial Ground
The building that today houses the head office of the University of Milan was erected on the wishes of Francesco Sforza, who decided to provide the city with a large hospital to care for the sick. TheCa' Granda Historic Archive contains the documents of the Ospedale Maggiore from the fifteenth century to the present day and the guided tour also includes a visit to the Ca' Granda catacombs and burial ground. Film festivals and screenings are held in the secret courtyard of the fifteenth-century building designed by Filarete.
3. Albergo Diurno Venezia
One of the great treasures of underground Milan is an aunthentic jewel: a centre devoted to personal care, where travellers and citizens could recharge their batteries after a journey or after work. The Albergo Diurno Venezia was opened in 1926 and consisted of a large colonnaded hall decorated with art deco style marble and wood panelling, a spa area and rooms for barbers and manicurists, but also services such as telephones and a laundry. Today the Albergo Diurno Venezia is closed to the public but can be visited on the occasion of exclusive tours organized by FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano.
4. Palazzo Borromeo
Residence of one of the richest families of the Duchy of Milan, Palazzo Borromeo was built in the late Gothic style and completed in the fifteenth century. From the moment you approach the front door, where you can see a camel resting in a basket, one of the symbols of the family, you will see before you a building that captivates: the Borromeo Palace has one of the most elegant private courtyards in Milan; The court of honour has porticoes on three sides and inside the Palace scenes of courtly life are still visible, depicted in the "Borromeo Games" frescos dating from around 1450.
5. San Bernardino alle Ossa
The chapel of San Bernardino alle Ossa is one of the most evocative places in Milan. Both religious and macabre, sacred and profane, the chapel houses thousands of skulls and bones that were found in the foundations of the church after the collapse of the bell tower in 1642; the remains were used to form rococo style decorations; even though it is said that they belong to saints and martyrs, it is more probable that the bones and skulls came from the deceased of the nearby Ospedale Maggiore. San Bernardino alle Ossa is one of the most interesting ofthe ten hidden places of Milan.
6. The Madonna of the Apron
Near the Church of Santa Maria alla Porta, you can visit the remains of thealtar and the fresco known as the Madonna of the Apron. The wonderful marble floor of the chapel has been covered so that it can be preserved while awaiting funds for a complete restoration. Although the fresco is located outside the church (in fact the chapel was destroyed by a bomb in 1943 and has never been rebuilt), the altar of the Madonna of the Apron is one of the little-known places in Milan.
7. Cannonball and air-raid shelters
Wars often give cities a new shape. The uprisings of the Milanese against the Austrians are witnessed, for example, by thecannonball stuck in the wall that has remained in Corso di Porta Romana since the Five days of Milan in 1848. During the Second World War, however, many cellars were adapted for use as air-raid shelters that could save lives if the buildings were bombed. Here and there, as in Via Pace or Via Vasari, you can still see arrows on the outside walls of the houses with the inscription "US", which did not stand for "United States" but on the contrary indicated the "Security exits". Among these places of Hidden Milan there are Air-raid shelter No. 87 and the Piazza Grandi shelterwhich could accommodate up to four hundred civilians.
8. The lifting device and the episcopal complex below the Duomo
Among the gems of secret Milan there is no shortage of stories related to the Duomo! In fact, inside the Milanese cathedral there is a very old 17th century lifting device used only twice a year during the Rite of the Nivola and guarding a Nail of the Cross. Did you know, then, that above the central door of the Duomo there is the statue that inspired the Statue of Liberty in New York? The evidence of the history of Milan does not end here: on the area where the Cathedral of Milan now stands, there was a large episcopal complex formed by the baptisteries of Santo Stefano and San Giovanni alle Fonti (where Sant'Ambrogio baptized Sant'Agostino in 387 A.D.) and the three basilicas, the old, minor and new. These wonders were brought to light during maintenance of the sewerage system in 1870 and construction of an air-raid shelter in 1943.
9. Vignale Residence
Milan's architecture expresses the utmost in elegance in the very many Liberty style villas. One of gems of Liberty Milan is the Vignale Residence, a historic residence built at the beginning of the twentieth century at the behest of an Austrian prince. Even today, the villa is charming for its sumptuous rooms and the view of the internal garden, which also houses the stables and the lodgings for the servants. The tasteful furnishings and the elegance of the stuccowork, woodwork and beautiful parquet that has remained unchanged over time make the Residence Vignale one of the secret sights of Milan.
10. Crypt of San Giovanni in Conca and the Crypt of the Holy Sepulchre
Although among the hidden treasures of Milan there are some remarkable testimonies of the Roman era, such as the Imperial Mausoleum and the Ancient Roman Theatre, the ruins of which are inside the Chamber of Commerce of Milan, what remains of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist is the only example of a Romanesque crypt in the city. The Crypt of the Holy Sepulchre on the contrary has recently once again become a key sight in Milan's cultural heritage after more than 50 years of closure and impressive restoration. The Crypt of the Holy Sepulchre and the Crypt of San Giovanni in Conca are part of the wonders of secret Milan and two of the most important archaeological vestiges of Milan.