In post-war Italy, the northern city of Milan became synonymous with modernity, as the city's fathers set about rebuilding the bomb-damaged city with functional high-rise blocks rather than restoring historic buildings, as many other Italian councils chose to do. The result is that, 50 years on, Milan is one of the country's less aesthetically pleasing cities.
The busy Milanese have no time to worry about that, however, and for the first-time visitor, the city offers much to admire. Most visitors make time to see the beautiful Romanesque church of Sant'Ambrogio, visit the Brera art gallery and check out the designer stores clustered into the Quadrilatero d'Oro area.
The city's one jaw-dropping monument is the Gothic cathedral, and the long queues for the city's other major attraction, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, mean that it's really only for tick-box tourists who "do" cities.
For nightlife, the once-bohemian Navigli district, the Brera neighbourhood and the up-and-coming artisan's quarter, Isola Garibaldi, are well worth visiting.
The city has a fair claim to being the birthplace of modern Europe as it was in Milan, during the fourth century, that the Romans finally embraced Christianity. The powerful Visconti and Sforza dynasties ensured its pre-eminence through medieval and Renaissance times and today the city is Italy's capital of commerce, the fashion industry, and, of course, football.
MEET THE SIDES
Silvio Berlusconi, the cruise-line crooner turned real-estate salesman turned prime minister, owns AC Milan. His politics and media power mean that the club is widely disliked in Italy despite having produced some of the country's most entertaining teams, notably the Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello sides between 1987 and 1996.
One of Europe's most feared sides, Milan (never "AC") reached three Champions League finals in five years in the mid-noughties, winning two of them. However, they've lost their former iron grip on domestic affairs, and their usurpers came from surprisingly close quarters.
Internazionale, the city's other club, were widely viewed as perennial underachievers up until 2005, having won practically bugger all since their 1960s heyday under catenaccio cat Helenio Herrera. But Roberto Mancini got that monkey off their back with successive Serie A titles in 2006 (awarded via the Calciopoli scandal), 2007 and 2008.
Mancini's successor Jose Mourinho won it again in 2009 and 2010, and in the latter season finally managed to add a Champions League title, meaning the club had won Europe's top prize for the first time since 1965.
Up until then, Inter president Massimo Moratti had shot a £500m wad buying some of the world's greatest players but had just one UEFA Cup to show for it before handing over the reins to Giacinto Facchetti in January 2004. The club should be embraced by football romantics the world over for demonstrating that money can't buy success, but instead people just snigger.
AC Milan fans were once drawn largely from the city's working classes and Inter's from the suburban bourgeoisie, but it's hard to detect any demographic differences these days. The rivalry between the two sets of fans is more Liverpool-Everton than Celtic-Rangers – families often have divided loyalties – so trouble between the teams is rare.
Milan has two main airports. Malpensa airport has direct buses leaving regularly to the city centre (journey time one hour, 5.50). The FNME train (9) also serves this airport and leaves every half an hour. A taxi costs around 80. Milan's other airport, Linate, is served by the number 73 bus which travels to the Piazza San Babila in the city centre every 10 minutes for 1. A taxi costs 25.
Milan has two main tourist offices and there are also information desks at the two airports. The city centre office is at Via Marconi 1 (tel: 02 7252 4301, www.milanoinfotourist.com) and publishes the monthly booklet Milano Mese – a bible for all sorts of listings and goings-on in the city. The other tourist office is located on the upper main level of the Stazione Centrale (tel: 02 7252 4360).
There is an efficient public transport system within the centre of Milan, a network of trams, buses and metro. Driving isn't recommended due to the congestion and lack of parking opportunities. Pick up a route map from the Duomo or Stazione Centrale metro stations for 2 and you're off!
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is one of the most famous in the world. Originally constructed as a Gothic church, it was redesigned once Milan fell to the French leaving it today as an odd combination of styles. There are Gothic vaults but they are illuminated by a dome that was later built on the side of the church.
One of the reasons this church is so popular with tourists is because it hosts one of the most famous paintings in the world, Da Vinci's The Last Supper (signposted Cenacolo Vinciano). However, visits must be booked at least a few days in advance via www.cenacolovinciano.it or 02 8942 1146. Fans of Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code are to be found among those perusing the painting at close quarters.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
If you like shops, you're in the right place: Milan has long been synonymous with top-end retail therapy, and positively encourages you to lose yourself in the vast array of shops and boutiques.
Milan and its shoppers have a thirst for designer labels and here you will find some of the most famous Italian designers, including Armani, Gucci, Prada, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.
Prices aren't cheap, of course, while the shop assistants can be very patronising. And if you want to come out with at least a few pennies left head over to middle-range chain stores like Benetton and Corso Buenos Aires.
A trip to the south, particularly to Pavia, is a must. This is a town rich in history - the merest wander around will reveal Gothic churches, piazzas and lofty medieval towers.
The best of the town's churches is the Romanesque San Michele, with dragons and snake-tailed fish carved into its broad sandstone façade. Regular trains take you from the centre of Milan to Pavia's equivalent in half an hour and bus services will drop you just around the corner.
Check out a Centri Sociali. This is an alternative scene, in what are essentially squats, where committees organise cheap, sometimes free entertainment such as film showings and concerts. They also contain bars and sometimes good vegetarian restaurants. These socials are an accepted part of the Milanese culture and often receive local funding. Listings available at Leoncavallo, at Via Watteau 7.
Explore Milan with the interactive map below. Click a club badge to get a club guide.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Italian football, see our blog Serie Aaaaargh!
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