For years travellers have dismissed Milan as too cold, too boring and too business-like, seeing it as the ugly sister of fair Florence, historic Rome and romantic Venice. But with the prospect of Expo 2015 bringing the world to its doorstep and prompting the most radical urban rethink in the past 50 years, this Cinderella of cities is suddenly back in fashion in a big way.
Explore the future of food at Expo 2015
Ever since London's Great Exhibition in 1851, world fairs have always aimed to dazzle us with architectural feats and daring technological innovations. Past Expos have given us Paris’s Eiffel Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle, as well as our first glimpse of escalators (Paris 1855), ice cream cones (St Louis 1904) and mobile phones (Osaka 1970).
The next world exposition in Milan (www.expo2015.org) poses one of the world’s most pressing questions: how do we feed a future population of 9 billion people without destroying the planet? To come up with the answers, 144 countries will set up shop northwest of central Milan, forming a mini city-within-a-city, complete with streets, piazze, hills and lakes, and 55 splashy national pavilions. Beside them themed ‘clusters’ will explore commodities such as coffee, maize and spices, while students from MIT will run workshops on the kitchens of the future in the Future Food District.
With 20 million expected visitors, the Expo intends to leverage what Milan does best – food, fashion, design and innovation – on a truly global scale.
Experience the city's architectural Renaissance
The Milanese used to complain that their city hadn’t produced a single significant modern building since Giò Ponti erected the Pirelli Tower in 1958. That’s hardly the case these days though, given the dramatic architectural Renaissance underway.
Gone is the industrial no-man’s land around the Porta Garibaldi railway station, replaced by César Pelli’s gleaming crown of skyscrapers, and just north in Isola Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale residential high rises will eventually feature hundreds of trees and thousands of smaller plants tumbling down from balconies to an urban park below. The greening continues around the Duomo, where part of the city’s central piazza is being turned over to a small wood. Even the fashion houses are getting in on the act, with Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton stumping up the cash to restore the world’s oldest and most lovely shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
The most radical new development is the restoration of Milan’s canals, starting with the Darsena dock. Reflooded with water, the dock will be the site of sloping gardens, pedestrian walkways and a grand market modelled along the lines of Les Halles, Paris.
Visit Italy’s largest ever Leonardo retrospective
Florence may be the home of the Renaissance, but Milan was the incubator of its greatest talent, Leonardo da Vinci. Patronised by the dashing duke Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo’s interests ranged from aeronautics and engineering to anatomy, architecture and art.
To celebrate Leonardo's 17 years in the city, the Palazzo Reale will host Italy’s largest ever retrospective of his work. Fascinating drawings from the Codex Atlanticus will be on display, as well as major paintings, working models, manuscripts, sculpture, codes and incunabula. St Jerome will be on loan from the Vatican Museums, as will the beautiful Belle Ferronière and St John the Baptist, Leonardo’s last known painting. There will even be a full-scale video reproduction of the Last Supper, complete with interactive stations giving details of its painstaking 20-year restoration.
Discover the Duomo's hidden treasures
Milan’s spectacular cathedral reflects the scale of the city’s creativity and ambition. The pearly white facade, adorned with 135 spires and 3400 statues, wows the crowds with its extravagant detail. But, like much in Milan, it’s hellishly expensive, which is why Giangaleazzo Visconti established the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Italy’s oldest company, in 1387 to maintain it through the ages. Operational for over 627 years, the fabbrica is also entrusted with preserving the cathedral’s greatest treasures, in the form of hundreds of drawings, models, sculpture, paintings and artworks.
A selection of that rich legacy is now on display in the newly renovated Museo del Duomo (www.duomomilano.it). Refashioned over eight long years, its 27 glowing galleries walk you through the story of the Duomo’s design and allow you to get up close to its most treasured artworks, including the amazing 16th-century Modellone, a 1:20 scale model of the cathedral rendered in exquisite detail in lime and walnut by Bernardino Zenale.
Taste the world's finest culinary creations
Given Expo’s food theme, gourmands would be crazy to miss Milan in 2015. Not only will the world exposition offer 184 unrepeatable days of food tasting, culture, science and innovation, but you’ll be able to graze your way through over a hundred different national cuisines. At the Triennale Design Museum an Arts & Food exhibition will explore the art, culture and rituals of eating, looking at the implements we use, the rooms and restaurants we dine in and the lengths we’ll go to for valuable commodities such as sugar and spices.
It’s hardly a coincidence that the world’s most iconic image, Leonardo’s Last Supper, depicts men sharing a meal. Inspired by the artwork, Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura will be at the helm of Refettorio Ambrosiano, a refectory housed in a renovated theatre in Piazza Greco. During May, 40 of the world’s best chefs – including Alain Ducasse, Gualtiero Marchesi and Carlo Cracco – will refashion surplus food from the Expo into gourmet lunches for the public, and dinners for people in need. When Expo finishes the refectory will pass on to Caritas (www.caritasambrosiana.it) who will continue to manage it for the benefit of the community.
If you can’t get in there, the city has plenty of other experiences to satisfy discerning foodies, including new art/design/food concept stores such as Drogheria Parini (www.parini1915.it) and LARTE (www.lartemilano.com).
Be inspired by artistic icons, both old and new
Coinciding with the start of Expo is the opening of Prada’s cutting-edge 17,500 sq ft Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Rem Koolhaas, with exhibits selected from Miuccia Prada’s extensive personal collection. Photography, too, has a new home in the Palazzo della Ragione (http://palazzodellaragionefotografia.it), where a nostalgic Grand Tour Italia exhibit (May–Sept 2015) will showcase the country’s most beautiful corners to a new audience of Expo visitors, many of them from the Far East.
Milan will reassert itself as a capital of culture during Expo, when museums all over the city will stay open until 11.30pm, and 14 'pavilions' of art will showcase paintings, architecture, music and literature in venues throughout the city. In addition, six of the city's most iconic artworks, including Michelangelo’s Rondanini and Francesco Hayez’s Il Bacio (The Kiss), will provide the inspiration for VideomakARS (http://videomakars.ideatre60.it), a competition for young videographers to make a short film encapsulating the artistic and cultural identity of Milan.