Milan (Italian: Milano [miˈlaːno] ( listen); Lombard: Milan [miˈlãŋ]; Latin: Mediolanum) is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital of Lombardy. The city proper has a population of about 1.35 million, while its urban area is the 5th largest in the EU and the largest in Italy with an estimated population of about 5.2 million. The massive suburban sprawl that followed the Italian economic miracle of 1950s–60s and the growth of a vast commuter belt, suggest that socioeconomic linkages have expanded well beyond the boundaries of its administrative limits and its agglomeration, creating a metropolitan area of 7-9 million people. It has been suggested that the Milan metropolitan area is part of the so-called Blue Banana, the area of Europe with the highest population and industrial density.
Milan was founded by the Insubres, a Celtic people. The city was later conquered by the Romans, becoming the capital of the Western Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, Milan flourished as a commercial and banking center. In the course of centuries, it has been alternatively dominated by the Spanish, the Austrians and the French, until when in 1859 the city was eventually annexed by the new Kingdom of Italy. During the early 1900s, Milan led the industrialization process of the young nation, being at the very center of the economic, social and political debate. Badly affected by the World War II devastations, and after a harsh Nazi occupation, the city became the main centre of the Italian Resistance. In post-war years, the city enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, attracting large flows of immigrants from rural Southern Italy. During the last decades, Milan has seen a dramatic rise in the number of international migrants, and today more than one sixth of its population is foreign born.
Milan is the main industrial, commercial and financial centre of Italy and a leading global city. Its business district hosts the Italian Stock Exchange and the headquarters of the largest national banks and companies. The city is a major world fashion and design capital. Thanks to its important museums, theatres and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the fourth largest cathedral in the world, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with Leonardo da Vinci paintings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) Milan attracts more than two million annual visitors. It hosts numerous cultural institutions and universities, with 185,000 enrolled students in 2011, i.e. 11 percent of the national total. The city is also well known for several international events and fairs, including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair, the largest of its kind in the world, and will host the 2015 Universal Exposition. Milan is home to two of the world’s major football teams, A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale Milano.
The etymology of Milan is uncertain. While the modern name of the city is clearly derived from its Latin name Mediolanum (from the Latin words medio, meaning «in the middle», and lanus, «plain»), it has been suggested that its original roots could lie more deeply in the city’s Celtic heritage. Indeed, the name «Mediolanum» is borne by about sixty Gallo-Roman sites all over France, such as Saintes (Mediolanum Santonum) and Évreux (Mediolanum Aulercorum), as every Celtic community had its sacred assembly place of law and justice, usually placed at the midpoint of their territory. In addition, some scholars have suggested that the second element of the Latin name, lanum, could be identified with the Celtic root lan, signifying an enclosure or demarcated territory (source of the Welsh word ‘llan’, meaning a sanctuary or church) in which Celtic communities used to build shrines. Hence, Mediolanum could signify the central town or sanctuary of a particular Celtic tribe.
Another theory links the origin of the name to the boar sow (the Scrofa semilanuta) an ancient emblem of the city, fancifully accounted for in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata (1584), beneath a woodcut of the first raising of the city walls, where a boar is seen lifted from the excavation, and the etymology of Mediolanum given as «half-wool», explained in Latin and in French. The foundation of Milan is credited to two Celtic peoples, the Bituriges and the Aedui, having as their emblems a ram and a boar; therefore «The city’s symbol is a wool-bearing boar, an animal of double form, here with sharp bristles, there with sleek wool.» Alciato credits Ambrose for his account.
Around 400 BC, the Celtic Insubres settled Milan and the surrounding region. In 222 BC, the Romans conquered the settlement, which was then renamed Mediolanum. After several centuries of Roman control, Milan was declared the capital of the Western Roman Empire by Emperor Diocletian in 286 AD. Diocletian chose to stay in the Eastern Roman Empire (capital Nicomedia) and his colleague Maximianus ruled the Western one. Immediately Maximian built several gigantic monuments, like a large circus 470 m × 85 m (1,540 ft × 279 ft), the Thermae Herculeae, a large complex of imperial palaces and several other services and buildings.
With the Edict of Milan of 313, Emperor Constantine I guaranteed freedom of religion for Christians. The city was besieged by the Visigoths in 402, so the imperial residence was moved to Ravenna. In 452, the Huns overran the city. In 539, the Ostrogoths conquered and destroyed Milan in the course of the Gothic War against Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. In the summer of 569, the Lombards (from which the name of the Italian region Lombardy derives), a Teutonic tribe conquered Milan, overpowering the small Byzantine army left for its defence. Some Roman structures remained in use in Milan under Lombard rule. Milan surrendered to the Franks in 774 when Charlemagne, in an utterly novel decision, took the title «King of the Lombards» as well (before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people). The Iron Crown of Lombardy dates from this period. Subsequently Milan become part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Milan as it appeared in 1493, woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle.
During the Middle Ages, Milan prospered as a centre of trade due to its command of the rich plain of the Po and routes from Italy across the Alps. The war of conquest by Frederick I Barbarossa against the Lombard cities brought the destruction of much of Milan in 1162. After the founding of the Lombard League in 1167, Milan took the leading role in this alliance. As a result of the independence that the Lombard cities gained in the Peace of Constance in 1183, Milan became a duchy. In 1208 Rambertino Buvalelli served a term as podestà of the city, in 1242 Luca Grimaldi, and in 1282 Luchetto Gattilusio. The position could be fraught with personal dangers in the violent political life of the medieval commune: in 1252 Milanese heretics assassinated the Church’s Inquisitor, later known as Saint Peter Martyr, at a ford in the nearby contado; the killers bribed their way to freedom, and in the ensuing riot the podestà was very nearly lynched. In 1256 the archbishop and leading nobles were expelled from the city. In 1259 Martino della Torre was elected Capitano del Popolo by members of the guilds; he took the city by force, expelled his enemies, and ruled by dictatorial powers, paving streets, digging canals, successfully taxing the countryside. His policy, however, brought the Milanese treasury to collapse; the use of often reckless mercenary units further angered the population, granting an increasing support for the Della Torre’s traditional enemies, the Visconti. It is worthy of note that the most important industries throughout the period were major armaments and wool production, a whole catalogue of activities and trades is given in Bonvesin della Riva’s «de Magnalibus Urbis Mediolani».
On 22 July 1262 Ottone Visconti was created archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV, against the Della Torre candidate, Raimondo della Torre, Bishop of Como. The latter thus started to publicize allegations of the Visconti’s closeness to the heretic Cathars and charged them of high treason: the Visconti, who accused the Della Torre of the same crimes, were then banned from Milan and their properties confiscated. The ensuing civil war caused more damage to Milan’s population and economy, lasting for more than a decade. Ottone Visconti unsuccessfully led a group of exiles against the city in 1263, but after years of escalating violence on all sides, finally, after the victory in the Battle of Desio (1277), he won the city for his family. The Visconti succeeded in ousting the della Torre forever, ruling the city and its possession until the 15th century.
Much of the prior history of Milan was the tale of the struggle between two political factions: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Most of the time the Guelphs were successful in the city of Milan. However, the Visconti family were able to seize power (signoria) in Milan, based on their «Ghibelline» friendship with the German Emperors. In 1395, one of these emperors, Wenceslas (1378–1400), raised the Milanese to the dignity of a duchy. Also in 1395, Gian Galeazzo Visconti became duke of Milan. The Ghibelline Visconti family was to retain power in Milan for a century and a half from the early 14th century until the middle of the 15th century.
In 1447 Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, died without a male heir; following the end of the Visconti line, the Ambrosian Republic was enacted. The Ambrosian Republic took its name from St. Ambrose, popular patron saint of the city of Milan. Both the Guelph and the Ghibelline factions worked together to bring about the Ambrosian Republic in Milan. However, the Republic collapsed when in 1450, Milan was conquered by Francesco Sforza, of the House of Sforza, which made Milan one of the leading cities of the Italian Renaissance.
The French king Charles VIII first laid claim to the duchy in 1492. At that time, Milan was defended by Swiss mercenaries. After the victory of Louis’s successor François I over the Swiss at the Battle of Marignan, the duchy was promised to the French king François I. When the Habsburg Charles V defeated François I at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, northern Italy, including Milan, passed to the House of Habsburg.
In 1556, Charles V abdicated in favour of his son Philip II and his brother Ferdinand I. Charles’s Italian possessions, including Milan, passed to Philip II and the Spanish line of Habsburgs, while Ferdinand’s Austrian line of Habsburgs ruled the Holy Roman Empire. The Great Plague of Milan in 1629–31 killed an estimated 60,000 people out of a population of 130,000. This episode is considered one of the last outbreaks of the centuries-long pandemic of plague that began with the Black Death.
In 1700 the Spanish line of Habsburgs was extinguished with the death of Charles II. After his death, the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701 with the occupation of all Spanish possessions by French troops backing the claim of the French Philippe of Anjou to the Spanish throne. In 1706, the French were defeated in Ramillies and Turin and were forced to yield northern Italy to the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht formally confirmed Austrian sovereignty over most of Spain’s Italian possessions including Lombardy and its capital, Milan.
Milanese patriots fight Austrian troops during the Five Days
Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, and Milan was declared capital of the Cisalpine Republic. Later, he declared Milan capital of the Kingdom of Italy and was crowned in the Duomo. Once Napoleon’s occupation ended, the Congress of Vienna returned Lombardy, and Milan, along with Veneto, to Austrian control in 1815. During this period, Milan became a centre of lyric opera. Here in the 1770s Mozart had premiered three operas at the Teatro Regio Ducal. Later La Scala became the reference theatre in the world, with its premières of Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi. Verdi himself is interred in the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, his present to Milan. In the 19th century other important theatres were La Cannobiana and the Teatro Carcano.
On 18 March 1848, the Milanese rebelled against Austrian rule, during the so-called «Five Days» (Italian: Le Cinque Giornate), and Field Marshal Radetzky was forced to withdraw from the city temporarily. However, after defeating Italian forces at Custoza on 24 July, Radetzky was able to reassert Austrian control over Milan and northern Italy. However, Italian nationalists, championed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, called for the removal of Austria in the interest of Italian unification. Sardinia and France formed an alliance and defeated Austria at the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Following this battle, Milan and the rest of Lombardy were incorporated into the Kingdom of Sardinia, which soon gained control of most of Italy and in 1861 was rechristened as the Kingdom of Italy.
The political unification of Italy cemented Milan’s commercial dominance over northern Italy. It also led to a flurry of railway construction that had started under Austrian partronage (Venice–Milan; Milan–Monza) that made Milan the rail hub of northern Italy. Thereafter with the opening of the Gotthard (1881) and Simplon (1906) railway tunnels, Milan became the major South European rail focus for business and passenger movements e.g. the Simplon Orient Express. Rapid industrialization and market expansion put Milan at the centre of Italy’s leading industrial region, though in the 1890s Milan was shaken by the Bava-Beccaris massacre, a riot related to a high inflation rate. Meanwhile, as Milanese banks dominated Italy’s financial sphere, the city became the country’s leading financial centre.
In 1919, Fascist leader Benito Mussolini organized his Blackshirts in Milan, that rallied for the first time in Piazza San Sepolcro, a small square near Milan Cathedral. Subsequently, Mussolini led his March on Rome starting from the city. During the Second World War Milan suffered extensive damage from Allied bombings. When Italy quit the war in 1943, German forces occupied most of Northern Italy until 1945. As a result, antifascist resistance groups formed and started guerilla warfare against Nazi and Italian Social Republic’s troops. As the war came to an end, the American 1st Armored Division advanced on Milan as part of the Po Valley Campaign. But before they arrived, members of the resistance seized control of the city and executed Mussolini along with several members of his collaborationist government. On 29 April 1945, the corpses of Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci and other Fascist leaders were infamously hanged in Piazzale Loreto, where a year before fifteen partisans had been executed.
During the post-war economic miracle, a large wave of internal migration (especially from rural areas of Southern Italy), moved to the city, bringing the population from 1.3 million in 1951 to 1.7 million in 1967. During this period, Milan saw a quick reconstruction of most of its destroyed facilities, with the building of several innovative and modernist skyscrapers, such as the Torre Velasca and the Pirelli Tower, that soon became symbols of the boom. The economic prosperity was however overshadowed in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the so-called Years of Lead, when Milan witnessed an unprecedented wave of street violence, labour strikes and political terrorism. The apex of this period of turmoil occurred on 12 December 1969, when a bomb exploded at the National Agrarian Bank in Piazza Fontana, killing seventeen people and injuring eighty-eight.
In the 1980s, as several fashion firms based in the city became internationally successful (such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana), Milan became one of the world’s fashion capitals. The city saw also a marked rise in international tourism, notably from America and Japan, while the stock exchange increased its market capitalization more than five-fold. This short-lived period of collective euphoria and the new international image of the city led the mass media to nickname the metropolis «Milano da bere», literally «Milan to drink». However, in the 1990s, Milan was badly affected by Tangentopoli, a large political scandal in which many local and national politicians and businessmen were tried for alleged corruption. The city was also affected by a severe financial crisis and a steady decline in textiles, automobile and steel production, that led to a deep reorganization of its economy.
redevelopments, with the moving of its exhibition centres to a much larger site in the satellite town of Rho, and the construction of a new financial district in Porta Nuova. Despite the decline in Milan’s manufacturing production, the city has found alternative and successful sources of revenue, including publishing, finance, banking, food processing, information technology, logistics, transport and tourism. The 2010 official announcement of Milan hosting Expo 2015 has brightened prospects for the city’s future, with several new plans of regeneration and the planned construction of numerous futuristic structures. In addition, the city’s decades-long population decline seems to have come to an end in recent years, with signs of recovery as it grew by seven percent since the last census.