Castello Sforzesco, one of the largest castles in Europe, was built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza. Located outside the historical center of Milan, the castle was one of the main military citadels of Europe between the 16th and 17th centuries. Restored between 1890 and 1905, it is now home to cultural institutions and important museums.
Between 1360 and 1370, a fortification was built on this place by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan. The fortification was called Castello di Porta Giovia and had a defensive function.
Castello di Porta Giovia was a square-shaped castle with 200 meters long sides and four towers at the corners, two of which were particularly imposing, and 7 meters thick walls. The building became a permanent residence of the Visconti dynasty, to be later destroyed in 1447 by the newborn Repubblica Ambrosiana, founded by the Milanese nobles.
After the fall of the Ambrosian Republic, the new Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, began the reconstruction of the castle in 1450, to make it his residence.
In 1452, the architect Filarete was hired by the Duke for the construction and decoration of the median tower, which is still called Torre del Filarete. Filarete was succeeded by the military architect Bartolomeo Gadio.
Francesco Sforza was succeeded, after his death, by his son, Galeazzo Maria, who had the work continued by the architect Benedetto Ferrini. In these years, many frescoes were added to the halls of the ducal court, of which the most valuable example is the ducal chapel decorated by Bonifacio Bembo.
In 1494, Ludovico Sforza came to power and the castle became the seat of one of the richest courts in Europe. During his time, Leonardo da Vinci frescoed several rooms of the ducal apartment and the architect Donato Bramante worked on a bridge connecting the castle to a nearby road.
Passed under the Spanish dominion, in 1535, the castle lost its role as a state residence, and became the seat of the Iberian military troops – one of the largest garrison in Europe, ranging from 1000 to 3000 men.
In 1550, work began to strengthen the fortification, with the help of the architect Vincenzo Seregni. At the beginning of the 17th century, the fortification was completed with ditches, which completely separated the castle from the city.
With Napoleon’s arrival in Italy, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria abandoned the city on May 9, 1796, leaving the castle with a garrison of 2,000 soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Lamy. The castle was besieged by the Napoleonic troops from May 15 to the end of June.
After 1861, when Milan became part of the Kingdom of Italy, the population invaded the castle, looting it as a sign of revenge to the tyrants who lived there over time.
About 20 years later, the architect Luca Beltrami started a massive restoration, almost a reconstruction, which had the aim of returning the castle to the form of the Sforza period. The restoration ended in 1905, when the Torre del Filarete was inaugurated, rebuilt after the drawings from the 16th century.
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest Metro station is Cairoli, situated about 200 meters from the castle, on the Metro Line M1. You can reach the castle also by tram, getting off at the station with the same name, Cairoli, located on the tram Lines 1 and 4.