Palazzo Reale di Milano (Royal Palace of Milan), formerly Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, was for many centuries the seat of the government of Milan and a royal residence until 1919, when it was acquired by the state, becoming a venue for exhibitions and events.
Originally designed with a system of two courtyards, then partially demolished to make room for the Duomo, the palace is located to the right of the facade of the Cathedral of Milan, opposite to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
A former palace that stood on the same area in the late Middle Ages, the Broletto Vecchio, also called Brolo di Sant’Ambrogio, was the first documented seat of the Municipality of Milan. The palace, built before the 10th century, ended this function in 1251, when the municipal office was moved to the Palazzo della Ragione.
Broletto Vecchio was then demolished, and in its place was built the Palazzo Reale, known at first as the Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, recalling the name of the pre-existing building. Palazzo Reale became a political center during the lords of the Torriani, Visconti and Sforza families, taking later the role of Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Duchy of Milan.
In the first half of the 16th century, with the fall of the Sforza government and the French invasion, Castello Sforzesco, which until then had been the official residence of the Dukes of Milan, became more and more a fortress, rather than a pleasant place to live. Under the French rule of Louis XII, the court house was moved to the Palazzo Reale.
After the arrival of the Ferrante Gonzaga in Milan, in 1546, the building flourished, and became worthy of the residence of the Milanese governor. To pursue this project, Governor Gonzaga demolished the ancient church of Sant’Andrea al Muro Rotto, annexing the area to the palace.
At the end of the 16th century, with the arrival of the Governor Antonio de Guzmán y Zuniga, Marquis of Ayamonte, the architect Pellegrino Tibaldi was comissioned to make new renovations to the palace.
In 1745, Giovanni Luca Pallavicini, Governor of Milan, became preoccupied by the internal reorganization of the building. He started from the furnishings that were completely renewed, and restored the rooms around the garden with the help of the architect Francesco Croce. The most significant transformation was the merging of the Sala dei Festini and the Salone di Audienzia, to create a huge ballroom measuring 46 meters in length and 17 meters in width, the current Sala delle Cariatidi (Hall of the Caryatids).
By the will of the Archduke Ferdinand Karl of Austria-Este, Governor of the Duchy of Milan between 1765 and 1796, the palace was renovated starting with 1773, under the direction of the architect Giuseppe Piermarini. The first act of the new architect was to eliminate the side of the courtyard towards the Duomo, creating the so-called Piazzetta Reale. Externally, Piermarini gave a sober and austere character to the construction, detaching itself from the Baroque and inaugurating the Neoclassic in Milan.
In 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Milan and established the Cisalpine Republic. The Royal Palace took the name of Palazzo Nazionale (National Palace) and became the seat of the government of the new republic. In 1805, with Milan becoming the capital of the newborn Kingdom of Italy, given by Napoleon to his adopted son Eugène de Beauharnais, the palace reached its peak. Eugène de Beauharnais enlarged the building, after a project by Luigi Canonica.
After the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, in 1861, the palace became the property of the House of Savoy. On October 11, 1919, Palazzo Reale was sold by the House of Savoy to the Italian State.
The palace suffered serious damage on the night of August 15, 1943, when the city was bombed by the English Air Force. Only in 1947, after the war, a restoration began, especially focused on the Sala delle Cariatidi. The Hall regained its notoriety in 1953, when it hosted a Picasso exhibition in Milan.
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest Metro station is Duomo, on the Metro Line M1, which has many exits to the Piazza del Duomo. You can also reach the Royal Palace by tram (Lines 12, 16 and 19) or by bus (Line NM1), getting off at the stop with the same name, Duomo, located nearby.