Palazzo Reale di Milano (Royal Palace of Milan), formerly known as Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, was for many centuries the seat of the government of Milan and a royal residence. In 1919, the palace was acquired by the Italian state, and became a venue for exhibitions and events.
Originally designed with a system of two courtyards, later partially demolished to make room for the Duomo, the palace is located in the southern part of Piazza del Duomo, opposite to the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery.
A former palace built on the same area in the late Middle Ages, 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 its function in 1251, when the municipal office was moved to Palazzo della Ragione.
Broletto Vecchio was then demolished, and over its remains was built Palazzo Reale, known at first as Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, recalling the name of the pre-existing building. Palazzo Reale became a political center during the domination of the Torriani, Visconti and Sforza families, receiving 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 was the official residence of the Dukes of Milan, was transformed into a fortress. Under the French rule of Louis XII, the court house was moved to Palazzo Reale.
After the arrival of 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 Sala dei Festini and 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 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 Piermarini 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, inaugurating the Neoclassical style 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 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 and M3, which has many exits to 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.