Often referred to as the “ugliest city in Italy,” its easy to assume Milan doesn’t have much to offer. But although there are no gondolas or ancient colosseums in Milan, the city has a wide range of interesting attractions to keep locals and visitors busy. Frequently overlooked, these five sites are certainly worth a visit. And best of all? They’re free!
1. Monumental Cemetery: Although it may seem strange to list a graveyard as an attraction, this one has a number of unique features. Elaborate tombs and weeping statues line the massive burial site, many of which are the works of well-known Italian sculptors. Art lovers can admire Romanic and Gothic architecture, and the final resting places of famous Italians can be found using a map provided by the cemetery. Some of the most famous residents include the Campari family, known for the Italian liqueur of the same name.
2. The ‘bone church’ lined with skulls: When a 13th century leprosy hospital ran out of storage space for the corpses of those who died, a room for their bones was built next door, alongside a church. The bones began to accumulate, and soon the walls were stacked high with skulls. Executed prisoners were given a special spot, their skulls enclosed in boxes above the front door. There are various legends surrounding the church – including the story of a little girl who apparently comes back to life every Halloween to enjoy a dance with her dead roommates. Visit San Bernardino alle Ossa yourself to judge whether or not you believe the ghost tale.
3. Roman ruins in the heart of the city: Rome isn’t the only place to find Roman ruins. Milan has plenty of them, all of which can be viewed by following the city’s ‘Roman Route.’ The nine-stop walking tour will take you to the site of the former Imperial Palace, which stood proud in Milan during the third and fourth centuries. It’s one of the few surviving reminders of the period in which ancient Milan was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.
4. Street art: Milan is known for its graffiti problem, but not all street art in the city is made up of unsightly scribbly lines. Leoncavallo, a cultural center located in the Greco neighborhood, is covered in the work of exceptional street artists. The colorful artwork is a favorite for fashion photographers, who often use it as a backdrop for photo shoots. Remarkable street art can also be found scattered around the neighborhoods of Isola, Porta Ticinese, Porta Romana, and Lambrate.
5. The church with an optical illusion: When a 15th century architect was given the task of expanding the tiny church of Santa Maria Presso Satiro, there was just one problem – it sat on a miniature patch of land and the roads surrounding it made it impossible to expand outwards. Instead of enlarging the place of worship, the architect created an optical illusion to make it seem bigger than it really was. What looks like a gilded arched ceiling behind the altar is really a painted wall – and although the area appears to be incredibly spacious, it’s actually less than three feet deep.