Castello Sforzesco, Milan

The Castello Sforzesco of Milan: Witness to History
A shot of Sforza's castle in Milan

The Sforzesco Castle, or the Castello Sforzesco is one of the most well known historical buildings in Milan. It has borne witness to several historical events in the past centuries. The castle was demolished and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Today, after it has been restored and embellished, it has become a symbol of various historic and dramatic events which perfectly recount the story of Milan and its background.


History of the Castello Sforzesco

A small fortress known as Porta Giovia was built in the area in the year 1360 close to the medieval walls of Milan, which also included a gate with the same name. The fortress was built by Galeazzo II Visconti who wanted it as a defense structure. Gian Galeazzo, his successor, worked on the castle afterwards. The fortress was turned into their residence and a large park was created in the northern part of the estate. Like a lot of other Italian castles, the Castello Sforzesco was constructed on a square plan and in every corner there was a tower.

A rear view of the front of Castello Sforzesco in Milan,
from a lateral entrance


Filippo Maria was the last descendant of the family and had no heirs, so the castle was proclaimed as Republic by the citizens of the city. The fortress was then demolished and the stones were used for restoring the town walls. Later, in the year 1450, Francesco Sforza who had married Filippo Maria's illegitimate child, Bianca Maria Visconti, became the Duke of Milan. It was then that the castle was again rebuilt on the earlier foundations.


The new castle was more refined due to the beautiful Filarete tower which was placed at the entrance of the castle. The round towers were designed by Bartomomeo Gadio. Galeazzo Maria, Francesco Sforza's successor, transformed the courtyard located inside the castle and turned it into a luxury residence. This part of the estate was named Corte Ducale. There used to be a square complex next to Corte Ducale known as Rocchetta. This really was a fortress inside the original fortress.


The Rochetta had a high tower named Torre di Bona which had been named after Bona di Savoia. Later in the 15th century Leonardo Da Vinci and Donato Bramante were entrusted with the task of building a beautiful bridge which overlooked the outer moat. They were also made responsible for painting the beautiful frescoes inside the Sala delle Asse.


At the time of the French domination in Milan and Ludovico il Moro's fall, the castle was able to survive various events like destruction, sacking, occupations, and battles. During those years the Filarete tower was used for storing ammunition. In the year 1521 a lightning hit the tower and it exploded, causing great damage to the entire structure.


Mediaeval castle piazza courtyard 
Castello Sforzesco - Milan

At the time of the Spanish rule in the year 1526, another star-shaped fortification was built around the main castle in order to make it totally impregnable. At the time of the Austrian domination in the year 1706, the Castello Sforzesco was used for purely military purposes. The castle was restored several times till the assault by Napoleon's troops in the year 1796. Severe damage was caused to the castle and the citizens of the city. The towers of the castle were destroyed. Finally, Napoleon demolished the external structure of the castle and the main castle building was used for the troops. The rooms on the ground floor of Corte Ducale with their beautiful frescoes were used as stables.

From 1815 till the year 1859 when the Castello Sforzesco was being changed, the citizens of Milan rebelled against the Austrians. In 1861 when the Unification of Italy took place, the Castello Sforzesco and the city itself recovered from the destruction which had taken place over the years. Later, F. Luca Beltrami, a noted architect was entrusted with the task of reconstructing and restoring the old castle. Whatever had remained of the old fortifications was demolished and new moats were dug all around the castle. The Boa and the Rocchetta tower were restored and the new round towers were added. The Filarete tower was totally rebuilt and in 1905, the castle was unveiled to the general public. Today the Castello Sforzesco is home to many libraries and museums.


Detail of Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle) that now houses
several of the city's museum and art gallery collections



The Museums of Castello Sforzesco

There are several different museums inside the castle today and the best known of these is Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco. The museum has a large collection of art which includes Rondanini Pieta which was Michelangelo's last sculpture. Other noted collections include the Codex Trivulzianus manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Trivulzio Madonna by Andrea Mantegna.

Other museums inside the castle include the Achile Bertarelli Print museum, Archeological museum with its Prehistoric and Egyptian section, Applied arts collection, musical instruments museum, the furniture museum and the ancient art museum.

After four years of renovation, the castle today is home to one of the most important and largest painting museums. There are as many as 230 different works of art which include the work of Cerano, Procaccini, Cesare da Sesto, Foppa, Antonello da Messina and Mantegna. The Pinacoteca museum especially is known for Milanese art and has a large collection of old paintings like that of the Trivulzio family.

On the first floor of the Corte Ducale, the four rooms on the left have a large collection of antique woodwork and furniture. There are many beautiful exhibits like the Coretto di Torrechiara which is a crucifix from the 13th century and the cassone dei tre duchy. There are several works by Giuseppe Maggiolini.

Inside the Pinacoteca museum, the art works are displayed at the Falconiera tower and are spread chronologically from the 15th century till the 18th century with several works of Bellotto, Guardi and Canaletto. The masterpieces include Madonna of Humility by Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini, Madonna with Saints by Andrea Mantegna and Saint Benedict by Antonello da Messina.

Milan has always been a centre for art and in castles and forts like Castello Sforzesco, the legacy of prominent Italian artists and painters lives on. Visit this castle if you would like to know about the city of Milan as it was hundreds of years ago.