The Castello Sforzesco (or Sforza Castle) is a huge, classically crenellated pile of red-brick masonry on the western edge of central Milan.
Along with the Cathedral – Milan’s most famous and much beloved monument – the big Castle is linked to the vicissitudes and dramatic events that the city has been experiencing over the past centuries. Throughout its history, the castle was destroyed and built up again modified. It has been defence fortress, military barracks, private residence and centre of cultural institutions and museums.
The imposing town castle is located in the extension from the Milan’s cathedral – Via Dante – Largo Cairoli – Piazza Castello.
The events of the Castle unfold in the city’s wide window of history, beginning with the original nucleus of the castle, named Porta Giovia, dating back to 1358-1368 during Galeazzo II Visconti’s period who used the Castle as his residence while he stayed in Milan, but mostly used it as a military base.
The Castle became Filippo Maria Visconti’s permanent residence, continuing with the consolidation and construction of a real fortress. Later, it was mainly Francesco Sforza who, as ruler of Milan in 1450, gave particular impetus to the reconstruction of the building which had been seriously damaged between 1447 and 1450.
Leonardo da Vinci helped design the defensive walls. Leonardo da Vinci worked from 1482 – 1499 and from 1506 -1513 at Milan’s Castello Sforzesco under the Duke Ludovico Maria, nicknamed Ludovico il Moro and took care of the cultural life and the arts in the mansion.
During this time, Leonardo also worked on the development and expansion of the system of canals – Navigli – and the construction of locks as well as the study of man.
Napoleon seized the castle in May 1776 and it remained under French rule until 1799. The castle was soon back in French hands, when Napoleon defeated the then-ruling Austrian army. The castle was restored after the unification of Italy in 1861, with the help of the renowned architect Luca Beltrami.
Today the impressive halls of the Sforza Castle house art museums:
The ground floor of the Ducal Courtyard: Museum of Ancient Art, with the last masterpiece of Michelangelo, the unfinished marble statue “Pieta Rondanini” ( Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1564).
First floor of the Ducal Courtyard: Museum of antique furniture and art collections, with a portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
In the halls of Rocchetta: Collections of Applied Art and a museum of historical musical instruments.
The “Torre Castellana” houses on the ground floor the treasury “Sala del Tesoro” with frescoes by Bramantino.
On the underground level of the Rocchetta and Sala Viscontea are the Prehistoric and the Egyptian Museum.
Finally, many important archives and libraries are located in the Castle:
Biblioteca d’Arte (Library of Art),
the Archivio Storico (Historic Archive),
the Biblioteca Trivulziana (Trivulziana Library),
the Biblioteca Archeologica e Numismatica (Archaeological and Numismatics Library),
A.S.V.A. (Centre for Advanced Study in Visual Arts),
Raccolta delle Stampe “Achille Bertarelli” (“Achille Bertarelli” Print Collection),
Archivio Fotografico (Photographic Archive)
and the Raccolta Vinciana (Vinciana Collection).
Behind the castle is the Sempione Park with the Peace Arch Arco della Pace, the steel tower Torre Branca and the Triennale Design Museum with exhibitions of Italian design.
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