previous arrow
next arrow

Text by Cheryl Chu

Eighteenth-century Milan. Change was in the air. Maria Theresa of Austria managed to keep her monarch together, ceding Silesia but regaining the Duchy of Milan at the outcome of the War of the Austrian Succession that lasted from 1740 to 1748. This defensive victory against Prussia ushered in a period of growth for the crown lands, as the Empress began her first of many reforms as soon as the war ended. Milan’s political, judicial, administrative and educational system underwent rapid changes. The topic of finance loomed large on Maria Theresa’s agenda. In order to ensure a more steady flow of income, she requested the crown lands to pay their taxes once every ten years and for the entire decade. Italian nobility that owned the lands – including Milanese nobility – lost most of its influence. 

However, once revenues were centralised, productivity increased in many sectors. Artisans and workers from the crown lands were called upon in various areas of the Austrian monarchy during its economy recovery following the Seven Years War. Architect Giuseppe Piermarini was one of them. He came to Milan in 1769 and was responsible for designing a number of its icons. Several important constructions took place almost simultaneously in the heart of Milan. In 1776, when the Teatro Regio Ducale burned down at the Carnival in 1776, the Milanese patrons who owned boxes in the theatre pleaded the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este, Governor of the Duchy of Milan, for a new one. Piermarini was appointed and he produced two designs, the second of which was approved by the Empress herself: an acoustically excellent venue with a classical, linear façade. La Scala Theatre, inaugurated in 1778, was warmly received. Piermarini was also responsible for the Royal Palace of Milan, completed in 1780 – the year of Maria Theresa’s death. It had a sober style to avoid competition with the Duomo. The following year, the neoclassical-style Palazzo Belgioioso was finished, spotlighting four large order columns in the middle and numerous bas-reliefs of heraldic symbols topping all the windows.

Milan’s new identity as a modern city was beginning to emerge: roads were paved, streets were lit, houses were numbered, as constructions continued, well into the next century. In 1785 the newspaper Il Corriere di Gabinetto – Gazzetta di Milano was published for the first time. The  public was becoming more informed through the press. Milan’s intelligentsia, discontented aristocracy and supporters of the Enlightenment pondered new ideas, finding encouragement from what was happening at their doorstep, in France. Joseph II, who became the sole rule in 1790, exercised reforms that had few long-term benefits. His successors were unable to fend off the forces of revolutionary France, and the French Army finally seized Milan in 1796. 

Nineteenth-century Milan. Change was once again the air. The era as the Cisalpine Republic’s capital began. The Milan Conservatory, Stock Exchange and music publisher Casa Ricordi were established. Napoleon Bonaparte’s effort to establish sister republics could not help the decline of his reign and ultimate downfall in 1812. The Congress of Vienna agreed on settlements of Europe at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars and, in order to recognize the Habsburg-Lorraine right to Lombardy, the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia was created in 1815. At this time, Europe’s population doubled while Italy’s increased by about 30%. Although Milan was not at the forefront of urban developments, compared to other European capitals, its bourgeois modernization was well under way. There were four times more major arteries going through the city connecting the historic center with outlying districts. One of the main roads was Via Dante, which marked the starting point of a north-west axis that ran from the historic center through the Sforza Castle and Park and beyond the Arco della Pace. 

The development also involved Piazza Cordusio, designated as the financial hub of 19th-century Milan. The artery continued down southeast towards Corso di Porta Romana. The city centre went through a large-scale reorganization, with investments focused on the Piazza del Duomo and a new covered passageway between the square of the cathedral and Piazza della Scala that would pay tribute to Vittorio Emanuele II: the Galleria de Cristoforis. Architect Andrea Pizzala was entrusted with the project of Italy’s first ever bazaar. His idea was a T-shape structure, with the main entrance from Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (then called Corsia dei Servi) with an intersecting portion that leads to Via Montenapoleone on the right, and on the left, Via Galleria de Cristoforis which does not exist anymore today. The project was met with much success. Shops and cafes opened in the main section, along with thirty apartments, a cinema and a hotel inside. 

Thus connected directly with the pulsing heart of Milan, Via Montenapoleone, and its cross street Via Manzoni, framed the neighborhoods of Sant’Andrea, Gesù, Santo Spirito and Borgospesso. On the corner of Via Montenapoleone and Manzoni, the project of the Albergo di Milano – today, Grand Hotel Et De Milan – was commissioned to Pizzala. Inspired by the neo-gothic style, the façade was accentuated with eclectic features that reflected the times. The hotel, inaugurated in 1863, offered services fitting of a grand hotel of the capital of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia: postal and telegramming services, as well as a hydraulic elevator. It was a short carriage ride from La Scala Theatre, by then renowned amongst composers, musicians, singers and music lovers. The Grand Hotel Et De Milan was simply known to them as ‘the Milan’. Giuseppe Verdi’s favorite hotel offered the privacy that he valued when he came to Milan for work. His suite, preserved to the present day, resembled his study at his Sant’Agata home, outside Piacenza. The Milanese lifestyle – of staying in the city for work and escaping to one’s preferred haven for leisure – emerged during this time. In mid-18th century Milan, change was the only constant, symbolized by ‘the Milan’ Hotel.

Grand Hotel ed de Milan

Via Alessandro Manzoni, 29,

20121 Milano MI

Ad Banner3