One of Italy's most international cities, Milan is a fashion, financial, and industrial capital. Maintaining a pace to life nearly rivaling that of New York City, Milan works hard to leave a lasting impression not only on her visitors, but on the whole world. With a large city-sponsored cultural and entertainment scene, two formidable soccer teams, four universities, a number of museums, the famous La Scala Opera House, and industries such as the tire-producing giant Pirelli and the house of Armani, a trip to Milan feels much like a trip to several worlds at once.
Once the capital of the Cisalpine Republic and the western half of the Roman Empire, Milan has always been a stronghold for political power; and, during the mid-13th century the city was ruled by a series of important families such as the Torrianis, the Viscontis, and the Sforzas. Milan entered Spanish rule in 1535, but was quickly passed to Austria in 1713. Maria Theresa of Austria left her mark on the city by coloring the façades of the La Scala Opera House and the royal palace with her favorite hue, a pale yellow. Napoleon himself made Milan the capital fo his Italian Republic in 1802, and the city witnessed his coronation as King of Italy and Milan three years later. Though Austrian rule returned briefly, Vittorio Emmanuele II helped incorporate Milan into the new Kingdom of Italy within short order thereafter. During World War II the city was heavily bombed, but fortunately most of the artistic and cultural treasures managed to survive fairly unscathed.
Since the Teatro alla Scala's founding in 1778, this opera house decisively established Milan as the opera capital of the world. The Neoclassical building has hosted premiers of works by composers such as Rossini, Puccini, Mascagni, and Verdi, and a variety of illustrious vocal virtuosos have performed on its stages.
The Gothic duomo (cathedral) is the geographical-and spiritual-center of the city, and is the 3rd-largest church in the world (after St. Peter's at the Vatican and the Seville Cathedral). With 3,400 statues, 135 spires, and 96 gargoyles, the cathedral makes for an impressive spectacle, and is often the first stop of for visitors on walking tours of the city. Castello Sforzesco is one of Milan's best-known monuments. The building was first constructed in 1368 as a defense against Venice, but was later used as an army barrack, a stable of sorts, and a storage house before ultimately being converted into a studio by Leonardo da Vinci. Restored after WWII, the fortress currently holds the city's Civic Museums, including a Musical Instruments Museum and a museum dedicated to Applied Arts. On the ground floor, Michelangelo's Pietá Rondanini, his last and unfinished work, takes up residence among the Castello's prominent sculpture collection.
Inside the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Grazie, a Gothic church containing a number of frescoes, one also finds the Cenacolo Vinciano (Vinciano Refectory, or convent dining hall), one of Milan's most renowned sites and home to Leonardo da Vinci's greatly acclaimed rendition of The Last Supper. For those visitors intrigued by other works of da Vinci, there is the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnica "Da Vinci", a museum providing a historical look back at the forerunners of modern technology. Milan's Public Gardens are the location of the city's Galleria d'Arte Moderna (Modern Art Gallery) and Museo Civico di Storia Naturale (Naturale History Museum).
Though McDonald's restaurants serve up fast food to fast-paced Milanese throughout the city, old-style dining continues to prevail in the city's trattorie with famous culinary traditions that highlight risotto alla Milanese (rice with saffron), cotoletta alla Milanese (breaded veal cutlet in a lemony-butter sauce), and the well-known dish osso buco (shank of lamb, beef, or veal). Panettone, Italy's traditional holiday fruitcake, can be easily found in nearly all of Milan's pastry shops.
For domestic and European flights, as well as intercontinental flights with European transfers, use Linate Airport, located 7km from town. Otherwise, Malpensa Airport (45 km from town) is the main airport for intercontinental flights. Trains leave daily from the Stazione Centrale for destinations such as Florence, Genoa, Rome, Turin, and Venice. Stazione Nord, a part of the local railway system, offers connections to Como and Varese. Buses can also be found at the Stazione Centrale. For public transportation within the city, the Metropolitana Milanese ("MM") operates from 6am to midnight, and is by far the most useful of Milan's public transport services.