Milan is not the right place for romanticism. And neither for sentimental whispers. Here, love has always been intense, cynical, hidden and often extreme. This tour will show you how love can be red, yellow, or sometimes black. Love stories and passions have bright colours in Milan: here, you need to be equipped for love affairs as well!
1- PHOTOGRAPHY SPOT – Via San Paolo 10 (please walk to via San Paolo number 10)
Mercenary Love: From chic parlours to the pleasure tunnel
In 1819, a group of gentlemen from Milan bought Palazzo Spinola, which became the seat of their Club called the Garden Society, a place where they could relax, far from their wives and their problems.
It is a true oasis, with a garden overlooked by a popular fencing room, one of the oldest in Europe, which is still used by great champions. Kings and grand dukes have been invited here for legendary parties and events; these luxurious rooms, decorated with marbles and stuccoes, of which the Golden Room is the most popular, have been visited by Carlo Porta, Balzac and Liszt. Stendhal also used to come here in search for relief from the pains of love, and here Radetzky discovered his strong but misunderstood love for Milan. It is still one of the most exclusive and most fancy clubs in the city.
* The story goes that during the last century there was a hidden passage between the Club and one of the most exclusive brothels in town, the San Pedron, in via San Pietro all’Orto no 3. The club members would change clothes – their real dress rigorously stored in the club – and go there in order to look for pleasure and to abandon themselves into the professional and daring hands of those ladies, well-known to be real experts in the art of love.
2 – PHOTOGRAPHY SPOT – Piazza San Fedele (please walk to Piazza San Fedele, in front of the entrance of Palazzo Marino)
Forbidden love: The dark curse of the Nun of Monza
This Palace has been the seat of the Municipality since 1861, and Marianna de Leyva, the Nun of Monza, the popular character of the novel The Betrothed, was born in one of these rooms, at the corner between Piazza San Fedele and Via Caserotte, on December the 4th 1975.
She was the unfortunate granddaughter of Tommaso Marino, who commissioned the building.
She was locked in a monastery at the age of 13, taking religious vows at 16 and, and at the age of 23 she met the count Gian Paolo Osio, who became her lover for over 10 years. They both had a tragic end. Because of the scandal, he was murdered and she was processed and sentenced to be walled-in, in the Home of Santa Valeria, where she lived until her death.
*Since we are talking about nuns with strong personality, you may want to know that not far from here, where you can find the department store La Rinascente, there used to be a monastery. An English gentleman, sir John Durant Breval, fell in love with one of the nuns living there, Paola Pietra, the daughter of an earl, and he convinced her to escape. The Holy Roman Church and the Governor of Milan chased her for a long time, but she finally chose freedom over love, leaving the poor Breval empty-handed.
3 – PHOTOGRAPHY SPOT – Piazza Belgioioso (please walk towards the entrance of the number 1)
Platonic Love: from The Betrothed to Stendhal’s braces
The journey starts in the shade of Alessandro Manzoni’s house, the popular author of the novel The Betrothed, the thwarted love story between Renzo and Lucia that has an unexpected happy ending. We cannot say the same for Stendhal’s unrequited love for the sweet Metilde Viscontini. He used to live not far from here, in via Andegari. She lived at number 1, on the first floor. For months, he kept passing by, watching her windows and trying to see her. He had to leave the battlefield with great anguish “With every step that took me away from her, I died little by little. I could not breathe without sighing” he wrote sorrowfully in his diary. He would never come back again to his beloved Milan, but he asked for “Henry Beyle, Milanese. He lived. Loved. Wrote” to be written on his grave.
* You may not know that Stendhal had a passion for rebel women. As soon as arrived in Milan, he fell desperately in love with Angela Pietragrua, the libertine wife of another man. He adored her in silence for 11 long years before conquering her, probably exhausted. He did not care for manners then, since he celebrated his conquer with a note for posterity on his braces: September the 21st 1811!
PASSAGE – La Scala Theatre
Eros and Thanatos 1. Him vs her: Crime of honour
On the morning of August the 29th 1925, Virgilio de Fabritiis, lieutenant of artillery and jealous husband of Ester Ghezzi, shot his 22-year-old wife 5 times under the portico of La Scala Theatre. She was beautiful, blonde and a little daring. He was older, authoritative and obsessively suspicious. He fell in love with her at a party organized by the Italian Commercial Bank, not far from here. On the contrary, she did not even notice him but, either because of her father’s death, or for Virgilio’s persistence, she ended up marrying him. Their marriage did not start well, but it ended even worse. Was it betrayal or ungrounded suspicion? There was sufficient doubt, and he was cleared on trial thanks to the law on Crimes of Honour, which, if you can believe it, was not abolished until 1981!
*It is interesting to know that, in 2004, when the restoration works of the building’s internals and of the facade of La Scala Theatre were completed, a small groove was found in the wall at the entrance, under the portico, containing one of the bullets shot that morning. The construction worker’s excess of zeal has cancelled it forever.
4 – PHOTOGRAPHY SPOT – Via Fiori Chiari (walk down Via Fiori Chiari and stop in front of number 17)
Brera under the red lights: Love at the time of brothels.
Before becoming one of the trendiest places in town, Brera used to be the district with the highest amount of artists and prostitutes. The diagonal pleasure line used to run along via Madonnina, once called contrada de’ Tett (the Italian for “tits district”) due the great amount of prostitutes exposing themselves out of the windows in order to attract clients. With the Unification of Italy, however, any form of communication with the outside or exposure was forbidden by law. Since then, brothels were called Closed Houses, and on September the 20th 1958 the Merlin Law entered into force and ordered their closure. According to Indro Montanelli, thanks to brothels, Italians had preserved the three pillars of society: faith, nation and family. In fact, from the church’s point of view, visiting a brothel was a sin exempt from confession; soldiers had a discount and family men could escape from their nasty spouses. Of course, such a Law was not able to do away with prostitution, and in the wonderful 80s some older ladies were still to be seen selling their services around Via Formentini. According to the rumours…
*One of the most popular brothels in town was located in via Fiori Chiari 17: its name was Fior Ciar, and it was the favourite place for foreigners attracted by the forbidden love games of the capable tenants. It was also popular for its interiors and marbles, there was a room covered with mirrors from floor to ceiling, sculptures and pictures of sexual nature and a spiral staircase which is still well preserved. A place for lawyers, policemen, intellectuals and popular journalists. For “innocent” young guys, brought here to learn about love, preferably during the morning, in order to avoid meeting their fathers, who preferred the afternoon.
PASSAGE – via Palestro 20
Eros and Thanatos 2. Her vs him: The black widow
Chic neighbourhoods and their buildings often hide inviolable secrets and mysteries. Such as that of number 20: in the morning of March the 27th 1995, all headlines were talking about the murder of Maurizio Gucci, the heir of the great Florentine family, shot in the entrance of his building. He was 47 years old, with a new girlfriend, two young daughters and a thousand plans in his head. It was immediately clear that his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani, was involved in the murder. She always declared herself innocent. However, she was sentenced three times and condemned to 26 years of imprisonment in San Vittore. She left prison in 2016. Since then, you can sometimes see her shopping in via Monte Napoleone, her favourite hobby. Ms Reggiani still remains an enigma, also for her lawyers.
*It is interesting to know that, in 2011, Ms Reggiani was offered partial freedom, to go out and work during the day and to come back in the night. She calmly replied from her cell, where she used to grow plants and to have a ferret “I have never worked a day in my life. I am not going to start now!”.
PASSAGE – Palazzo Serbelloni, Corso Venezia 14
Love and illusion: when General Napoleon went crazy for Josephine
The only woman who could ever conquer the heart of this great military leader used to live on the first floor of this building. Marie Josèphe Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie, the widow of de Beauharnais, was here during the summer of 1796 while her young husband was fighting in the Italian Campaign. While waiting, she decided to have some fun with the soldier Hippolyte Charles, almost ten years her junior, who she kept at her complete disposal. At the same time, Napoleon was writing her letters full of passion “I have called the messenger and he told me that he passed by but you did not give him any instructions. You are so bad, awful, cruel and despotic! When are you going to come here? I will come and pick you up in Milan. Thousands of kisses, as hot as my heart, and as pure as you are”.
Years later with complete separations, she was the one who actually cried for her lost love. But of course, the mind knows things that the heart chooses to ignore.
*You may not know that Napoleon wanted to be a novelist. He never was, but his secret passion for letters is preserved in a delicious work, Clisson et Eugenie, which was written just before the Italian Campaign, and published in 1920. You can find the white gloves used in his last legendary battle at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. We’ll let you discover it by yourself!
5- PHOTOGRAPHY SPOT – Via Cappuccini – Giardino Invernizzi
Pink love: a Capuchin style Flamingo road
Milan is a circle. Or, at least, it has had this shape for centuries, which probably led to a natural predisposition for balance. Our tour follows this rule. How? Easy: the monastery where Renzo arrived after several misadventures – the previously mentioned eternal fiancé of Lucia – used to be right here. It was demolished in 1810 but its memory is preserved in the street name: via Cappuccini. Do you understand? This place must be soaked with love, because, a few centuries later, Romeo (the name speaks for itself!) and Enrica Invernizzi, pioneers in the Italian food industry, have chosen it as their home, which became a little “tropical” oasis, complete with pink flamingos. Is it the power of love? Nobody knows. But we do know that their ancestors were brought here from Africa. Nowadays, it is considered one of the most romantic spots in Milan, young couples come here to take a selfie on the Capuchin style Flamingo road. What are you waiting for?
*You may not know that, in order to build such an oasis, which also includes a swimming pool, the father of the famous cheese triangle Mio and of the cheese Invernizzina had to demolish both his house and another building. Animalists should not worry: the flamingos were imported before 1980, when Italy entered the CITES, the Washington Convention for the protection of exotic animals and endangered species.
6- FINAL SPOT – Ulrico Hoepli Civic Planetarium – Corso Venezia 57
L♥ve Milan. The world in a room
Milan gave him popularity, wealth and success, and Ulrico Hoepli, born in Switzerland and adopted by Milan, repaid his debt by donating a “window on the universe” to the city! The Hoepli Planetarium was built between 1929 and 1930 and it was designed by the architect Piero Portaluppi, who also built Villa Necchi Campiglio, not far from here. During this journey, we have seen the different forms of love. Hoepli’s love has touched not only the people of Milan. A lot of foreigners have loved this place unconditionally, Petrarch, Stendhal, Napoleon… Milan is not the right place for romantic love, such as that between Romeo and Juliet. Not even Renzo and Lucia can be compared. The white page is waiting for a story… You can now enter and discover the shining sky of Milan, and you might want to end this journey with a kiss. It might be the beginning of a new one.
*You may not know that Mr Portaluppi, during his speech at the Rotary Club of Milan, in 1951, said that the Planetarium was mainly ignored by locals, except for a few groups of students. He also played a joke on the fact that young couples prefer to come here rather than going to the cinema “due to its darkness”. Blessed youth!
For in-depth information on crimes of passion and other crimes in Milan click here