Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Marble walls, boasting opulent showcases intercalated with ornate caryatids, rise majestically towards staggering heights. With grace and confidence, an iron-framed, translucent quilt of intricate stain glass panels dome over the walkways of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. At the foot of the ceiling, four beautiful frescos depict the continents of America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Below, the walkway unites the mosaic emblems of Italian regions in the shape of a cross, illustrating the significant accomplishments of King Vittorio Emanuele II. The immense sense of grandeur is uncatchable by any camera, preserved for only the eye of the beholder.

The peaceful chirps of birds hidden above, echo throughout the mall. Occasional clanks followed by soft rumbles circle around the air, as a Russian trio from Moscow dances on rollerblades. A perfect opportunity has surfaced. Soon I am also, shakily, feeling the breeze on my face. The air is still, and there is an unexpected void of the badgering swindlers that hand out “free” bracelets. The bustling swarms of traveling want-to-be-merchants are unusually absent from the windows, where they desperately stare for seemingly forever at Prada leather purses. It is near sunrise. The true splendor of the Galleria opens itself willingly, a private, romantic hidden treasure.


The crest of Turin depicts a bull, rearing up on its hind legs. His testicles are a smooth hole, carved from millions of spinning feet. According to tradition, a person who spins three times, counterclockwise, will be fortuned with good luck. Unfortunately, I spun many times in the opposite direction. As this is likely a common mistake, I cross my fingers for the smiling visitors who leave every day with a false sense of hope. Speaking of misfortune, the designer of this Galleria, Giuseppe Mengoni, fell to his death from a scaffold at the worksite on December 30, 1877, the eve of the inauguration. In memory of the great architect, a plaque is displayed on the left column of the arch of triumph entrance to the Galleria.


The name of this Gallery is significant in the history of Italy. Italians are prideful of the Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s. The heroes of this time are forever honored as the names of several buildings and streets in Milan, and throughout Italy. During this time, copious estates were still practicing feudalism under lords, segmenting Italy. Then, a King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele II, became a powerful instigator of a new unification movement. A friend of Emanuele II, Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general, was ripe for the opportunity to conquer Italy for the King. Garibaldi gathered an army of a thousand volunteers called I Mille. With ease, this army fueled rebellion and support in each estate across Italy. Quickly, the estates fell and feudalism was replaced by a form of capitalism under the new king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuel II. Today, Milan contains a street called Corso Garibaldi, and a metro station called Port Garibaldi.


Vittorio Emanuele II

For an example of Garibaldi’s swift invasion, the upheaval of Sicily is elegantly portrayed in the famous book and movie, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The story follows Prince of Salina, a noble and scholarly aristocrat, as he attempts to preserve his family and class. There is also an opera adaption of The Leopard called La Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni.


Giuseppe Garibaldi in front of the Sforza Castle

Before the annexation, the House of Bourbon, a Spanish royal family, ruled Sicily. With the rebellion, their lands were divided and bought as investments by wealthy men. During the shaky transition of government powers, the mafia was born.

King Vittorio Emanuele II ruled an entire country of Italy. His services and power were stretched to the max. In Sicily, there were little boundaries between politics, economics, and crime. Many people in Sicily despised the control from northern powers. They wanted the law to be conducted in the Sicilian way. In addition, people needed to buy protection for their land properties from a specialist in violence, a Mafioso. Organized families of crime began to spread across Italy, and infiltrate business markets and politics. Today, the mafia is still large and influential. In Milan, a mafia family controls the majority of the fresh produce. The clues that hint at the unstable past and present of Italy are hidden across Milan and even branded across one of the oldest malls in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Top of the Galleria

The Last Supper


The story of the Leonardo de Vinci’s, The Last Supper, begins at a simple, yet elegant Santa Maria delle Grazie, nestled within the winding streets of Milan. This UNESCO site was erected as a Dominican convent in 1469. The priests of the Dominican Order preferred to live in communities outside the church. So, they uniquely constructed Santa Maria delle Grazie within the constricting center of Milan, despite the lack of space for lavish gardens. Originally, its architecture was modest and simple.


Soon after its completion, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Maria Sforza, choose the Santa Maria delle Grazie to be the Sforza family burial site. He ordered the cloister and apse to be rebuilt with a suitable splendor. Today, you can distinctly see both the modest and the extravagant architecture. The rebuilding of the church was bothersome for the priests, so the Duke commissioned Leonardo de Vinci to paint The Last Supper as a gift. It was painted in the refectory of the church. This was a place where only the priests entered to eat meals. In this way, the painting was a private tribute for the priests.


Leonardo de Vinci choose to paint The Last Supper in a fashion uncommon to wall murals. Fresco Style was the typical method, which required wetting and preparing small pieces of the wall to paint over. The sections dried quickly and permanently. It was not possible to paint layers or redo the sections. De Vinci wished to meditate for lengthy periods while painting. He also wanted the ability to slightly change the picture during the process. Therefore, he chose to paint on the dry, unprepared wall. After the four leisurely years he took to complete The Last Supper, he realized his mistake. He had painted on the outside wall of the church’s kitchen. The humidity and heat from the kitchen caused the paint to flake and deteriorate. At the same time, the Duke of Milan died, ending his family lineage. Without his patron, Leonardo could not restore his painting. In addition, the Santa Maria delle Grazie could never be used as the Sforza family burial site.


The priests struggled to preserve their painting. They allowed artists to copy the painting. However, the copies were renditions and didn’t capture the message Leonardo had depicted. They also allowed artists to darken the fading colors of the original painting. However, over time the facial expressions in the picture slightly changed, again altering its message. For example, Leonardo depicted The Supper as the moment before Jesus states that someone will betray him. In the original painting, Jesus’s mouth is opened just slightly as he is about to speak. Over time, artists began to extensively open Jesus’s mouth, which takes away the special moment that Leonard had depicted. Additionally, many of the copies of The Last Supper have Judas, in the front of the table, as he is the traitor. However, De Vinci painted the moment before Judas was realized as the betrayer; therefore he painted Judas behind the table with the other apostles.

The survivability of The Last Supper was further threatened during WWII when a bomb landed in the courtyard of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. It landed nearly 80 feet from The Last Supper. Miraculously, the mural survived. Today, the museum is built with the only surviving pieces of the wall still around the Last Supper.


In the late 1970s, a major restoration of The Last Supper brought out the original painting. Using new technology, scientists removed the layers of paint that had covered Leonardo De Vinci’s work. This process took over 20 years to complete. Today, you can see the original message that he had depicted.

The Last Supper portrays the reaction of each apostle at the moment that Jesus begins to open his mouth to say that one of them will betray him. It is a scene before Judas is ever determined as the traitor. The apostles nearest Jesus have a stronger relationship with Jesus, and they knowingly wait in anticipation. The apostles farthest from Jesus are in discussion because they are uncertain about what is happening. Judas is appears withdrawn and startled by the revelation of his plan.

Only John and Judas have different tones of skin compared to the other bodies. John is white symbolizing his good soul, and Judas is dark skinned with a dark soul. Peter is between John and Judas as a representation of church. John is facing Judas, which symbolizes that people face their darker souls in the church. The message suggests that even though people are not perfect, sin happens at the moment of choice. Judas had the chance to not betray until the exact moment Jesus uncovered his plans.


The table of the Last Supper is actually larger than the surrounding, painted room. This illusion pops the table into a clear view while cramming the apostles on the sides into the intense moment. In addition, the entire painting is huge with the dimensions of 15 by 29 feet. On Jesus’s cheek, a small hole can be seen where Leonardo De Vinci used a nail as the vanishing point of the picture. He used a rope to draw the room with perfect geometry.

Visiting The Last Supper requires reservation months in advance, for only a 15-minute viewing allowance. The feeling of anticipation, followed by utter amazement exemplifies the story of The Last Supper.




I love Milan. The city is the future and the past. It is a fast-paced metropolis of creativity, and the people are fueled with bubbly ambition and energy. Milan is the business capital of Italy, and Milanese lifestyle has evolved to support working hard and playing harder. At every corner, cafes and vending machines dispense endless shots of espresso, each for a single euro. (America needs more espresso vending machines.) Every evening from eight till midnight, people of all ages flock to the bars for aperitivo, a Milanese culture of free buffets with the purchase of drinks. In the mornings, the city begins the hasty business day around nine. Although they smoke and drink excessively, they also maintain a proper, assembled ambiance. Looking good is compulsory. For travelers, Milan is welcoming and relaxing, while expressing a sense of home. The city has many hidden secrets with only select tourist destinations. Thus, Milan feels authentic and free from lingering crowds. The center of Milan houses the Castel Sforza, the Duomo and the Galleria Vottorio Emanuele II, so many tourists congregate here. Luckily, the main streets in this area are majestically wide, and the tourists are comfortably spread out.



Wide piazza seen from the Duomo




Espresso vending machine


Uniquely, the center of Milan was reconstructed after the city was conquered by Napoleon. Napoleon influenced the architecture to reflect Paris. Even today, Milan looks more similar to old downtown Paris than the rest of Italy.  Just outside the Castel Sforza, there is a twin of Paris’s Arch of Triumph. It’s called the Arch of Peace. The two arches are on both sides of a road that connects Paris and Milan. Even today, Milan wants to be more like Paris. Currently, Milan’s economy is strong, while the economy of the rest of Italy is crumbling. In recent news, Milan wants to gain a specific government for the city in order to speed up politics in favor of thriving entrepreneur businesses. Many people believe that the Italian government is slow and harming the economy.  Similarly, Paris also has their own independent government power.



Arch of Peace


The Old

Milan has a rich dynamic of ancient history and thriving entrepreneurial nuances. The old part of Milan is an immense downtown center. Massive marble buildings stand firmly within the ancient walls of the old city. Here, the luxury brand shops for the high-class business citizens fill the streets. Churches dating back as far as the 3rd century are small treasures hidden within the windings streets. Every church is still used religiously. For example, one church, shown below, is called the Santa Maria Presso San Satiro. This church was built in the 15th century. When it didn’t have enough space to expand, an illusion was painted to make the church feel bigger. Furthermore, the Civic Archaeological Museum displays the Roman artifacts, on which the modern city is built. Near the fantastic Hostel Ostello Bello, the streets have open spots that offer sneak peeks at the Roman ruins beneath.

The ancient ways are alluring to the people in Milan. On the last Sunday of each month, the Navigli district, the ancient canals that flow through Milan, hosts a massive antique market. Continuous tents weave along the canals, displaying Roman artifacts, watches, African trinkets, Renaissance art, statues, silverware, clothing, jewelry, and furniture. The market is a real treat, as it is a glimpse into the culture of Milan.


Antique Market


Navigli District

Leonardo Da Vinci is a historical favorite of Milan. In fact, Da Vinci lived in Milan for over 20 years of his life. He worked for the Duke of Milan to paint the impressive Last Supper, and he lived with the Duke in the Castle Sforza. Within the Castle, Leonardo lined his room with wood and painted beautiful tree canopies across the ceilings and walls. This room is preserved under the name Sala Delle Asse, and available to the public within the colossal fortress. The Castle Sforza also sports another famous painting by Da Vince, the Madonna Lia. While painting the Madonna Lia, Leonardo was experimenting with using light sources and sloping shadows, mixed with physical movements, to reveal the soul and new perspectives of space. It is one of the best paintings to depict his artistic philosophies.

Leonardo Da Vinci was not only an artist. Recently the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia analyzed Leonardo’s invention journals. Experts used his ideas to create models and presented the masterpieces in an exhibit. One model was an improved printing press. Another was a mechanical loom. He also experimented with war boats and flying machines.

The New

Milan has a strong sense of entrepreneurship and growth. The push towards the future, developed during the Renaissance era, has continued throughout the centuries. Northern Italians are prideful of the Risorgimento, an Italian unification movement of the 1850s and early 60s. This was a time when Italy finally eradicated their feudal system and fought for a new Italy under one King, Vittorio Emanuel II. The heroes of this time are honored as the statues across Milan, and their names are presented on popular streets and buildings. The passionate determination for the future persists because of the remembrance of these heroes.



Vittorio Emanuele II


Then in the early 20th century, artistic and social movements influenced the period of Futurism in Milan. The change emphasized speed, technology, industry, and fascism. The modern paintings from this time are displayed in the Museo del Novecento. The paintings hint towards Picasso style but with more fluidity and movement rather than cubism. In 1913, Umberto Boccioni sculpted the Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. This famous statue is featured on the 20 cent euro coin. The speed of this figure is still reflected, today, in the people of Milan as they walk determinedly across the city.

In addition, many buildings still remain from the fascist politics of the early 20th century. The Milano Centrale train station and the Milan Stock Exchange are in fascist style buildings. The architecture is elegant and full of replicas of Roman statues and designs.  Recently, an artist placed as sculpture in front of the Milan Stock Exchange that presents a strong message. It shows a hand with all the fingers cut off but the middle one, an old fascist symbol. It is presented as a remembrance of the fascism that used to reign in Milan. However it also a modern message. This statue suggests an attitude towards the crumbling banks of Italy.

Today, Milan is the forefront of fashion and business in Italy. The constant, daily evolution of fashion in Milan has shaped a culture of nuance in every part of the city. Situated outside the Milano Centrale train station, there is a massive sculpture of the Apple logo with a bandage across the bitten piece. It symbolizes that nature and technology must find a way to coexist. This theme is scattered across the city. Everyone in the city uses the metro and walks. However, small electric cars (far cooler than Tesla) scurry through the streets. The modern part of Milan, Porta Nuovo, contains some of the most impressive architecture in the world. This area is lively and creative. The towering Unicredit Tower marks the hub of modern business in Milan. Amongst wavy architecture, fountains and modern sculptures, the impressive forerunners of millennial entrepreneurial businesses are presented such as Tesla, Moleskin, and Swatch. Peeking out from behind the Unicredit Tower is a unique skyscraper called the Bosco Verticale, or the Vertical Forest. This is a new residential building that uses an elaborate watering system to create an appealing green living area filled with trees and plants. The entire area of Porta Nuovo is under construction. The large land proposes hope for a green, livable modern business center of Milan. The new opportunities and potential are enticing.

The Opera


The Teatro Alla Scala offers a lavish and stunning experience into the thriving tradition of opera. I bought pricey tickets to be in a plush compartment near the stage. It was one of the best seats in the opera house. I sat in awe at my surroundings. The compartment fits four people and was decorated with intricate gold embroidery that surrounded velvety cushions. The view into the audience was stunning. The compartments rose up five stories high. The wealthy regulars popped their heads over the balconies to chat with their friends. Antique gold lights radiated the expanse with a warm glow. The entire room was massive! I spent longer staring at the marvels of the room than I did admiring the Duomo. The Teatro Alla Scala is a must see destination. Unfortunately, camera use is strictly forbidden so I didn’t take my own pictures.


I attended the performance of La Bohème, one of the most famous operas in the world. It was emotional and intense. I sat above the orchestra, and the music complimented the story with hints of excitement followed by mourning. The opera opened with a humorous scene of starving artists freezing in a simple apartment. Dramatically, the artists burned their operas and writings to keep warm. I found the set to be amazing! It was extremely detailed from scuffs on the walls to textured windows. It was so realistic that I felt like I was peering into a portal, and witnessing France in the 1840s.



Scene from La Bohème from Teatro Alla Scala website


The next scene was intense. The curtains drew back to reveal a stage that was two stories high and filled with hundreds of actors. The bottom story was a busy riverside festival near a restaurant, while wealthier citizens gossiped on the upper story. Horses and donkeys pulling carriages and carts of goods traversed across the stage. The music was uplifting, as the two main couples each fell in love during the festivals.

Then the following scenes got dark and depressing. The relationships between the two couples struggled. In the climactic end, the woman, Mimì, confesses her final love to Rodolfo as she dies from a short life plagued with poverty. In her dying moments, Mimí asks Rodolfo if he thinks she is still beautiful. Rodolfo romantically explains, “Beautiful as the dawn.”  Then tragically, Mimí replies, “You’ve mistaken the image: you should have said, beautiful as the sunset.”



The entrance to Teatro Alla Scala


The Fashion

The average fashion in Milan is not as wild as Vogue Magazine portrays. However, the people of Milan are confident and prideful. Thus, the people of Milan dress smartly. There is a strong culture of eating small, healthy, fresh meals and hastily walking long distances, while exorbitantly drinking and smoking. This culture has uniquely paid off in an interesting way. The people of Milan are beautiful, sexy, charismatic and grungy. In fact, they walk a fine line. Due to healthy eating and exercise, the people are thin, with strong attributes of either femininity or masculinity. The women’s hairstyles are typically long, straight and black. During the summer, the younger women wear high waist short shorts with exposing blouses and elaborate laced sandals with super thick soles to make them appear taller and thinner. Also, rompers are very popular. The older women wear longer, colorful sundresses, or tight sheath dresses. I did notice that the fashion shops are influencing elaborate woman shoes. For example, heals are covered in fluffy fur. I didn’t notice anyone wearing these shoes. However, I did see a couple woman with shoes that had huge red bows on top. The bows were so enormous that the woman had to be careful to not trip.

The men have a stricter dress code. It is imperative to wear pants, preferably slacks, to enter many restaurants, churches, or special events. Shorts are not accepted. Even collared shirts are suggested. The men wear elaborated leather shoes, slacks, and half buttoned up dress shirts, exemplifying the machismo culture of Italians. Businessmen are dressed in full suits. The older men have longer, curly hair that is pushed back. The young men sport a more modern look of undercuts, with the sides trimmed short and the top long. The top can be slicked back or let loose, wildly.

Men and women both typically have many tattoos and greasy looking hair. Furthermore, sunglasses, bracelets, and large flashy watches are popular for everyone. Every type of sunglasses is worn such as round, wayfarer, butterfly or even octagon. The signs of tobacco and alcohol leave hardened faces and wrinkles. The women cover the wrinkles with flawless, but heavy makeup, while the men rock the look as it supports their masculine toughness. This is a unique contrast from how elegantly they dress and walk.

The Food

The food is surprisingly cheap. Unless of course, you are eating from a balcony in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. This is contributed by the prevalent aperitivo tradition and the lack of mass tourism. A traveler could eat well with only spending 20 euros a day. Aperitivio is typically 8 euros which includes a drink and a buffet for dinner between 8 pm and midnight. Breakfast seems to be a small muffin with a couple shots of espresso before work. Italians typically eat smaller meals when they are hungry.  Panini, gelato, and pizza cafes are everywhere. Each store takes fresh fruit for the new gelato each day. The pizza joints make their own tomato sauce by using a slow process with the best Italian tomatoes. This makes the pizza excellent.  Shopping at market stores is the cheapest option. Groceries are significantly cheaper in Milan than in Montana. Notably, olive oil is insanely cheap. As I am from Montana, Milan food lights up my taste buds. The fresh produce in Milan is mouth-watering. Even the cucumbers are juicy!

The cafes are my favorite. If you want to sit down, coffee is more expensive. Usually, Italians stand at the counter to drink their coffee and talk. It’s easy to meet people. Unlike Montana, liquor licenses in Italy are easy to attain.  This makes a wide available variety of types of coffee. A cafe shakerato is an iced coffee made like a cocktail with a shot of liqueur. A cafe correcto is an espresso with a shot of brandy. Many times a day, I always order a cafe macchiato. Each time, it is prepared excellently. In America, I would be running the risk of getting a horrible latte caramel macchiato. Uniquely, McCafes are popular here. In fact, I ordered a really good cafe macchiato from a McCafe.


Interestingly, the food in Milan used to be fairly unhealthy. Then, the Expo 2015 shocked Milan. The quality food from around the world at the festival altered how people in Milan thought out about food. Now, the healthy and exotic cuisine is fashional in Milan. The food scene in Milan is diverse and popular.

Follow closely as I dive deeper into Milan and the nearby cities of Italy.