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Open party in Parco Sempione

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Milan, Latin: Mediolanum, is the second-most populous city in Italy and the capital of Lombardy. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area is the 5th largest in the EU with an estimated population of about 5,264,000. The massive suburban sprawl that followed the post-war boom of the 1950s–60s and the growth of a vast commuter belt, suggest that socio-economic linkages have expanded well beyond the boundaries of its administrative limits and its agglomeration, creating a polycentric metropolitan area of 7-10 million people, stretching over the former provinces of Milan, Bergamo, Como, Lecco, Lodi, Monza and Brianza, Pavia, Varese, Novara. It has been suggested that the Milan metropolitan region is part of the so-called Blue Banana, the area of Europe with the highest population and industrial density, and one of the Four Motors for Europe.

Milan was founded by the Insubres, a Celtic people. The city was later conquered by the Romans as Mediolanum, eventually becoming the capital of the Western Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, Milan flourished as a commercial and banking center. In the course of the following centuries, it had been alternatively dominated by France, Habsburg Spain, and Austria, until 1859 when the city joined the rising Kingdom of Italy. During the early 1900s, Milan led the industrialization process of the young nation, being at the very center of the economic, social, and political debate. Badly affected by World War II, and suffering a harsh Nazi occupation, the city became the main centre of the Italian Resistance. In post-war years, the city enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, attracting large flows of workers from Southern Italy. During the last decades, Milan has seen a dramatic rise in the number of international immigrants, and in 2011 more than one sixth of its population is foreign born.

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Milan is the main industrial, commercial, and financial centre of Italy and a leading global city. Its business district hosts the Borsa Italiana (Italy’s main stock exchange) and the headquarters of the largest national banks and companies. The city is a major world fashion and design capital. Milan’s museums, theatres and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the fifth largest cathedral in the world, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with Leonardo da Vinci paintings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) attracts over 6 million annual visitors. It hosts numerous cultural institutions and universities, with 185,000 enrolled students in 2011, i.e. 11 percent of the national total. The city is also well known for several international events and fairs, including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair, the largest of its kind in the world, and will host the 2015 Universal Exposition, and Design World Expo in 2016. Milan is home to two of the world’s major football teams, A.C. Milan and F.C. Internazionale Milano.

Toponymy

The etymology of Milan is very uncertain. While the modern name of the city is clearly derived from its Latin name Mediolanum, apparently from the Latin words medio, meaning “in the middle”, and planus, “plain”,[unreliable source?] it has been suggested that its original roots could lie more deeply in the city’s Celtic heritage. Indeed, the name “Mediolanum” is borne by about sixty Gallo-Roman sites all over France, such as Saintes (Mediolanum Santonum) and Évreux (Mediolanum Aulercorum), as every Celtic community had its sacred assembly place of law and justice, usually placed at the midpoint of their territory. In addition, some scholars have suggested that the second element of the Latin name, lanum, could be identified with the Celtic root lan, signifying an enclosure or demarcated territory (source of the Welsh word ‘llan’, meaning a sanctuary or church) in which Celtic communities used to build shrines. Hence, Mediolanum could signify the central town or sanctuary of a particular Celtic tribe.

Another theory links the origin of the name to the boar sow (the Scrofa semilanuta) an ancient emblem of the city, fancifully accounted for in Andrea Alciato’s Emblemata (1584), beneath a woodcut of the first raising of the city walls, where a boar is seen lifted from the excavation, and the etymology of Mediolanum given as “half-wool”, explained in Latin and in French. The foundation of Milan is credited to two Celtic peoples, the Bituriges and the Aedui, having as their emblems a ram and a boar; therefore “The city’s symbol is a wool-bearing boar, an animal of double form, here with sharp bristles, there with sleek wool.” Alciato credits Ambrose for his account.

Antiquity

Ruins of the Emperor’s palace in Milan. Here Constantine I and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan.
Around 400 BC, the Celtic Insubres settled Milan and the surrounding region. In 222 BC, the Romans conquered the settlement, which was then renamed Mediolanum. After several centuries of Roman control, Milan was declared the capital of the Western Roman Empire by Emperor Diocletian in 286 AD. Diocletian chose to stay in the Eastern Roman Empire (capital Nicomedia) and his colleague Maximianus ruled the Western one. Immediately Maximian built several gigantic monuments, like a large circus 470 m × 85 m (1,542 ft × 279 ft), the Thermae Herculeae, a large complex of imperial palaces and several other services and buildings.

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With the Edict of Milan of 313, Emperor Constantine I guaranteed freedom of religion for Christians. After city was besieged by the Visigoths in 402, the imperial residence was moved to the more strategic city of Ravenna. In 452, the Huns overran the city. In 539, the Ostrogoths conquered and destroyed Milan in the course of the Gothic War against Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. In the summer of 569, the Lombards (from which the name of the Italian region Lombardy derives), a Teutonic tribe conquered Milan, overpowering the small Byzantine army left for its defence. Some Roman structures remained in use in Milan under Lombard rule. Milan surrendered to the Franks in 774 when Charlemagne, in an utterly novel decision, took the title of “King of the Lombards” as well (before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people). The Iron Crown of Lombardy dates from this period. Subsequently, Milan became part of the Holy Roman Empire.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, Milan prospered as a centre of trade due to its command of the rich plain of the Po and routes from Italy across the Alps. The war of conquest by Frederick I Barbarossa against the Lombard cities brought the destruction of much of Milan in 1162. After the founding of the Lombard League in 1167, Milan took the leading role in this alliance. The war between the German emperor and the Italian communes went on with mixed fortunes for years, ending with the Italian victory at the battle of Legnano. As a result of the independence that the Lombard cities gained in the Peace of Constance in 1183, Milan became a duchy. In 1208 Rambertino Buvalelli served a term as podestà of the city, in 1242 Luca Grimaldi, and in 1282 Luchetto Gattilusio. The position could be fraught with personal dangers in the violent political life of the medieval commune: in 1252 Milanese heretics assassinated the Church’s Inquisitor, later known as Saint Peter Martyr, at a ford in the nearby contado; the killers bribed their way to freedom, and in the ensuing riot the podestà was very nearly lynched. In 1256 the archbishop and leading nobles were expelled from the city. In 1259 Martino della Torre was elected Capitano del Popolo by members of the guilds; he took the city by force, expelled his enemies, and ruled by dictatorial powers, paving streets, digging canals, successfully taxing the countryside. His policy, however, brought the Milanese treasury to collapse; the use of often reckless mercenary units further angered the population, granting an increasing support for the Della Torre’s traditional enemies, the Visconti. It is worthy of note that the most important industries throughout the period were major armaments and wool production, a whole catalogue of activities and trades is given in Bonvesin della Riva’s “de Magnalibus Urbis Mediolani”.

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On 22 July 1262 Ottone Visconti was created archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV, against the Della Torre candidate, Raimondo della Torre, Bishop of Como. The latter thus started to publicize allegations of the Visconti’s closeness to the heretic Cathars and charged them of high treason: the Visconti, who accused the Della Torre of the same crimes, were then banned from Milan and their properties confiscated. The ensuing civil war caused more damage to Milan’s population and economy, lasting for more than a decade. Ottone Visconti unsuccessfully led a group of exiles against the city in 1263, but after years of escalating violence on all sides, finally, after the victory in the Battle of Desio (1277), he won the city for his family. The Visconti succeeded in ousting the della Torre forever, ruling the city and its possession until the 15th century.

Much of the prior history of Milan was the tale of the struggle between two political factions: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Most of the time the Guelphs were successful in the city of Milan. However, the Visconti family were able to seize power (signoria) in Milan, based on their “Ghibelline” friendship with the German Emperors. In 1395, one of these emperors, Wenceslas (1378–1400), raised the Milanese to the dignity of a duchy. Also in 1395, Gian Galeazzo Visconti became duke of Milan. The Ghibelline Visconti family was to retain power in Milan for a century and a half from the early 14th century until the middle of the 15th century.

In 1447 Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, died without a male heir; following the end of the Visconti line, the Ambrosian Republic was enacted. The Ambrosian Republic took its name from St. Ambrose, popular patron saint of the city of Milan. Both the Guelph and the Ghibelline factions worked together to bring about the Ambrosian Republic in Milan. However, the Republic collapsed when in 1450, Milan was conquered by Francesco Sforza, of the House of Sforza, which made Milan one of the leading cities of the Italian Renaissance.

Early modern

Milan’s last independent ruler, Lodovico il Moro, called French king Charles VIII into Italy in the expectation that France might be an ally in inter-Italian wars. The future king of France, Louis of Orléans, took part in the expedition and realized Italy was virtually defenceless. This prompted him to come back a few years later and claim the Duchy of Milan for himself, his grandmother having been a member of the ruling Visconti family. At that time, Milan was also defended by Swiss mercenaries. After the victory of Louis’s successor François I over the Swiss at the Battle of Marignan, the duchy was promised to the French king François I. When the Spanish Habsburg Charles V defeated François I at the Battle of Pavia in 1525, northern Italy, including Milan, passed to Habsburg Spain.

In 1556, Charles V abdicated in favour of his son Philip II and his brother Ferdinand I. Charles’s Italian possessions, including Milan, passed to Philip II and remained with the Spanish line of Habsburgs, while Ferdinand’s Austrian line of Habsburgs ruled the Holy Roman Empire.

The Great Plague of Milan in 1629–31 killed an estimated 60,000 people out of a population of 130,000. This episode is considered one of the last outbreaks of the centuries-long pandemic of plague that began with the Black Death.

In 1700 the Spanish line of Habsburgs was extinguished with the death of Charles II. After his death, the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701 with the occupation of all Spanish possessions by French troops backing the claim of the French Philippe of Anjou to the Spanish throne. In 1706, the French were defeated in Ramillies and Turin and were forced to yield northern Italy to the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht formally confirmed Austrian sovereignty over most of Spain’s Italian possessions including Lombardy and its capital, Milan.


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Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, and Milan was declared capital of the Cisalpine Republic. Later, he declared Milan capital of the Kingdom of Italy and was crowned in the Duomo. Once Napoleon’s occupation ended, the Congress of Vienna returned Lombardy, and Milan, along with Veneto, to Austrian control in 1815. During this period, Milan became a centre of lyric opera. Here in the 1770s Mozart had premiered three operas at the Teatro Regio Ducal. Later La Scala became the reference theatre in the world, with its premières of Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi. Verdi himself is interred in the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, his present to Milan. In the 19th century other important theatres were La Cannobiana and the Teatro Carcano.

On 18 March 1848, the Milanese rebelled against Austrian rule, during the so-called “Five Days” (Italian: Le Cinque Giornate), and Field Marshal Radetzky was forced to withdraw from the city temporarily. The Kingdom of Sardinia stepped in to help the insurgents; a plebiscite held in Lombardy decided in favor of unification with Sardinia. However, after defeating the Sardinian forces at Custoza on 24 July, Radetzky was able to reassert Austrian control over Milan and northern Italy. A few years on, however, Italian nationalists again called for the removal of Austria and Italian unification. Sardinia and France formed an alliance and defeated Austria at the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Following this battle, Milan and the rest of Lombardy were incorporated into the Kingdom of Sardinia, which soon gained control of most of Italy and in 1861 was rechristened as the Kingdom of Italy.

The political unification of Italy cemented Milan’s commercial dominance over northern Italy. It also led to a flurry of railway construction that had started under Austrian partronage (Venice–Milan; Milan–Monza) that made Milan the rail hub of northern Italy. Thereafter with the opening of the Gotthard (1881) and Simplon (1906) railway tunnels, Milan became the major South European rail focus for business and passenger movements e.g. the Simplon Orient Express. Rapid industrialization and market expansion put Milan at the centre of Italy’s leading industrial region, though in the 1890s Milan was shaken by the Bava-Beccaris massacre, a riot related to a high inflation rate. Meanwhile, as Milanese banks dominated Italy’s financial sphere, the city became the country’s leading financial centre.

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Milan, Parco Sempione

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