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“Franza o Spagna purche se magna” is a cynical saying that translates as “France or Spain, it doesn’t matter, just as long as we get to eat”. From the 16th to the 19th century, Milan has alternately been in the hands of the Spaniards, Austrians and French. Many buildings and squares still recall that domination.
The Spaniards, who ruled the city from 1535-1706, built new walls in the early years of which only the Porta Romana gate is left. While the Spanish wall may no longer stand, the gate can still be visited. Porta Romana stands at the crossroads of the Piazza Medaglie d'Oro, about 2 kilometres southeast of the city centre.
Spanish rule ended in 1706 when Milan was occupied by Austrian troops. The 18th century was a period of economic and cultural revival. The city benefited from the wise administration of Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780) and was one of the centres of the Enlightenment.
An important architect from this period was Giuseppe Piermarini who designed the Teatro alla Scala opera house. The theatre was bombed in 1943 and rebuilt 3 years later. After another recent restoration, it is again the gem that it once was. With an area of 1,200 square metres, the podium is one of the largest stages in Italy. The wooden interior is lined with red velvet and decorated with gilded stucco. Founded in 1913, the theatre museum Museo Teatrale features a great collection of sculptures, original scores and ceramics. Visitors with an interest in the history of Italian opera will particularly enjoy visiting this place.
Teatro alla Scala, Via Filodrammatici, 2, Milan
The thriving cultural life of Milan continued undisturbed when the Austrians were forced to flee Napoleon’s armies in 1796. Milan became the capital of the Cisalpine Republic in 1797 and Napoleon had himself crowned King of Italy in the cathedral in 1805. Built on the edge of the Parco Sempione under the reign of Napoleon, the Arco della Pace was initially known as the Arch of the Victories. Later, when Milan was again in Austrian hands, Emperor Francis I had it renamed the Arc of Peace (after the treaty of 1815).