Outline of the History of Milan

(Based on Guido Bezzola’s “Milano”)

5th cent. B.C.  Founded by Gauls (Celts living in modern-day France), the name of the town is probably Celtic in origin ("midland").  Milan contributed to halting Etruscan expansion in the north.  As the influence of the Etruscans diminished, Milan became a powerful town in the Po valley.

222 B.C.          Rome occupies Milan for the first time.

196 B.C.          Romans occupy Milan permanently.

89  B.C.           Rome gives Milan the status of a Latin colony.

49  B.C.           Romans make Milan a Municipality, and in the decades that followed Milan became, under Augustus, the capital of the 11th region of Italy (the “Transpadana”).  It is during this period that Milan acquires the Roman urban plan that will characterize the city in the centuries that follow.

2nd century A.D. Christianity is introduced to Milan.  The struggle of Christians to establish their faith in Milan is marked by the martyrdom of Saints Victor, Felix, and Naborre.

3rd & 4th centuries A.D. the city undergoes significant urban growth.

292 A.D.          Milan replaces Rome as the capital of the Western Roman Empire.

313 A.D.          The Emperor Constantine issues the Edict of Tolerance in Milan, recognizing Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire.

374-397           St. Ambrose becomes the first archbishop of Milan.  Besides his role in the conversion of pagans, such as the future St. Augustine, his fight against the Arian heresy, and his opposition to the Roman Empire’s interference in church affairs, left an indelible mark on the Milanese church that would lay the foundations for one of the strongest churches in the west.

404                  The emperor Honorius moves the capital from Milan to Ravenna, which can be defended more easily from invasions.  In the centuries that follow Milan suffers at the hands of invaders from northern Europe.

489-493           Burgundians invade Milan

539                  Goths, under Uraiah, invade Milan

569                  Lombards (from Hungary) invade Milan, and most of the Milanese clergy and aristocracy take refuge in Genoa (in Liguria), a city that remains under Byzantine control until 642.  Lombardy (Lombardia), the region with Milan as its capital, bears their name to this day.

790                  When Charlemagne’s Franks enter Italy to conquer the Lombards, Milan begins a process of renewal.  Charlemagne creates a new mint in Milan, sign that the city was witnessing an economic and mercantile recovery.  Under the Carolingian reign, Milan becomes part of the Germanic empire, and developed strong bonds with the regions of central Europe.

998-1018         Archbishop Arnolf becomes one of the city’s most powerful leaders.

1018-1045       Archbishop Aribert of Intimiano assumes the governing powers that were traditionally reserved for the Carolingian counts.  The various archbishops of Milan are the pre-eminent authorities of the city.  They head a vast ecclesiastic region that includes fiefs and noble domains.

1037                The Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II issues the Constitution of Feuds thereby allowing vassals to inherit their land.  These lower aristocrats had been challenging the power of the established upper aristocracy for several years.

11th century      Milan experiences both economic and demographic growth.  It is located at the heart of a large agrarian plain (the Po Valley) where marshlands are being rapidly reclaimed and irrigation canals built to maximize the abundance of water in that region.  Much of this agrarian development is the work of Cistercian monks living in the surrounding countryside.  As the point of convergence of roads and waterways, Milan becomes the most important trading center of the Po Valley, and the natural bridge connecting north-central Europe to the Mediterranean.  During this time a strong urban middleclass, made up of merchants, artisans, and landowners not attached to the feudal aristocracy, asserts itself.

1042-1045       Lanzone della Corte leads a rebellion by the middleclass, and expels the aristocracy from Milan for several years.  In the decades that follow, this class warfare takes on a religious dimension with the patarini movement.  The patarini consisted of reformers within the church (supported by the church of Rome and Pope Gregory VII) who allied themselves with the Milanese middleclass against the established authority of the archbishop, the simoniac clergy, and the feudal nobility.

1075                The paterini movement weakens, and the archbishop becomes again the principle authority in Milan.  Nevertheless, this reform movement set in motion a number of changes: the urban middleclass organized its first governing council (consulatus civium) laying the foundation for the creation of an independent commune (city-state).

1110                The Lombard town of Lodi is destroyed by Milan

1118-1127       Milan defeats Como, thereby controlling access to the mountain passes connecting Milan to the Swiss cities.

1130                Milan conquers the town of Crema.

1158                Milan assumes leadership of the Lombard communes seeking independence from the Holy Roman Emperor, but is defeated in battle.

1161-1162       The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa tries to reassert his claim to Lombardy by capturing and destroying Milan.

1176                The Lombard League (Lega lombarda) is created and defeats Frederick Barbarossa at the famous battle of Legnano.  With the Peace of Constance, six years later, Frederick formally acknowledged the independence of Milan and the other communes of the Lombard League.

1198                The increased activity of merchants and artisans fosters the creation of the Council of Beliefs (also known as Credenza di Sant’Ambrogio) that allowed for self-governance.  The old aristocracy, on the other hand, was organized around the Motta.  The tension between aristocracy and middleclass brought about a monarchic government known as a signoria (seigniory) in which a lord (signore) ruled the town and surrounding territories.

1259                Martin della Torre becomes seignior of Milan.

1277                Otto Visconti becomes seignior of Milan.  In the decades that followed, the Torriani family, representing the Guelf cause (pro-Papacy), struggled for power against the Visconti family, representing the Ghibelline cause (pro-Holy Roman Emperor).

1260                New city walls expand the size of Milan to 200 square hectares, making it one of the biggest cities in Europe, with a population of over 100,000 inhabitants.

1288                The poet Bonvesin de la Riva writes about the greatness of Milan (De magnalibus urbis Mediolani) praising its inhabitants, its vigorous economic activity (especially in the textile trade), and its splendid churches and palaces.

1311                Matteo Visconti consolidates his family’s power over the city.

1329                Azzone Visconti consolidates the neighboring towns under Milan’s hegemony.  This will eventually create the State of Milan (Stato di Milano).  Under the reign of the Visconti, class struggles cease, and most of the republican institutions that existed under the commune are abolished.  The various classes that participated in the administration of the commune are now replaced by a closed patrician class.

1386                Gian Galeazzo Visconti begins the construction of the Duomo (cathedral) of Milan, the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, and the third largest church in the world.  Although not completed until the end of the 18th century, this building will become an important center of industry for Milanese craftsmen and architects in the centuries that followed.

1447                Filippo Maria Visconti dies without heirs, and the republican cause is revived.  With the support of the people and the most important Milanese families, the Ambrosian Republic is created.

1449-1450       Francesco Sforza lays siege to the Ambrosian Republic, and becomes the new ruler of Milan.

1450-1499       During the second half of the 15th century Milan enjoyed peace and prosperity under the reign of the Sforza family.  Milanese artisans prospered in the production of luxury goods: velvet, silk, tapestries, and goldsmithery.  Metallurgy was always an important craft in Lombardy, and from it came the production of arms and armor.  The most famous craftsmen of armor were the Missaglia family.  In the decades that followed, the Beretta family would begin producing arms too.  Today Beretta is the oldest company in the world, having been in the arms business for 500 years.

1494-1499       The reign of Ludovico Sforza “il Moro” (the Moor) and his wife Beatrice d’Este.  The Renaissance in Milan attains its highest form during their reign.  Leonardo da Vinci not only painted the Last Supper, but he worked as a hydraulics engineer to maximize the potential of the navigli (canals) that served as the city’s main infrastructure.  Leonardo also invented the machines that were used for the theatrical productions at the Sforza court.  Besides Leonardo, the painters Foppa, Zenale, and Butinone also worked in Milan.  The architect Bramante built the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  The humanists Filelfo, Barzizza, Calco, the historian Corio, the mathematician Pacioli, and the Greek scholar Calcondila all flourished in Milan during this period.

1499                King Louis XII of France conquers Milan; and for the next thirty years the Visconti try to regain control of the city.  Swiss troops and Imperial forces take control of Milan at various times during that thirty-year period; the population of Milan drops to 50,000 inhabitants (almost half of what it was before the French occupation); and the economy goes in a slump.

1535                Spaniards take control of Milan and Lombardy.  The population increases to 100,000 inhabitants by the middle of the 16th century, and the economy begins to improve.

1576                The plague strikes Milan, but despite this outbreak, the corporations of artisans and merchant flourish, and the economy rebounds in its traditional sectors: textiles, arms production, goldsmithery and other form of precious metallurgy.  During this period the upper class consisted of old noble families and new families who had become wealthy in business and banking.  Together they formed the Consiglio cittadino (Citizen Council) that exercised great power in administering the judiciary, tax collection, law enforcement, and the annona, the food board that regulated the price of wheat.  Professional corporations (especially those to which doctors and lawyers belonged) became more rigid: only members with illustrious ancestors who had resided at length in Milan were admitted.

1560-1584       St. Charles Borromeo is archbishop of Milan.  During his reign Milan assumes a major role in the Counter Reformation movement.  Under his guidance, the Milanese clergy is retrained and becomes one of the best in Italy.  New charitable and educational institutions are created, and old ones are strengthened.  All this leads to a religious revival in Milan over the next fifty years.

1595-1631       Federico Borromeo is archbishop of Milan.  He continues the work of his illustrious cousin, St. Charles Borromeo.  Federico also founded the Ambrosian Library in 1607 that would become an important cultural institution.  Milanese scholars such as Alciati, Cardano, Settala, and Tandino, as well as artists such as Campi and Crespi, also contributed to Milan’s cultural life during that period.

1620                Milan experiences a major economic decline as part of a world-wide recession.

1630                The plague strikes Milan killing between a third and a half of the population, and further crippling the economy of Milan and Lombardy.  Besides the plague, the taxation by the Spaniards, the rigid structure of the corporations, the competition from less expensive products produced in other countries, as well as the various wars that desolated the Lombard countryside, all contributed to the social and economic decline of Milan in the 17th century.  These dramatic events are related in Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (The Betrothed).

1706                Milan passes from Spanish to Austrian rule.  The Enlightenment comes to Milan during the reign of the Empress Maria Teresa (1740-80) and Joseph II (1780-90).  During their reign, tax codes are reformed, restriction schemes and food boards are abolished, numerous religious orders suppressed and ecclesiastic privileges curtailed, road networks and land registers are created.  The Austrians also foster improved economic and cultural activities; and the Milanese nobility and upper classes are instrumental in making this economic and cultural renewal possible.  In 1776 construction on the Teatro alla Scala, Europe’s most famous opera house, began, and the Brera Academy was founded.  The Società Palatina (Palatine Society) is founded, and provides funding for the publication of Ludovico Muratori’s monumental Rerum Italicarum Scriptores.  The Accademia dei Trasformati was renewed by G. M. Imbonati, and attracted some of the best minds of the age.  The Verri brothers published Il Caffè, one of the first Italian literary journals.  Cesare Beccaria, Manzoni’s grandfather, published his influential treatise Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crime and Punishment) that argued against the death penalty and torture.  Giuseppe Parini writes Il Mattino and Il Mezzogiorno.

1776                The Empress Maria Teresa founds the Società patriottica (Patriotic Society) that officially sanctions the new interest in economic, scientific and technical studies.  Her administrative reforms included the creation of the Congregazione patrimoniale where, for the first time, members who did not belong to the nobility were included.  Under her successor, Emperor Joseph II, primary school education is given greater importance, and Jansenism is supported.  In the wake of the French Revolution (1789), however, many of his policies are questioned.

1792-1835       Reign of Francis II.  Fear of the ideals advocated by the French revolution make the Austrians reluctant to continue on the path of reform.  As a result, Italians living under Austrian rule begin questioning their “enlightened despots.”

1796-1814       Napoleon conquers Milan and expels the Austrians from Lombardy.  This era is marked by an efficient administration of Milan, following Napoleonic forms of municipal government.  Freedom, however, is restricted in the name of restoring order.  In 1802 Napoleon creates the Italian Republic, and three years later the Kingdom of Italy, administered by his brother-in-law, Eugene Beauharnais.  Milan becomes the de facto capital; and the Italian aristocracy is appointed to the high offices of the new Kingdom.  Vincenzo Monti becomes the leading poet at the Milanese court of Beauharnais, and attracts a number of artists who supported the Napoleonic regime: Luigi Lamberti, U. Lampredi, L. Valeriani, and Giuseppe Bossi.  Vincenzo Cuoco, L. Rossi, F. Cherubini, G. Bernardoni are among the writers who contributed to the regime’s newspaper Giornale Italiano.  Other pro-Napoleonic newspapers flourish during this period: Poligrafo, Corriere Milanese, and Corriere delle Dame.  The Italian writers who opposed Napoleonic rule were Ugo Foscolo, Silvio Pellico, and Pietro Borsieri; and the journal that represented the opposition was Annali di Scienza e Lettere.  The polemics for and against Napoleonic rule created a rift between Monti and Foscolo, the two most important poets of that period.

1814                After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Council of Vienna gives back Milan and Lombardy to Austria, in what will be known as the Restoration.  The long years of war made Austria economically weak and closed to any new ideas that came from France and England.  There was mutual distrust between Milanese and their restored Austrian rulers.

1816-1820       The short run of Conciliatore, Italy’s most famous literary journal of the Romantic period.  With the pretext of opposing the use of mythology and Aristotelian principles of unity in drama, Conciliatore actually served as a vehicle to introduce the new ideas of several Italian intellectuals, including Silvio Pellico, Pietro Borsieri, Giovanni Berchet, Luigi Porro, Ludovico di Breme, Giuseppe Pecchio, and Ermes Visconti.   Conciliatore affirmed Lombard independence and an English-style government.  Although Austrian authorities eventually suppressed the journal, persecuted and jailed several of its writers, and force others into exile, they were unable to fully suppress the intellectual and cultural life of Milan.  The first decades of the 19th century witnessed the dialect poety of Carlo Porta and the works of Alessando Manzoni, the most important writer of the Italian Romantic period.  Manzoni’s play, Il conte di Carmagnola, is published the year Conciliatore is suppressed, and his play Adelchi appears in 1822.  The first version of his masterpiece, Promessi sposi (The Betrothed), appears in 1825-27.  All these works had a significant political message in them.  Despite the suppression of Conciliatore, the Milanese press continued to thrive through other journals: Rivista Europea, founded by Cesare Cantù, and Politecnico, founded by Carlo Cattaneo.

1832-33           Giuseppe Mazzini’s independence movement Giovane Italia takes hold in Milan, even among the lower classes.

1848                The five-day revolt against Austrian rule is followed by a brief period of freedom that reveals a split within the Risorgimento (independence movement) in Milan.  The “democrats,” led by Carlo Cattaneo and Enrico Cernuschi, advocate a “people’s war” that excludes the royal monarchy of Savoy; whereas the “moderates,” led by Gabrio Casati, advocate uniting Lombardy with the Kingdom of Piedmont (ruled by the royal house of Savoy) in a common struggle for independence.  The moderates prevail, but the Austrian army defeats the Piedmontese army and reoccupy Milan.

1848-1861       The Austrians crack down on the Risorgimento movement, forcing many Milanese writers into exile and confiscating their property.  Through his newspaper Crepuscolo, Carlo Tenca becomes one of the few voices of freedom to be heard in Milan during this period.   Opera is the one art that continues to flourish, as it had during most of the Restoration (1814-48).  The Ricordi publishing house plays an important role in this field by publishing the operas of Giuseppe Verdi and other great musicians of the period.

1861                Milan becomes part of the new Kingdom of Italy.  Although the capital of this newly formed kingdom is in Turin (Piedmont), Milan is the economic capital.  Milan witnesses a remarkable growth as businessmen and technicians from France, Belgium, England, Germany and Switzerland come to work there.  The railway network is expanded; and the completion of the St. Gotthard tunnel through the Alps, in 1882, facilitates commerce with northern Europe.  The newspaper business flourishes: Perseveranza is founded in 1859 and Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most important newspaper, is founded in 1876.  Both papers represent the point of view of the “moderates.”  The newspapers Secolo, Gazzettino Rosa, and Plebe, on the other hand, represent the left wing.  Treves becomes one of the most important publishing houses in Italy.
The “Scapigliatura” (“loose living”) movement flourishes between 1860 and 1880.  Consisting of middle class writers and artists who rebelled against the state of affairs in post-unified Italy, the “scapigliati” (“disheveled”) tried to totally renew the arts in literature, music, theatre, painting, and architecture.  Among the best know writers of this movement are the Boito brothers (Arrigo and Camillo), Emilio Praga, Igino Ugo Tarchetti, Carlo Dossi, Giuseppe Rovani, and Carlo Righetti, the founder of the Teatro Milanese (Milanese Theatre).  The best-known painters of this movement are Tranquillo Cremona, Giuseppe Grandi, and Daniele Ranzoni; they painted alongside the more traditional Lombard painters of that period (e.g. Appiani and Induno).

1872                Pirelli is founded, and becomes Italy’s first multi-national company.  A pioneer in rubber production, it would become the world’s leading manufacturer of insulated cables.  Today Pirelli is a leader in the telecommunication industry as well as in the tire industry.  It produces Scorpio tires in Rome, Georgia.

1882                The industrialization of Milan and the birth of a modern proletariat directly connected to the factories foster the development of the Partito Operaio (Workers’ Party).

1883                The inauguration in Milan of Europe’s first central generating plant.  It provides enough electricity to light La Scala opera house, the Galleria shopping mall, and the surrounding streets.  Giuseppe Colombo saw the potential of harnessing Lombardy’s huge Alpine rivers for hydro-electricity.

1884                The founding of Edison (later known as Montedison, when it merged with the chemical company Montecatini), Italy’s most important electric power company.  By 1913 Italy would produce more electricity than France and almost as much as Great Britain.

1892                The Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI), the Italian Socialist Party is founded, and the Milanese newspaper Critica sociale (Social Criticism) becomes the party’s newspaper.  The PSI will become Italy’s most powerful left-wing party for the next one hundred years; and Milan will be one of its strongholds. 

   
1894                The Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI) is founded in Milan with German and other foreign capital.  The BCI is the first “mixed” bank in Italy, providing venture capital in areas that other banks found too risky.  The BCI funded major enterprises, including the electric generating plants that would power many of the industries in Lombardy and the neighboring regions of Piedmont and Liguria.

1898                The political and social crisis that Italy experienced that year led to massive strikes and demonstrations that were met with brutal repression by the government.  General Bava-Beccaris killed more than a hundred demonstrators in Milan.  The courts also reacted harshly against the organizers of the demonstrations forcing several of them into exile, including the socialist Filippo Turati, the radical Carlo Romussi, the Catholic priest Don Davide Albertario, and the left-wing writer Paolo Valera.

1901-1915       The Giolitti period.  Giovanni Giolitti, the prime minister of Italy, defuses some of the social tension by allowing labor unions to go on strike without sending the army to put down their demonstrations, thereby allowing them to negotiate for better contracts and working conditions.  In 1902 the Bocconi University is founded, one of only four private universities in Italy.  During this period Milan attracts some of Italy’s greatest writers through the Treves publishing house: Giovanni Verga, Gabriele D’Annuzio, Luigi Pirandello (future Noble laureate), Antonio Fogazzaro, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of the Italian futurist movement.  The local poets Pompeo Bettini and Gian Pietro Lucini, and the playwright Carlo Bertolazzi also flourish.  It is also during this period that Benito Mussolini becomes the editor of the PSI newspaper Avanti! in Milan.  Milan also witnesses the foundation of the catholic newspaper Rinnovamento under the direction of Alessandro Casati and Tommaso Gallarati Scotti during this period.

1906                Alfa is founded in Milan.  Alfa Romeo, as it will later be known, is Italy’s second largest automotive company, after FIAT.  In the years before World War I, Milan’s automotive, chemical, and steel industries expand, as does the city itself.

1915-1918       World War I.  The year before the Great War, Milan elects its first Socialist mayor, Emilio Caldara, who will significantly expand low-income housing in the city.

1919                After Mussolini is kicked out of the PSI for advocating Italy’s entry into World War I, he creates the Fasci di Combattimento in Milan, which begins as a left-wing movement, but then becomes a right-wing movement the following year.  Two years after its founding, the movement will become the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party), and Mussolini will use it to become prime minister of Italy in 1922, and later dictator.

1922-1945       The reign of Mussolini.  Although some Milanese industrialists supported Mussolini for fear of the “red threat,” many Milanese rejected Fascism.  The “years of consensus,” during which Mussolini tried to foster a Fascist culture, broke down in 1936.  The writers Alfonso Gatto, Leonardo Sinisgalli, and Salvatore Quasimodo (future Noble laureate) rejected the socio-cultural politics of Fascism, as did the art critics Raffaello Giolli and Edoardo Persico, and the architect Giuseppe Pagano.  Carlo Emilio Gadda, one of Italy’s greatest writers, begins his literary career in Milan during this period.  Two new universities are founded in Milan, l’Università Cattolica, the Catholic University (1921-24), and l’Università Statale, the State University (1924).

1941-1945       World War II.  Sixty percent of Milan is destroyed by American bombers during the war.  Bramante’s Chiesa delle Grazie was destroyed, except for the wall containing Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.  The Scala opera house was also destroyed, as were the State Archives, which housed valuable historic documents, the Biblioteca Communale (Communal Library), and several private archives and libraries.

1945-1947       The short run of Il Politecnico, an influential literary journal founded in Milan by Elio Vittorini, the author of Conversazione in Sicilia (Conversation in Sicily), the only anti-Fascist novel to be published during Fascism.

1947 - present  Other left-wing journals are born in Milan, including Milano Sera, as well as Catholic journals such as L’uomo.  Corriere della Sera, the most important newspaper in Milan, attracts several important writers including Eugenio Montale (future Noble laureate), Dino Buzzati, and Riccardo Bacchelli.  In 1956 Il giorno is founded, a newspaper that will become second only to Corriere della Sera in Milan.  Milan is now home to 30% of Italy’s newspapers, journals, and publishing firms, and has attracted writers from many parts of Italy, including the poets Sergio Solmi and Franco Fortini, the literary critics Carlo Bo, Luciano Anceschi (founding editor of the literary journal Il Verri), Giancarlo Vigorelli, Antonio Banfi, Enzo Paci and R. Cantoni.
La Scala was rebuilt after the war, and has become the most important opera house in the world.  The Piccolo Teatro (Little Theater) was founded by Giorgio Strehler and P. Grassi, and has become one of the most modern repertory theaters in Europe.
                        The worker strikes and student demonstrations that began in 1968 and continued through the 1970s fostered various social protest movements and even some terrorist groups.  Right-wing terrorists set off a bomb in Piazza Fontana on December 12, 1969 killing many people, and the left-wing Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) engaged in political assassinations.
In 1973 the population of Milan reached its peak at 1,745,220 inhabitants, as the flow of immigrants to the city, from other parts of Italy, stabilized.  Since that time the population has decreased as Milanese move to smaller towns surrounding Milan, and commute to their jobs in Milan using Italy’s extensive railway network.  Today Milan is the financial capital of Italy: the stock market and most of Italy’s important banks have their headquarters here.  It is also the capital of Italian industrial and commercial design, from automotive to fashion design, and everything in between.  As the regional capital of Lombardy, Milan is closely tied to all the major industries in that region: the chemical industry (25% of Italy’s total output), rubber (27% of Italy’s total output); printing (30% of everything printed in Italy); steel (12% of Italy’s total output); paper (13% of Italy’s total output); automotive and heavy machinery (16% of Italy’s total output); and, of course, clothing and leather goods.