Along with the Cathedral - Milan's most famous and much beloved monument - the big Castle is linked to the vicissitudes and dramatic events that the city has been experiencing over the past centuries. For many years, in fact, it has represented a symbol of the power in the hands of the Dukes, as well as of the foreign dominators. Only at the beginning of the 20th century the Castle assumed its distinctive role, becoming a place of culture, which hosted numerous Lombard art collections. The Castle was named after Francesco Sforza, who transformed it into a ducal residence in 1450. But its origins date back to the second half of the 14th century, at the time of Galeazzo II Visconti.
THE FOUNDATION BY THE VISCONTI
The old little fortress called 'di Porta Giovia' was built in the period from 1360 to 1370 along Milan's medieval walls, of which it includes the gate with the same name. Galeazzo II Visconti decided to have this fortress built basically as a defence. Then, his successors Gian Galeazzo and Filippo Maria went on with the building. In particular, the latter made the fortress his residence and arranged the great park in the northern area. The Visconti Castle had a square plan (180x180 meters). A tower was built in each corner.
The last descendant of the Visconti family, Filippo Maria, died in 1447. He had no legitimate heirs, so the citizens from Milan proclaimed the Republic. The fortress was demolished and its stones were used to restore the town walls.
THE CASTLE REBUILT
Three years later, in 1450, general Francesco Sforza, a great leader who had married Bianca Maria Visconti, Filippo Maria's illegitimate child and sole heir, became Duke of Milan. The Castle was rebuilt upon the ancient foundations of the Visconti Castle. The new fortress appeared more refined thanks to the Filarete tower, which was placed at the entrance, and to the great round towers designed by architect Bartolomeo Gadio.
THE DUKE'S RESIDENCE
In 1466, Francesco Sforza's successor Galeazzo Maria transformed the courtyard inside the Castle facing the park into a luxury residence, which was named the Corte Ducale. Next to the Corte Ducale was a square-planned complex called the Rocchetta. Really a fortress inside the fortress, the Rocchetta was provided with a high tower called Torre di Bona. This tower was named after Bona di Savoia, Galeazzo Maria Sforza's widow.
In the late XV century (from 1480 to 1500), Ludovico il Moro entrusted architect Donato Bramante and Leonardo Da Vinci with the building of a pretty little bridge overlooking the outer moat (the Ponticella) and the painting of the famous frescos on the walls inside the Sala delle Asse.
THE FRENCH DOMINATION
During the French domination in the years that followed the fall of Ludovico il Moro (1499), the Castle survived delicate historical events: battles, occupations, sacking and destruction. In those years, the Filarete tower was used as an ammunition storage area. During a stormy night in 1521 a lightning rod hit the tower and made it explode causing casualties and damage to the whole structure.
THE SPANISH FORTIFICATION
During the Spanish domination, which began in 1526, a star-shaped fortification was built around the Castle to make it impregnable, also because it was provided with supplies and fodder storage areas, as well as with a number of water wells.
THE AUSTRIAN DOMINATION
During the Austrian domination, which began in 1706 and lasted for about one century, the Castle was used for military purposes only. It saw several restorations until the assault by Napoleon's troops in 1796.
THE CASTLE CONQUERED BY NAPOLEON
The assault by the Napoleon's army at the end of the 18th century caused severe damage to the old fortress, as the citizens from Milan mutilated its towers and the Sforza family coats of arms. Finally, Napoleon decided that the external structure of the building should be demolished and the Castle used to quarter the troops. The frescoed rooms at the ground floor of the Corte Ducale were even used as stables.
THE AUSTRIAN RESTORATION
During the Restoration (from 1815 to 1859), the Castle was assaulted by the Milan citizens rebelling against the Austrian domination.
THE CASTLE RESTORED
With the Unification of Italy (1861), Milan and its Castle could recover the cultural and public function that has been characterizing the city until our days. Architect Luca Beltrami was entrusted with the reconstruction and restoration of the old fortress. What remained of the old fortifications outside the building was demolished, new moats were dug around the castle, the Rocchetta and the Boa tower were restored and the upper part of the round towers reconstructed. The Filarete tower was completely rebuilt and unveiled in 1905. The Castle was given back to the city of Milan and destined to house museums and libraries.