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BGTW AGM - Touring Milan & Lombardia
The roof of Milan’s cathedral may not rank with the Grand Canal or the Sistine Chapel on the bucket list of Italian attractions – but to be up there at dusk, with a reddening sky tinting its rib cage of flying buttresses and glorious Gothic spires is one of Europe’s great experiences.
It was certainly a high for Guild members in the afterglow of a highly successful Annual General Meeting at Palazzo Pirelli the previous day – and that morning’s briefing on Expo Milano 2015, scheduled for a May 1 opening on a site to the north west of the city.
Some of us had walked there from the Convent of church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where we hade been treated to an exclusive inspection of Leonardo da Vinci’s ground breaking Last Supper. But that’s the way with Lombardy. When you’re not over eating – risotto Milanese is a typical, waist expanding starter, for the nearby Po Valley is the rice bowl of Italy – you’re overdosing on culture.
After Milan we split into two groups – one heading for the lakes and Brescia, the other to Cremona and Mantua.
The former took to the water on lovely Lake Como, their boat passing the point of grisly memory, where Mussolini and his girlfriend Clara Puttaci were executed being hung upside down from lampposts in Milan, the Villa Le Rose before where Churchill stayed in 1946, ostensibly unwind and paint but perhaps, if rumours are to be believed, to track down letters in Il Duce’s possession when he was seized by Communist partisans – and later the villa where George Clooney comes in summer.
A small group who stayed an extra night visited the frescoed church of Santa Maria della Neve (of the Snow – nicknamed the poor man’s Sistine Chapel) and was rowed across Lake Iseo to Monte Isola, where fish is dried on poles and where the car, in which they were driven around the island, belongs to the local policeman.
The other tour started in Cremona, the violin capital of the world. There are 157 violinmakers in the city. Not all are Italian. To learn something of the art we visited one whose grandfather came from Hungary. We went to the Violin Museum, where instruments made by Stradivarius are kept under glass. Later we heard pieces by Massenet and Paganini played one of them – the 1727 Stradivari “Vesuvius” – by the brilliant young musician Lena Yokoyama.
On then to Mantua, whose richly compact old centre was built up by the Gonzaga family over four centuries from the mid 14th century. We took photographs of its skyline from across the lakes which have served as a defence, the view marred only slightly by continuing repair work following an earthquake which struck in 2012. A long and intensive itinerary took in the Ducal Palace. It was probably as well the Gonzagas’ huge art collection was partly sold off to pay debts and partly looted by Napoleon’s army – or might have been insufficient time for the raunchy frescoes at the Palazzo Te, the massive cathedral or the beautiful 18th century Bibiena Theatre, where a 13 years old Mozart played harpsichord.
(with thanks to Andrea Montgomery and Susie Boulton – whose full accounts of their post AGM tours appear in Globetrotter)
©Images by Roger Bray