Originally a Visconti fortress, this iconic red-brick castle was later home to the mighty Sforza dynasty, who ruled Renaissance Milan. The castle’s defenses were designed by the multitalented da Vinci; Napoleon later drained the moat and removed the drawbridges. Today, it houses seven specialized museums, which gather together intriguing fragments of Milan’s cultural and civic history, including Michelangelo’s final work, the Rondanini Pietà, now housed beautifully in the frescoed hall of the castle’s Ospedale Spagnolo (Spanish Hospital).
Of the museums, the most interesting is the Museum of Ancient Art (Civiche Raccolta d’Arte Antica), which is displayed in the ducal apartments, some of which are frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci. Included in the collection are early Paleo-Christian sculptures, the superb equestrian tomb of Bernarbò Visconti and sculpted reliefs depicting Milan’s triumph over Barbarossa. The exhibit eloquently tells the story of the birth of Italy’s first city comune through murderous dynastic and regional ambitions, which made this one of the most powerful courts in Europe.
On the 1st floor the Museo dei Mobile (Furniture Museum) and Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) blend seamlessly, leading you from ducal wardrobes and writing desks through to a collection of Lombard Gothic art. Among the masterpieces are Andrea Mantegna’s Trivulzio Madonna, Vincenzo Foppa’s St Sebastian and Bramantino’s Noli me tangere (Touch me not).