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Milan: a quest for beauty

Last updated on July 2, 2018

How Milan started its quest for beauty?

The Belle Epoque

The second half of the nineteenth century was a crucial period for the city. The whole Piazza del Duomo was subject to a relevant renovation. Architect Giuseppe Mengoni was in charge of the construction of the Galleria which was dedicated to the King of Italy as well as the equestrian monument in the middle of the square. The first powerhouse of continental Europe was installed in Milan in 1883 to enlighten the streets around the city centre. This demonstrates how eager the Milanese society was to keep up with the industrial revolution which was occurring in the rest of Europe. In 1906 the Universal Exposition took place in Milan to celebrate the most recent innovations and inventions. The city was living the dream of the Belle Epoque.

The birth of Futurism

In 1909 the artist Filippo Marinetti founded in Milan the artistic and social movement known as Futurism. He was later joined by Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and many others. Their aim was to describe the new technologies and the speed of the industrial revolution. In 1910 the automotive company Alfa Romeo started its production in a factory on the outskirts of the city. Milan was asserting itself as the industrial and financial hub of Italy. A role that the city maintained also during the Great War (1915 – 1918), because of the armament industry, that costed to Milan more than 10.000 lives which are now commemorated at the Tempio della Vittoria near the Sant’Ambrogio basilica.

The rise of fascism

The period between the two wars is also called the ventennio (the twenty years of Mussolini’s dictatorship) and saw the fascists taking the power over Italy and the Italians. Fascism (sadly!) started in Milan when a young Benito Mussolini in 1919 gathered with some others Italian rebels in Piazza San Sepolcro. The fascist ideology led Italy towards the disastrous WWII and Milan as well as the rest of the Italian territory suffered the consequences of the conflict. During the war Milan was severely damaged by the allied bombing. In February and August 1943 the RAF (the British Royal Air Force) conducted two missions aimed at destroying the city. The La Scala theatre, the national gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera), the Royal Palace and the Santa Maria delle Grazie basilica were among the historical monuments to be partially destroyed. On the 25th of April 1945 the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (the committee for the national liberation of Northern Italy) started the insurrection against the fascism. The war was over and Milan could start its resurrection.

The economic boom

The late fifties and the early sixties of the twentieth century are the years of the economic boom. The people moved from the agricultural sector to the industry, the average salary increased  and international exportations started to become relevant for the business development of Italy. In this social and cultural context Milan played the most significant role attracting immigrants from the Southern regions of the country. The new confidence and attitude of the Milanese people is also confirmed by the new buildings that were erected during the Miracolo Economico (the economic miracle).  The Torre Velasca (1958) and the Grattacielo Pirelli (1960) are the symbols of the power and strength of the city and, above all, of its rebirth.

The seventies: years of terror

The peace of this particular time frame was suddenly interrupted by the Strage (massacre) di Piazza Fontana. On the 12th of December 1969 an explosion devastated the hall of the National Bank of Agriculture, behind the Duomo cathedral, causing the death of 17 people. It was the beginning of one of the darkest period of the history of the Italian republic: gli anni di piombo (the lead years). The spread of terrorism throughout the Italian territory lasted till the end of the seventies and had important consequences on the Italian political system.

The quest for beauty

On the other hand these years saw the blooming of the Italian fashion system. In 1975 Giorgio Armani founded his company, in 1978 Gianni Versace presented his first collection and that same year Gianfranco Ferrè founded his own maison. It seemed that the Milanese people wanted to react to the horrors of the Anni di Piombo through a quest for beauty. During those same years while the terroristic attacks where spreading throughout the country the city of Milan developed the most relevant industry of its territory. Milan owes its international appeal and reputation to the efforts of those who started during the seventies and kept on working hard to make of Milan the fashion capital of the world.


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