Castello Sforzesco, the fortress “defended” by Leonardo da Vinci
Without a question, the Castello Sforzesco is one of Milan’s most recognizable landmarks. From Piazza del Duomo, you can take the Vias Orefici and Dante to reach this fortified fortress, which has been around for nearly 600 years. This castle has served as a passageway for some of Lombardy’s most prominent families and is now a stunning monument to the glory days of the Duchy of Milan.
The fortress was completely destroyed, yet like the phoenix it rose anew, this time with the signatures of such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci. The complex now houses six museums, all of which house priceless works of art. However, Milan’s Sforzesco Castello (also known as “Sforza’s Castle”) is much more than that. Check out this formerly “impregnable” complex with us and explore its history, architecture, and all its secrets.
Vox City offers three ways to see this impressive structure in Milan: Sforza Castle Entry & Self-Guided Tour, Sforza Castle & Leonardo’s Vineyard Entry & Self-Guided Tours, or a Sforza Castle Self-Guided Audio Tour. The choice is entirely yours.
A bit of history
From 1358 forward, under the directive of Galeazzo II Visconti, lord of Milan, the castle was constructed as a stronghold. The construction of the fort took a whole decade. In 1447, however, after the Visconti dynasty of Milan was overthrown and the so-called Ambrosian Republic was established, the ancient fortress was completely destroyed. The magnificent tower at the castle’s entrance bears the mythological coat of arms of the Visconti family, a monument to the original dynasty responsible for its construction. It depicts a giant serpent (a “biscione”) consuming a human figure.
Francesco Sforza, condottiero and founder of the mighty Sforza dynasty that dominated Milan throughout the Renaissance, had a new fortress built only three years after the old one was destroyed. On its walls, frescoes by Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci were painted. The castle’s defenses were, in fact, planned by da Vinci himself. Sforza Castle is rich in history, and if you want to learn more about it while exploring at your own leisure, you can get the Vox City self-guided audio tour so you may see the castle and the rest of Milan whenever you choose.
The fort’s walls are 200 meters on each side, and it has stunning towers at each of its four corners. The main facade features two circular towers that serve to add strength to the walls.
Francesco Sforza hired architect Filarete to build the majestic square keep in the middle of this façade, which serves as a grand entry to the castle. The majestic Filarete tower was built by the Duke of Milan to make what he called a “clean and simple” fortification look more like a stately home. Behind the Filarete tower’s entrance is the spacious Piazza d’Armas, which occupies more than half of the complex. Years later, Galeazzo Maria Sforza gave the order to embellish the Rochetta and the Ducal Courtyard, two of the Sforza residence’s inner courtyards. Arcaded galleries from the Renaissance period were built, with thin semicircular arches and ornamented ribbed vaults for ceilings. Take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to take a self-guided tour of Leonardo’s Vineyard and Sforza Castle, two iconic Milan locations, with entry included from Vox City. We’ll throw in a self-guided tour of Milan at no extra cost.
Eventually, artists like Leonardo were commissioned to further embellish the ducal quarters with stunning vaults and one-of-a-kind frescoes.
The museums of the Castello Sforzesco
The former suites of Milan’s Ducal Palace are now home to several fascinating museums that document the city’s and regions rich cultural and social history.
The Museum of Ancient Art
From a 4th-century B.C. tomb to Michelangelo’s unfinished masterwork and crown gem of the museum, the “Rondanini Pietà,” this collection of sculptures and paintings spans no fewer than twelve centuries. Notable features include the beautiful equestrian monument of Bernabé Visconti, one of the earliest lords of Milan, and early Christian frescoes. The reliefs depicting the 12th-century Lombard League triumph over Emperor Barbarossa, which established the first lordship of Milan, are very noteworthy.
Because Leonardo da Vinci decorated each room in this museum, each one is a work of art in and of itself. The royal standards of King Philip II of Spain, who inherited the title of Duke of Milan in the middle of the 16th century, is also visible, along with other ancient coats of arms.
Pinacoteca of Sforza’s Castle
You’ll find this picture gallery, which features artwork from the 12th to the 18th century, on the second floor, above the Museum of Ancient Art’s exhibition rooms. It features nearly 1,500 works of art from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque eras, including pieces by artists like Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Antonello da Menssina, Filippo Lippi, Canaletto, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo.
Museum of Furniture
The Museum of Furniture is located right next to the Picture Gallery, and it houses a collection of household items and furniture from the 15th century and beyond.
The museum’s extensive collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts may be found in the palace’s basements, where you can also view some of the museum’s most intriguing archaeological artefacts. Nonetheless, the Lombard prehistory chapter stands out as the best.
Museum of Decorative Arts
This castle also features several galleries devoted to decorative art. From the eleventh to the eighteenth century, the collection features pottery, linens, and tapestries that were all made by hand. The extraordinary Bramantino-designed Trivulzio tapestries are not just some of the exhibition’s (and the castle’s) most striking features.
Museum of Musical Instruments
There is a wide range of instruments in this collection, from different cultures and time eras. Any listener or spectator can witness firsthand development of their preferred musical instrument(s) over time.
In a rush? Here’s what to pick.
Attempting to see everything the Castello Sforzesco has to offer can be daunting due to the castle’s size and the breadth of its cultural attractions. If you just have a little time, we recommend walking around the castle’s outer walls and inner courtyards and taking in the stunning views of the Duomo.
Don’t forget to check out the beautiful Parco Sempione right behind the castle! In the event of nice weather, a picnic in this enormous park designed in the English style is just the thing to do. An audio tour of Parco Sempione is available on Vox City for those who like to explore at their own pace. Once inside the castle, the Museum of Ancient Art is the must-see collection if you’re in a hurry; it houses the main treasures of the cultural site and allows you to explore the ducal halls embellished with frescoes.
The Vox City offers a self-guided audio tour of the Sforza Castle, allowing you to explore the castle at your own pace and hear all about its history and highlights. Our tour gives you the chance to discover Sforza Castle, a Medieval-Renaissance castle that was constructed in the fourteenth century, and learn more about it. Vox City also offers a self-guided tour of Milan as an added perk.