Milan is known as the fashion capital of Italy. And without a doubt, it is a very stylish city. But we weren't there for the fashion. We went to visit one of the great masterpieces of the renaissance - The Last Supper. Realistically, we knew we'd likely never be in Milan again, so if we wanted to see this famous painting before it fades away for good, we knew it was now or never. Turns out, trying to get tickets to see this thing is next to impossible! But, we succeeded in seeing not only the Last Supper, but also scored a tour of Milan to go along with it.
The company that manages access to the Fresco requires that each person - regardless of age - has a ticket to enter. They only release so many at a time, and tour companies often snatch these up pretty quickly. The end result is that unless you are Johnny on the spot with getting tickets weeks in advance, your only option to see it, is to book a tour with a formal tour company. While not the most convenient if you want to only see the Last Supper while in Milan, it's not terrible either. We booked with City Discovery and got a decent tour of the main highlights in Milan in addition to access to the painting. Transportation was by motor coach too, which was nice for a change, especially since it had AC and it was a hot day!
Our tour started at the Milan Cathedral. Construction first began on this cathedral in 1386, but took a whopping 600 years to complete! The Gothic style exterior has intricate carvings all over the facade and is the center of Milan. All streets either radiate from the cathedral, or circle it, indicating the importance of this building. Typical for cathedrals across Europe, the stone interior is full of unique and priceless art. Statues adorn chaplets that line the sides and behind the alter. Whereas most cathedrals have simple floors fashioned from stone, the one in the Milan cathedral is eye-catching. Big, bold patterns fashioned from black, red, and white marble draw ones eye down.
The Milan cathedral houses one of the most interesting statues we have ever seen. Deep within the building, on the left side of the alter, is a slightly-larger-than-life-sized statue of St. Bartholomew with chiseled abs. What at first glance many may take to be a stole draped around his shoulders is, in fact, his flayed skin. Looking closely, one can even see a face on the skin. Definitely creepy!
From the Cathedral, we walked across the square and through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an open-air shopping mall built between the years 1865 - 1877. It's home to storefronts of famous Italian designers including Prada, Gucci, Armani, and Versace. If you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, this would be a good place to spend it! Or you can send it to me. We have some trips coming up that we could definitely use it on!
The next main sight we hit up in Milan was the Scala Theater. I won't pretend that I knew anything about this place before we went, and honestly, I didn't see the appeal while we were there. It was small, smelled musty from age, and was ornately decorated just the way you would imagine an old, (apparently) famous theater would be. The large gathering room outside the theater was richly decorated with red velvet upholstered divans and mirrors. There were a series of rooms that housed memorabilia from famous singers, actors, and dancers that had performed in the theater. We aren't theater buffs, so most of the significance of the theater was lost on us. Plus Evelyn was getting hungry and tired at this point, so looking at old things with a cranky baby was not all that enjoyable. Thankfully though, our next stop was the main attraction: the Last Supper.
Standing outside the plain brick building that is the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, one would never guess the masterpiece that lies inside if it weren't for the hoards of tourists and souvenir peddlers outside. To protect the painting, only 30 people are allowed in at a time.
We all gathered in an airlock. Once the exterior doors were closed, the interior doors were opened, allowing us access to the room housing the Last Supper. We entered the dimly lit room cautiously, almost afraid that our influx would damage the painting. To our right, there it was, just as it had been for hundreds of years. The sheer scale of the painting shocked me - pictures, even the one below, belie its size. But, the painting has not held up well. DaVinci pioneered a new method to create the fresco, which has resulted in a less robust painting than other frescos created at the time. Wars, plague, and time have definitely taken their toll. There is a large door that was carved out in the middle, taking out Jesus' legs in the process, the plaster is flaking off, and the paint is fading. In some areas, the painting is so degraded that it is not only difficult, but impossible, to discern what used to be there. Simple wooden benches have been placed facing the painting so that visitors might be able to take a moment to contemplate what it is they are looking at, a chance to come to their own conclusions about the figures in the painting and the mystery that surrounds them. We had 15 short minutes to view it before we were brusquely ushered out and the next group allowed in.
Prior to our visit, I had no idea that on the opposite end of the former dining hall that is home to the Last Supper was another, equally impressive, but far less famous, fresco depicting Jesus' crucifixion. This one, painted by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, has withstood time better than the Last Supper, with the exception of three figures DaVinci added in when he painted the Last Supper. If you are planning on visiting this landmark, give the Crucifixion more than just a passing glance as you walk out. Take a minute to actually look at the painting, the faces of each individual, and the story it's trying to tell.
I am glad that we made sure to stop to see the painting. It's deteriorating so badly, that I am glad we got a chance to see it before it disappears for good and becomes nothing more than a wall and a memory. If you are planning a trip through Milan and want to see the Last Supper, make sure you plan ahead and get tickets early. There are lots of operators that offer tours with ski-the-line access to the painting, but if you only want to see the painting, you'll need to get tickets from here.