14 thesis about the identity of Milan


Mediolanum, mid-land, a hub of connections, a centre of gravity and a where north- south and east-west axes converge. A dynamic equilibrium that still survives, even in the age of the Internet. “ Ma po’ i vegnen chi à Milàn (“but then they all come to Milan”) ” is the refrain of a popular Milanese song. As Charles V, one of the great (and many) conquerors of the city, put it: “Mid-Land, apple of my eye” as the first president of regione lombardia says today: “For this reason, a hybrid city full of contradictions, the identity of Milan is more than anything that of a cross-breed.”


A consequence of being a “mid-land”, as applied today to the work ethic. An ethic for which contributing to the production process is more important than any social or ethnic differences and distinctions. Over the years, this acceptance has meant assistance, care and solidarity. Without creating false myths, though, occasionally with an excessive touch of self-congratulation. The same old refrain from Giovanni Danzi’s famous song: “Sì vegnì senza paura / num ve stringeremm la man / tucc el mond a l’è paes e semm d’accord / ma Milan l’è un grand Milan” (“So come without fear / We’ll give you a hand / All the world’s a village, we’ll agree / but Milan is a great Milan!”).


Lombardy has a network of thirteen universities, seven of which are in Milan, a city where 200,000 students (40,000 in their first year) and 25,000 professors and researchers in 50 faculties and 150 departments offer 130 degree courses. A vast range of opportunities for learning in every sector: in the humanities, and in scientific and technical disciplines. An integrated network of higher education institutions constitute areas of excellence in new technologies, design, fashion, the arts, music, choreography and communication. “I’ve always had great support from my parents. My family is not one of artists: Papà sells cars and Mamma is a housewife. But they’ve always encouraged my passion. They helped me leave Vercelli to come and study at La Scala in Milan”

(Roberto Bolle).

Industrial archaeology

15 million square metres around a city that, in the space of just a few years, has seen many of its twentieth-century industrial infrastructures turn into archaeological remains. And recently it has seen this archaeology rapidly move along two interconnected lines towards creativity and innovation.
The buildings have often been preserved and turned into laboratories of a more intangible economy or have become part of the transformation of the manufacturing industry in its search for new heights of technology, while also bringing new life to a great tradition of craftsmanship.
Stories of the past and of those who are creating the future coexist in the suburbs
as well as in more central areas.”A part-futuristic, part-provincial city. A mixture of risotto and steel, which amuses me” (Alberto Lattuada)

Quality of life and sustainability

In the third century AD, Ausonius talked of the facundia ingenia – the “skills of the inhabitants” – of the city of Mediolanum. And indeed it is where the Mediterranean sense of the term (eating well, in a superb natural and architectural setting) encounters the European sense (living well, in a setting with efficient services). A factor guaranteed to make the city attractive, but also normal for urban life in Milan with its current sustainability policies. One that has been facilitating industriousness and ingenuity for centuries. Today, 66% of women in Milan are in the labour market (compared with an average of 53.6% in Italy) and with areas of excellence in the entire system of “the beautiful and the useful”, which for a century has had its international showcase in the Fiera di Milano and the place for its promotion in the Triennale di Milano.


Mapping the real similarities and levels of competitiveness of the cities of the world is no easy matter. But in the case of fashion, Milan – now with generations of designers, and its creative and technological background – is recognised as highly competitive when compared with top international cities like Paris, London and New York. “Paris has the elegance of harmonies and grandeur. London has the elegance of class and prestige. Milan has the elegance of restraint, discretion and substance” (Gianfranco Ferré).


In Milan there are 54 schools of design, 7 university institutes with degree courses in the sector, 26 post-secondary vocational schools and 21 vocational-training schools, involving 10,000 students a year, almost half of whom are from abroad. Milan designs, Brianza manufactures. “From spoon to city”, as Ernesto Nathan Rogers, the architect of the Torre Velasca, used to say. A network of expertise that combines beauty with usefulness, now crowned by the Salone del Mobile, the greatest international event in the city. “When someone says, ‘I can do that too’, it means they can redo it – otherwise they’d already have done it” (Bruno Munari).


Milan is best known around the world for two things: La Scala and the Istituto dei Tumori, the public cancer institute that has changed world standards in some therapies” (Gianni Bonadonna, successor to Umberto Veronesi, in the Corriere della Sera). This is but the tip of an iceberg of healthcare and hospital facilities which bring more guests (patients and family members) to Milan, from Italy and from around the world, than tourists to Florence and Venice.
With a mixed – public and private – system that combines prevention, treatment, scientific research and international training.

Culture, art, entertainment and beauty

Milan has never counted much on art and culture to create its identity and image but its museums, production and education systems have made it a culturally robust city. Its key venues (from La Scala to Brera, to its theatres, museums, libraries, and its artistic masterpieces) have had huge impact on the way the city is viewed internationally. “It’s not true that I’m ugly. It’s not true that there’s always fog above me. It’s not true that I’m cold, and that I think only about money. What do you take me for? I’m Milan. And I’m a beautiful lady” (A Day in Milan, Raffaella Rietman and Michele Tranquillini).

Of all the arts, theatre is the one that is best able to speak directly to the hearts and feelings of a community. In Milan we would like the authorities and local councils to acquire this important awareness of the theatre, seeing it as a need for all citizens, as a public service on a par with the metro system and the fire brigade” (Paolo Grassi)


Voluntary work, non-profit organisations, the third sector, social cooperatives, solidarity organizations operating in the community but, even though created within the community, with a global reach.
A significant portion of GDP, of jobs and management of its services for people, the environment, and for collective interests make Milan a city that is the opposite of the business-oriented city it is made out to be, with a not-for-profit side that has age-old traditions.
And, taking up an idea expressed by Manzoni: “It would be better think more of doing good than of feeling good. Like that, one would end up feeling even better”.

Communication, sport

The long age of advertising, the driving force behind production and consumption, and the modernisation of mass sports – which are closely tied to communication – with soccer (35 league titles won by AC Milan and Inter in the history of the sport), the Giro d’Italia organised by the Gazzetta dello Sport, Formula 1 at Monza and the glorious history of Alfa Romeo, the halcyon days of the hippodrome and those of the first national boxing championships, the glory of basketball and – within Italy’s limits – of rugby.
And, of course, a top city for sports journalism. As Umberto Eco said of Gianni Brera:“Brera is Gadda explained to the people”.

A metropolitan city

The subjective Milan of the Milanese closed within the Spanish walls opens up to an objective Milan of infrastructure, of urban continuity, of a criss-crossing MM metro system with its immense commuting network on the move every day.
The redesign of Greater Milan on the urban, infrastructural, transport and services levels, affecting the lives of 5 million inhabitants, has now become a project based on an autonomous model.
One that Expo 2015 is helping to speed up and that aims for greater social and infrastructural cohesion, with a view to making the area more attractive for international investments.
The historic image is that of the archetypal “great frontier”, as illustrated by a tour of the four great monasteries outside the city: Chiaravalle, Viboldone, Mirasole, Morimondo.


From theEdict of Costantine (also known as the Edict of Milan) in AD 313 to Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments (1764) the history of human rights and social emancipation is a constant theme that runs through the entire life of the city. Hard-fought and painful in many periods, this theme has been part of the conquest of freedom and independence (from the city state to the Risorgimento and through to the Resistance), making its mark on the present.
A journey in which a huge part has been played by the theme of good citizenship – the relationship between politics and the common good, another hard-fought and much abused issue.
The philosophy of social organisation is summed up in the axiom of Cesare Beccaria: “It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them”.


Over the past thousand years at least, the culture of nutrition has been part of a relationship between the environment and technology. Centuries ago, Milan coupled the waters of the drainage systems with water-meadows to create innovative irrigation systems that increased rice harvests and that have recently become a broad area of biodynamic research. The ancient invention of the “schiscetta” (packed school meals) is an important part of the tradition of food on the move, giving certain food businesses in Milan and its surrounding area control of over 60% of mobile nutrition around the world. The theme of Expo 2015. A French caricature from the time of the French Revolution
of 1789 reads: A sans-culottes to his wife: “We’ll soon take Lombardy. Wife: What for? Sans-culottes: To feed you all”.