The Castello

Now this, on the other hand, was - at least to me - more like it. The Castello Sforzesco - easier to find than to pronounce - was built in the mid-fifteenth century by Francesco Sforza, and quite a place it is. I wished we'd come here right away instead of screwing around at the church.

Interesting family, the Sforzas. The name goes back to a successful mercenary - quite a solid profession in Renaissance Italy; there was always plenty of work - whose illegitimate son Francesco took up the family trade, hired out to the Duke of Milan, and wound up marrying the boss's daughter and going into the Duke business himself. He was the one who built the castle.

Despite his birth status, Francesco doesn't seem to have been any more of a bastard than most of his contemporary peers. He and his successors, in fact, were quite enlightened despots in their way, and major patrons of the arts; Leonardo da Vinci worked for the Sforza family at one time.

The fact remained that they were basically a lot of bloody-handed warlords; and as beautiful and pleasant as the Castello is, you can see right away that the proprietor fully expected that some people would sooner or later be severely pissed off at him.

Now, though, the Castello is just a nice place to go and look around, or whatever. (Note usual snoggers.) No armed guards here, no guards at all; amazingly, there wasn't even an admission charge - which there assuredly would have been in France or England; score one for Milan. You could just walk in and wander around. As we did.

Amazingly enough, one of Leonardo da Vinci's machines was still in place. I hadn't realized he was so clever.

As far as I know nobody attacked the castle during Francesco's administration, but in subsequent generations it did see some serious fighting and eventually fell to Austrian troops. Who knows, these old stone cannon balls piled in the moat may have seen combat. If that's what they are, and I can't think what else they could be. (Once again an opportunity for a cheap play on the word "balls", which will once again be declined.)

All that was long, long ago, though. For centuries now the walls of the Castello Sforzesco have been attacked by nothing more violent than the creeping tendrils of ivy.

It is still inhabited, though by a more likeable class of occupants: cats, all over the place. When you think of it, a castle is a great place for a cat, isn't it?

Very friendly cats, too. Far more sociable than their French colleagues.

It really is quite a big place - if Francesco Sforza had enough troops to man these walls and defend this perimeter, he was indeed nobody to trifle with - with all sorts of fascinating galleries and passages and stairways. A museum, too, with various articles of furniture and miscellaneous artworks; I admit we didn't check it out very thoroughly. I'm not much on museums, which seem to me to have a necrophiliac quality; and anyway, we wanted to spend our last hours outdoors, seeing more of Milan.