I love May for taking trips outdoors: the sun sets late, giving us many hours of sunlight; the temperatures are mild; winter is behind us, and the urge to go out really takes hold. And this year… well, we’re really looking forward to it, aren’t we?
But since it’s threatening to rain this morning, instead of going to the beach (or to some cherished lake…) let’s stay close to home: I’ll take you to Vigevano, about forty kilometres from Milan. That way, if we are caught out by the rain, we will have the porticoes of one of the most picturesque squares in Italy to offer us shelter.
And there is one more reason for us to come here: the Shoe Museum! No, no: the MarcoMoreos are still too young to be on display… but someday, who knows?! ;)
All jokes aside, the Museum is here because Vigevano was once a great shoe-making district. So, in a way, I have the home advantage ;)
Actually, as you might already know, our production is in the Marche region – a land historically rich in water, livestock and tanneries, it's another hub of shoemaking, nowadays more active than the one in Vigevano.
Anyway, I don’t want to make a big deal about economics and globalisation, so let’s go back to our museum and admire its oldest piece: the so-called pianella of Beatrice d’Este, wife of Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan at the end of the fifteenth century. This is a slipper with a very generous platform – the Duchess was short, so she wore them under her damask gowns for a few precious extra inches. So our famous platform has very distinguished origins! And so cutting edge: six hundred years on and it’s still super relevant…
It's really interesting to walk around the museum and see eighteenth-century boots and 1920s sandals, Belle Époque boots and boots from the Great War, papal slippers (yes, even the popes went shopping in Vigevano!) and even the first stiletto heel – apparently this style was born here in the Fifties.
But enough looking at shoes – even I need to be distracted now and then ;) So let’s go back to the beautiful Piazza Ducale and enjoy it in all its scenic glory. Originally it was the entrance to the Castle next door, the magnificent princely residence of the Dukes of Milan (Visconti and Sforza) which is still one of the largest fortified castles in Europe.
Indeed, the square has retained the shape of the old courtyard, but vested with beauty: a large rectangle, long and narrow, closed on three sides by the rhythm of the façades and porticoes and the red chimneys bunched up on the roofs. And what a floor! A (stunning!) mosaic of small stones from the Ticino – the river that originates in the Swiss Alps, crosses Lake Maggiore and flows into the Po not far from here.
The square is even more enjoyable if appreciated from above: let’s climb up the Bramante Tower, 100 steps of (challenging) beauty.
After all this hard work, it's definitely time for a break! Like Toscanini (the famous conductor of La Scala who loved this square – he knew a thing or two about harmony) I decided to sit at a table outside. In the end, the sun got the better of the clouds and there’s no rain today, just a gorgeous dappled light between the porticoes.
Surrounded by all this beauty, I think about all the aesthetic richness that Italian villages offer… How many more stops we still have to make!