The story of Brera in three Churches

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While Brera is characterized by its layers of history, both ancient and modern, interweaving narratives echo from epochs of vastly different circumstances from the downtrodden and humble to the bohemian and cultural, and from the grand excesses of nobility to the endeavors of science. Amidst this rich tapestry, three fixed points on the area’s topography remain constant through all eras and events. Brera’s churches can be likened to fixed stars in the constellation of its night sky, as heavenly bodies illuminate it momentarily, only to pass forever into the lore of Brera’s cobbled streets. These churches alone are worth visiting Brera for, and, of course, the food for the soul should be accompanied by real Milanese cuisine at Stendhal.

The first, the Church of San Marco, was constructed in 1254 on a site dedicated to St. Mark as a tribute to the Venetians who had joined Milan in opposing the German Emperor Frederick I (Federico Barbarossa). Hence the name, which honors the patron saint of Venice. This church possesses opulence that wouldn’t look out of place on the canals of La Serenissima. Serving as the center of the Augustinian order’s work in Milan, the original structure’s bell tower remains, along with an impressive stone portal featuring statues of St. Mark, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine. The church is renowned for its historic organ dating back to 1875, meticulously restored to its former glory. Experiencing a recital in the church offers a chance to be inspired by the music of another time. Indeed, the organ is not the only piece of musical history within the church’s walls; a plaque commemorates a three-month residency by none other than a young and rebellious Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the church’s rectory.

The next is a church that serves as a sanctuary for peaceful meditation the Basilica of San Simpliciano, nestled in a quiet cobbled piazza reachable from the bustling Corso Garibaldi. The church bells are said to possess a healing quality, and the entire area exudes a sense of peace and tranquillity. The Basilica of San Simpliciano is a world away from the hustle and bustle of modern Milan, being one of the city’s oldest churches, built by St. Ambrose himself as one of four established to serve the outskirts of Milan. Legend has it that when St. Ambrose was seeking a site to build his church, he chose the road to Como, then a place for prostitutes to advertise their services. It was for this reason that he named the church Basilica Virginum (Basilica of the Virgins). Completed by Ambrose’s successor Simpliciano, who requested to be buried there, a wish fulfilled in 401 AD, the church assumed his name.

Another noteworthy church is the impressive Santa Maria del Carmine, built in the 14th century by the Carmelite order, along with a convent. Destroyed in a fire in 1330, the church was rebuilt but fell into disrepair when the order abandoned the site at the end of the century. However, the church rose again when rebuilding began in 1400, becoming a favored place of worship for Milan’s nobility, as the aristocratic tombs inside attest. Over the centuries, the church underwent various renovations the presbytery redesigned in the Baroque style in the 17th century, and the current facade, the work of Carlo Machiacini, completed in 1880. This church, with its many iterations, symbolizes Brera’s rich and varied history—the rise and fall of orders and the vagaries of time.

With the great Pinacoteca di Brera located in the area, Brera is known as the artistic hub of Milan. However, art is not confined to the gallery; the streets themselves house great works that recount the tales of centuries and the people of Brera.

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