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Milan takes a timeout!

by Marcello Parmeggiani last modified 2008-06-20 15:12

Even Milan, the business heart of Italy, stops work for a day. We discover the street markets, traditions and churches dedicated to Milan's patron saint - Sant'Ambrogio.

Once a year Milan opts out of the rat race and releases its good citizens onto the streets to spend some time together - albeit wrapped up in their winter woollies. The magic date is December 7th, the feast of Sant'Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose), better known to the Milanese as Sant’Ambrös.

Basilica of Sant'AmbrogioThe city takes to the streets
The area around the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio - which, for those of you unfamiliar with the city, is right in the centre - is thronged with stalls and bankers, clerks and ad execs take time out to browse through antiques, crafts and bric-à-brac before tucking into the meats, cheeses and sweets available from the hot food stands. Sant'Ambrogio is not Sant'Ambrogio without a glass of piping hot vin brulé, served in plastic cups and at its best sipped with a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts.

Sant'Ambrogio is an important date on the Milanese calendar and festivities go on for three days, finishing off with the market on December 7th. The festival also coincides with the opening of the opera season in La Scala as well as the presentation of the "Ambrogini d'oro" to people and associations who have made a positive contribution to the city of Milan throughout the past year.

The devil and the bull
Here are two of the city's most popular legends, appropriate reading for any non-Milanese wishing to mark the day when the city's residents rediscover their ancient traditions. The first is centred around the Devil's Column, or rather the ancient Roman column in front of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. Visitors to the Basilica will notice two holes in the column which were supposedly made by the Devil's horns during a particularly violent confrontation with Christ. On New Year's Eve sulphurous fumes are said to rise from the holes.
The mosaics on the floor of the Gallery show the coats of arms of a number of Italian cities, including a very anatomically correct bull representing Turin.For the second legend we move to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, close to the Duomo. The mosaics on the floor of the Gallery show the coats of arms of a number of Italian cities, including a very anatomically correct bull representing Turin. According to modern-day superstition passers-by will be blessed with good luck if they press down on the bull's balls making a circle with their foot (some people take it a step further and twirl around). It goes without saying that after years of this practice the poor bulls' genitals have been rubbed away forcing the council to periodically restore its mosaic attributes.

When you're tired of walking around the market, or tramping on the poor bull, then stop off at the ATM Bar, an American bar which was opened in an old ATM (Azienda Trasporti Municipali - the local transport company) social club. The bar is on Bastioni di Porta Volta, right in the heart of the city's traffic, between Moscova and Garibaldi tube stations. Head there for happy hour when you can choose from a wide variety of delicious cocktails and tuck into a moreish buffet all for 3-4 euros.

The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio - - the history of this beautiful church
Saint Ambrose - - a guide to Milan's patron saint
Milanese Dialect - - one of the few English-Milanese bilingual sites on the Internet

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