Ludovico il Moro, who many historians gave birth to in Vigevano, was regent of the Duchy of Milan from 1480 to 1494 and subsequently Duke of Milan until 1499. During these years his duchy was characterized by the presence of the most important artists and writers of the time and Vigevano lived its historical period of maximum development and splendor becoming the ducal residence chosen by the Sforza family and its court.
Ludovico il Moro started a general program of transformation of Vigevano and the surrounding countryside into one of the most magnificent seats of his court and among the names of the intellectuals urged to translate his ideas and ambitions into reality, there were some of the greatest artists and scientists of the time: Leonardo da Vinci and Donato Bramante.
Three are the places where it is possible to recognize and state the stages of this program: Piazza Ducale, the Castle and the Sforzesca farm, located in the countryside south of the village.
The Piazza Ducale
Between 1492 and 1494 Ludovico succeeded in completing an ambitious project, realizing what he had not been able to even in Milan: transforming the largest public open space in Vigevano, a large district with some arcades under which a intense mercantile activity, in a splendid square, which with the breadth, uniformity of the fronts and the refinement of the frescoed decorations, managed to re-propose the ideal model of the Roman forum, as described in the pages of the architectural treatise of the Roman Vitruvius ( 1st century BC) and which had been taken up again in the 15th century treatise by Leon Battista Alberti, one of the major intellectual architects of the Renaissance.
Expropriated and demolished several houses, arcades were built on solid stone columns with two upper floors, characterized by uniform openings and heights. The continuous fronts were interrupted only by the oblique façade of the main church of Vigevano (today hidden by the spectacular Baroque front thanks to the changes made to the square in 1680 by the architectural genius of Bishop Juan Caramuel) and by the access ramp to the castle, which originally extended into the piazza giving much more prominence to the slender tower that dominated the entrance. The simple walls of this large urban “room” were then transfigured through a fresco decoration that simulated a much more complex and refined architecture with a classical flavor: continuous false entablatures with beautiful friezes crowning the level of the arches and that of the windows; in the middle an order of candelabra columns; large Roman-style triumphal arches in two points where the streets of the village entered the square, corresponding to the current Via del Popolo and Via Giorgio Silva.
With the Moro the Sforza project was implemented in interventions of significant proportions and qualities, completing the process of transforming the castle into a dynastic residence. The courtyard, originally occupied by the ancient village, was emptied of residual buildings, the third stable was built, therefore called Ludovico’s, and the kitchen building, built with the demolition of the ancient church of S. Ambrogio and connected to the castle male by a bridge building, thus closing the circuit of buildings surrounding the large courtyard.
The castle male was enlarged on the east side with the creation of a hanging garden enclosed by two porticoed buildings designed by Bramante and open to the east. Of the Bramante complex today, after the collapse of the loggia leaning against the covered road and the emptying of the garden with the lowering to its current level, only the southern building called the “ladies’ loggia” remains.
Il Moro always had a strong interest in agriculture and modern cultivation techniques. In order to develop the agricultural economy of the place, he first took care, in agreement with his architects and court engineers, to give life to the first major land reclamation, then he strengthened the sewage and water system and built what is the project of a large autonomous farm capable of not being dependent on the outside world. This “farm” is located south of the city and was called Sforzesca.
Perhaps the greatest architect of the Renaissance, Bramante was active towards the end of the 1400s at the Sforza court and was often present in Vigevano.
The castle tower overlooking the Piazza Ducale with its slender and elegant shapes is undoubtedly the work of his genius.
At the end of the 15th century, the tower, like all the rest of the castle and the square below, underwent a profound renovation by the Duke Ludovico Sforza, known as il Moro.
Neither shape nor height of the medieval tower, built on several occasions starting from 1198, are known, but the chronicles report that as early as 1400 the bells and a clock with wheels and gears were placed on the tower.
Il Moro had the old medieval tower partially demolished and, using Bramante, he had a new one built, the highest part of which was erected in imitation of the Filarete Tower at the Sforza Castle in Milan.
A plaque placed at the base of the monument recalls the intervention wanted by il Moro, who is celebrated for having endowed Vigevano with a new “beautiful tower”.
The activity of the architect from Urbino in Vigevano is documented with more certainty in the castle, even if the current structures retain more clues than evidence of it. Bramante’s style and vision can be found in the Falconiera, a building intended for the breeding of hunting falcons, and in the Loggia delle Dame, the part of the castle intended for the residence of il Moro’s wife Beatrice d’Este and her ladies.
Donato Bramante (rather than Leonardo) is almost unanimously recognized responsible for this architecture (unfortunately the subject of radical repainting in the twentieth century), if not for the conception of the entire Piazza Ducale. In fact, the famous architect arrived in Lombardy as a “perspective” painter, capable of representing illusionistic spaces on the flat surface thanks to the artifice of perspective.
The great genius of the Renaissance, scientist, engineer, architect, painter and sculptor, developed a close bond with Ludovico il Moro who appreciated his excellent artistic skills and scientific and mathematical genius. For the Duke Leonardo designed with versatility irrigation systems and war machines, painted portraits, studied and prepared sets for court parties. In addition to staying in Milan, Leonardo spent many days in Vigevano and the Sforzesca.
In Vigevano Leonardo studied the Castle Stables, built during the dukedom of Ludovico il Moro in 1490. According to various scholars, the first ducal stable served as inspiration for the stable model designed by Leonardo in Manuscript B of Paris and in the Trivulziano Code.
In designing his ideal city, Leonardo was inspired by Vigevano where the Castle and Piazza Ducale constitute a possible architectural model of modern urban development.
Leonardo stayed in Vigevano several times, walking through the fertile countryside, noting in his notebooks the water stairs, the mills, the way to bury the vines of the farmers to protect them from the harsh winters.
At the Sforzesca, Leonardo studied the problem of water regulation in the countryside towards the Ticino river, precisely in the period in which he was engaged in the construction of the Last Supper in Milan.
Inside manuscript H, on sheet 65 v., an observation appears that allows us to date with certainty one of its passages: “Adì 2 di febraio 1494 alla Sforzesca ………” [“Today 2 of February 1494 at the Sforzesca I depicted 25 steps of 2/3 of an arm, one with a width of 8″ arms”] .
The water scale, still existing in the Sforzesca meadows, is evidence of his interest in innovative hydraulic and irrigation solutions which, during the Moro lordship, involved the introduction of new agricultural crops and new farms to support the economy of Vigevano.
At the end of the fifteenth century, Vigevano experienced a moment of extraordinary economic, political and cultural splendor. The Duke of Milan, particularly attached to the city of Vigevano, wanted to transform it into his court of choice, perhaps inspired by the architecture of Vitruvius and his studies on the ideal city, making use of two artists of the caliber of Bramante and Leonardo at the same time. No city at the end of the fourteenth century, not even Florence and Rome, can boast of having simultaneously hosted the greatest architect of the time and the greatest painter.
The figure of Leonardo and his multifaceted work are inextricably linked to the Sforza period, which, albeit short, saw Vigevano subject to the great architectural and economic transformations strongly desired by Ludovico il Moro.
The Castle and the Piazza Ducale remain as relevant and incomparable testimonies of this urban and architectural vision, together with the Sforzesca, the network of canals, the mills and the farmhouses.
During the descents of the Barbarossa in Italy, Vigevano found himself in the midst of the disputes between Pavia and Milan. The Vigevanese sided with the Pavesi and often in the battles between the two armies they left many men on the ground.
Contended between Milan and Pavia and attributed to the latter in 1154 by Barbarossa, Vigevano was taken in 1157 by the Milanese and the retreating troops from Pavia took refuge in the Vigevano castle and were defeated by the Milanese who set fire to the so-called Rocca Vecchia of the castle.
Emperor Barbarossa returned to Italy in 1158, besieging and conquering Milan after several attempts.
Legend has it that on May 24, 1164, the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted the Vigevanese brothers Gherardo, Ortensio and Bernardino Biffignandi the perpetual privilege of quarrying the sands and gold-bearing gravels of the Ticino river. This concession as a sign of gratitude for having the Biffignandi family had a bridge built at their own expense over the Ticino river to allow Barbarossa’s troops to cross it.
An ancestor of the family, Pietro Biffignandi, had founded a rural settlement as early as 1133 on the Ticino river coast, near the locality still called Buccella, a few kilometers from Vigevano.
The Vigevanese historian and chancellor Simone dal Pozzo (about 1492 – 1575) mentions in his chronicles that in 1099 the Vigevanese Oberto Biffignandi had returned full of glory from the First Crusade: Vigevano was therefore able to arm his own army.
The search for gold in the Ticino river is lost in the stories and tradition handed down by the seekers of this precious metal, which surfaces and is collected with a sieve not in the form of nuggets but in tiny specks of pure gold.
La Sforzesca is a small village located two kilometers from Vigevano, on the road that leads to Pavia. With the construction of the Colombarone alla Sforzesca il Moro inaugurated in 1486 the first of his great works conceived to transform Vigevano into a ducal residence.
The complex has the typical layout of the Sforza-style castles, with four buildings for residential use (the “colombaroni”) instead of the classic corner towers, to protect the square-shaped structure.
The Sforzesca represents the first autonomous production project of the rich resources of the Vigevano and Lomellino territory such as orchards and vegetable gardens, together with the introduction of the breeding of silkworms for the manufacture of fine fabrics for the courts of all of Europe that will have enormous success and will greatly contribute to the local economy.
The architectural intervention wanted by Ludovico il Moro involved the insertion of several houses each with running water, intended for the workers who worked at the court: farriers, bakers, tailors, blacksmiths, maintenance workers, farmers, and in the southern part, stables for horses and farm animals for the production of meat to be sold in the markets.
The architectural exceptionality and uniqueness of the Sforzesca are justified by being the first absolute example of an agricultural complex with a closed courtyard, the archetype of the Lombard farmhouses that developed in the following centuries up to the present day.
As evidence of this primacy and the awareness that Il Moro had of his work, the Sforzesca appears to be the only agricultural settlement of the fifteenth century that takes its name from the house of the founder and that can boast commemorative plaques celebrating its foundation and political and economic vision of the client.
In Vigevano in the 14th century, with the definitive affirmation of the Visconti lordship, the relationship with Milan became preferential. It is in this period that the foundations are laid for the transformation of the ancient castle of Vigevano from a fortified site into a refined noble residence.
Luchino Visconti, mayor of Vigevano in 1319 and 1337, began a great transformation of the castle and the village. He was responsible for the project of the Rocca Vecchia, a place of defense outside the castrum, which was reached via a covered road.
The Covered Road built in 1347 by Luchino Visconti, is a work of admirable military engineering, one of a kind. 164 meters long and 7.50 meters wide, it allowed men, carriages and horses to move safely and confidentially from one part of the castle to the other and allowed the lords of Milan to enter and exit the castle without being seen by the inhabitants of the village , managing to escape and flee in case of danger.
The architectural complex of the Vigevano Castle is developed as a whole of buildings on an area of over 70.000 square meters and 36.000 square meters of courtyards, making it one of the largest fortified complexes in Europe. In its extension, the castle could contain Buckingham Palace twice, St. Peter’s Basilica three times and Milan Cathedral six times.
Spanish by birth, of Flemish noble lineage, Cistercian monk, great scholar, mathematician, philosopher and architect, he was Bishop of Vigevano from 1673 until his death.
The arrangement of the Piazza Ducale as we see it today is due to his intuition and architectural vision. Caramuel radically modified the work created by Ludovico il Moro, modifying the original layout that was designed by the Duke to emphasize the Bramante tower and the castle as a representation of the power of the Moro and the Sforza family.
Caramuel decided to standardize the three arcades of the Piazza Ducale, eliminating a large ramp that led to the Castle, where today there are the stairs under the arcades leading to the tower. He also eliminated the two interruptions of the arcades consisting of the so-called “triumphal arches” that were at the intersection of the square with today’s Via del Popolo, right next to N ° 30 CHARME, and via Giorgio Silva.
The church of S. Ambrogio, in romanic style, pre-existing the construction of the square, had a brick facade not in line with the square, remaining off axis and not properly delimiting the Moro project, as can be seen in the drawing below.
Romanic facade of the church not aligned with Piazza Ducale
Reconstruction of the original facade of the Duomo
Caramuel, wisely combining the Renaissance forms of the square with the Baroque ones of the Duomo, designed and built the concave facade of the church that is now one of the characteristic elements of the square that now is connected harmoniously to the other three sides, enclosing the square with a scenographic theatrical scenes.
By this change, the Bramante tower ceased to dominate the square while the church became its main element: Piazza Ducale was then transformed into “Piazza del Duomo”, emphasizing the predominance of ecclesiastical power over ducal power.
White tigers populate our apartments, joining the fantastic figures of fauns, centaurs and harpies depicted in the frescoes of Piazza Ducale, all animals with strong symbolism, which guests have the privilege of admiring from an extraordinary position.
With a mysterious and exciting appearance at the same time, the tiger is considered a symbol of power, instinctive strength, and energy, embodying a great set of values and meanings.
It is associated with the Chinese Yang principle, the equivalent of masculine strength, but the white tiger is also associated with Yin, the element of feminine strength. In Chinese culture, the tiger is the most majestic and regal of animals and enjoys a deep sense of respect and awe, aroused by its elegance, vitality and vigor.
Distinguished by strength and the ability to resist in the toughest moments, the white tiger stimulates the individual to continue on their spiritual path, avoiding violence in favor of calm and impulse control, managing to mediate between aggression and self-control.
It protects homes and demons and evil spirits fear its power.