Milan's cultural December

Rich programme of events

December is a special month in Milan, not only for the Christmas festivities but also because the feast day of the city’s patron saint, St Ambrose (S. Ambrogio) falls on 7 December.

Traditionally, city hall has always laid on a rich programme of events to celebrate the anniversary and enliven the darkest month, and 2014 is no exception.

The opera season at the Teatro alla Scala opens on 7 December with the gala premiere of Beethoven’s Fidelio, under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. Milanesi and visitors who cannot make it to the world-famous opera house can still follow the gala opening night on 14 giant screens around the city, starting at 18.00, entry free as long as places are available, but some of them needing pre-booking. Details are available on this page of the city website.

In the week leading up to the premiere, music by the great German composer is being broadcast in the Galleria on Piazza del Duomo as well as in the mazzanines of metro stations Duomo, Garibaldi, Loreto, Cadorna and Centrale. The premiere marks the start of the festival “Fidelio in città”, continuing until 18 December with some 40 event for adults and kids around the city: concerts, shows, meetings, free entry to museums, and workshops dedicated to Beethoven and his music. A full programme is available on the city hall website.

Another December event will be the exhibition of Raffaello’s Madonna Esterhazy, on loan from the Fine Arts Museum of Budapest. This masterpiece will be on view in City Hall’s Sala Alessi from 3 December until 11 January. This refined and radiant painting, depicting the Virgin Mary with the Christ-child and S. Giovannino, marks the end of Raffaello’s important period working in Florence before being summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II. It is inspired by the works of Leonardo, whom Raffaello knew and studied. The artist took the painting with him to Rome, where he added details of the Forum to the background.

In this exhibit, the masterpiece will be accompanied by two other major works from the same period: the Vergine del Borghetto, attributed to Francesco Melzi, and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio’s Madonna and Child. Guided visits will be free of charge. Opening times and more information about the exhibition are available here.

The Basilica di S. Ambrogio wil be celebrating the saint’s feast with a series of initiatives. All the services during the week will be choral Masses, and the basilica will be open daily from 07.30 to 19.00. Milan’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola, will give his traditional message to the diocese and the city during Vespers on Friday 5 December at 18.00. The liturgical celebration will be held on Saturday with Masses at 09.00, 10.30 and 18.30, and the crypt will be open for veneration of the saint and for prayer. Sunday will see seven Masses, with the one at 10.30 a pontifical Mass celebrated by the Cardinal and that at 17.00 celebrated by the Abbot, Msgr Erminio De Scalzi, both accompanied by the choir of the basilica’s Cappella musicale.

On a more pagan note, the annual Oh bej, Oh bei! Christmas market will run from Friday 5 to Monday 8 December in the Sforza Castle area, between the piazza and Via Gadio. Over 400 stands will see artisans, second-hand dealers, florists and sellers of sweets, toys and roast chestnuts offering their wares, strictly selected from among almost 800 applicants to respect five centuries of tradition. A secondary fair called Alter Bej! will be held on the Bussa overpass connecting Porta Garibaldi station to the Isola area, also offering artisan work and second-hand items and accompanied by street musicians, jugglers and street artists.