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Monza is found about 20 kilometres north-east of Milan, and is now pretty much incorporated as a satellite town of Milan. It is best known for the Monza race track but there are other highlights to discover in the town.
A visit to Monza can start from the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, which is the most important monument of the city.
Built by Queen Teodolinda, the Basilica presents an imposing marble façade in white and green horizontal bands and a large central rosette by Matteo da Campione (1335 - c.1396, one of the most famous sculptors of the Lombard school).
The bell tower, 80 meters high, was added in the early 17th century. The interior has three naves and a Latin cross, and is rich in frescoes and paintings from the Lombard school of painting between the Gothic and Rococo periods.
Also worth seeing in the cathedral is the impressive altarpiece, carved on a slab of silver gilt, and the Chapel of Queen Teodolinda, decorated with frescoes by the Zavattari (a family of painters active in Milan and Lombardy in the 15th century) and home to the legendary 'Iron Crown'.From the Cathedral you can enter the Basilica Museum where the 'treasure' is held, a rich collection of works of art from the 4th to 9th centuries.
The works include the Diptych of Stilicho (359-408), 16 phials in tin from the Holy Land, the Cross of Adaloald (602-626), Gospels of Teodolinda, and other precious objects such as the Goblet of Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351-1402), "Millefleures" tapestries and a collection of Lombard silver, wrought between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Close to the Basilica in Monza is the 'Arengario' (the old Town Hall) built in 1293. On the ground floor there is a large porch and on the first floor is a large hall for assemblies which gives access to the so-called "Parlera", a balcony from which they spoke to the people.
To the front there is a tower-spire of the 14th century.
In Monza Old Town there are other architectural remains to be seen, such as the remains of the Roman Arena bridge where we can still see one of the eight arches (the bridge itself is now replaced by the Bridge of Lions).
Among other religious buildings worthy of mention is the Church of Santa Maria in Strada, in Romanesque style with a Lombard-Gothic façade, terracotta decorations and a statue of the Virgin and Child by the French School.
Next to the church is the bell tower, probably by Ambrogio da Milano (a sculptor active in the 15th century).
Also of note are the Romanesque Church of Saint Peter Martyr, built in the first half of the 14th century; and the Church of St. Mary of Carrobiolo, built in the 13th century by the Order of Humiliated Friars and transformed during the 16th and 18th centuries.
As you walk around this area of Monza you will also discover the famous Royal Villa, built by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria for his son Ferdinand (1793-1875) and built between 1776 and 1780 by Giuseppe Piermarini.
Giuseppe Piermarini (1734-1808) is best known as the designer of La Scala opera house in Milan.
Highlights of the villa include the great hall, the apartments of Umberto I (1844-1900) and Margherita of Savoy (1851-1926), the Royal Chapel, Court Theatre and Rotunda, frescoed by Andrea Appiani with scenes from the tale of "Cupid and Psyche." The gardens of the villa are also well worth exploring.
Eating suggestions in Monza
As you take your promenade around Monza you will also discover restaurants offering the traditional, typically peasant, cuisine which is characterized by "poor" dishes, but very tasty.
In addition to the excellent sausages, among the first course dishes to taste is the "risotto with the ‘luganega’. Among the main courses we recommend trying a pot roast. For dessert, we recommend the “Torta de Michelacc", biscuits made from bread, milk, raisins, pine, cedar and cocoa.
See also history of Monza.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Lombardy guide.