It was one of the earliest seminaries in the world. But also, a library, a printing shop, and a school. The history of Milan’s Archiepiscopal Seminary is one of constant cultural and artistic dialogue with the city. Started in 1565, it is completed with the huge central court and the splendid baroque portal by Francesco Maria Richini in the 17th century, thus becoming a model for the monument architecture of the time.
Over the centuries, it was a boarding school under Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, a prison and even a ministry with Napoleon, a military hospital for General Radetzky’s Hapsburg soldiers and for the Italian military during WW1. Damaged by bombings in WW2, it underwent a first restoration by rationalist architect Piero Portaluppi in 1967. Eventually, it hosted the atelier of architect Mario Bellini, who met with Steve Jobs here.
1565: St Charles Borromeo and the Archiepiscopal Seminary
In 1564, at the height of Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent introduces a great innovation to priests’ education: seminaries. The Archbishop of Milan –Charles Borromeo, the future St Charles– is among the first ones who implement it. He established Milan’s Archiepiscopal Seminary in the same year, the second oldest in the world. The next year, the seminary is transferred to the former Humiliati Monastery in Corso Venezia.
1569-1620: Birth of a baroque masterpiece
Upon the initiative of another great member of the Borromeo family —that Cardinal Federico made immortal by Italy’s flagship novelist, Alessandro Manzoni— the former monastery gradually transforms into a monumental building. The courtyard is supervised by the most prestigious architects of the time: Pellegrino Tibaldi, Aurelio Trezzi, and Fabio Mangone. In particular, Aurelio Trezzi designs the huge central court, featuring a side of some 56 metres (184 feet).
1635: The sumptuous portal by Francesco Maria Richini
The Lombard Seventeenth century of the Seminary stands out for its clean, elegant lines, far from the usual decorative richness of baroque. With one splendid exception: the sumptuous portal on Corso Venezia, designed by Francesco Maria Richini and completed circa 1635. Two imposing columns adorn its sides, carved by sculptor Giambattista Casella and representing the meeting between Divinity and Philosophy. A wrought-iron decoration above the portal reads the Borromeo family motto, Humilitas.
1774-1815: From a boarding school to a hospital, from ministry to prison
Following the reforms of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, the then ruler of Milan, the Faculty of Divinity is moved to Pavia and the Seminary is converted into a boarding school for soon-to-be priests. As French troops enter the city in 1796, Napoleon decides to turn it into a hospital for his wounded soldiers and a jail for Austrian prisoners. In turn, the short-lived Napoleonic Cisalpine Republic would use it to host its Ministry of War.
1849-1918: Between sacred and profane, always at the heart of the city
The Seminary is often close to the epicentre of uprisings during the Risorgimento, and it hosts Hapsburg General Radetzky’s wounded troops on multiple occasions. It would be used as a military hospital for one last time during WW1. A dedicated track was built as well, to bring wounded soldiers directly into the central court from the train station, using the famous Milanese trams.
1930-1980: The slow decline
In 1930 the Seminary moves to a new location in Venegono Inferiore, a town in Northern Lombardy. Eventually, the monumental compound would be damaged by bombings during WW2. In 1967 the Archdioceses awarded the bid for a first restoration project to one of the great masters of Italian rationalism, Piero Portaluppi. Despite this prestigious intervention, the Milan site is now deprived of a function of its own and heads toward a slow decline.
1980-1990: An oasis of Made in Italy
Two floors host the atelier of Mario Bellini for ten years, one of the most representative contemporary Italian architects. Great international projects and iconic design objects are born under their vaults, also thanks to the collaboration between Bellini and Olivetti started in 1976. Fascinated by his style, Steve Jobs would come to visit him here in 1981, to propose him a possible partnership to design Apple products.
1990-2022: From oblivion to rebirth
Now shuttered for good, the former Seminary hosts rare events, but it remains mostly inaccessible to both the Milanese and travellers.
Also thanks to the fruitful cooperation with the Archdioceses and the Municipality of Milan, in 2018 the Ferragamo Group obtains the permits to transform it into an innovative destination concept that revolves around the large Piazza with a hotel, retail and fine dining formats, and experiences. Renovation works start in 2019, based on a careful restoration project by architect Michele De Lucchi, fully aimed at respecting the site’s historic and monumental nature. The interiors are designed by architect Michele Bönan, building on a mood that blends the great Italian craftsmanship tradition with contemporary design.
Portrait Milano, inaugurated on December 2023, is the new destination at the heart of the Quadrilatero della Moda fashion district: a large 2,800 sq. m (30,200 sq. ft) piazza, open to the city, which also becomes a prestigious pedestrian promenade from Corso Venezia to Via S. Andrea. Here, the great Italian hospitality will join international fine dining and out-of-home outlets, along with top-tier boutiques, for unique events and experiences.