The Palazzo della Ragione is located in the Piazza Mercanti and is the former town hall of Milan. Nowadays, it is mainly used for photography exhibitions. The relief depicting a sow on the facade is one of the symbols of the city.
Palazzo della Ragione Milan
Address: Piazza dei Mercanti, 5 – Milan. Telephone: (+39) 02 433535. Public transport: Metro: Duomo (lines 1, 3), Cordusio (line 1).
History and description
The Palazzo della Ragione was built in the 13th century. At the time it was called Broletto Nuovo. Until 1786 it served as Milan’s town hall.
The building was erected while Oldrado da Tresseno fulfilled the function of podestà (a kind of mayor, but with more powers).
The open loggia with the seven arches at street level is called Loggia dei Mercanti.
The large hall on the first floor covers an area of almost 1,000 square metres. This was originally the seat of the municipal government of the free city of Milan. It fulfilled this role until 1278, when the Visconti took over power in the city.
In the 18th century, Empress Maria Teresa of Austria had it converted into the Notarial Archive. The architect who carried out this work, and added a floor to the building, was Francesco Croce.
Since the last restoration, which was completed in 1986, the Palazzo della Ragione is being used for exhibitions.
Loggia dei Mercanti
The portico of the Palazzo della Ragione is called Loggia dei Mercanti. At the front, it consists of 7 arches while on the short sides it has 2 arches. The vaults date back to the period between 1771 and 1773, when the original wooden ceiling was replaced.
A niche in the façade opening onto the Piazza dei Mercanti contains a high relief representing an equestrian statue of Oldrado da Tresseno made by Benedetto Antelami. Oldrado da Tresseno was a 13th century Italian politician who had been responsible for the construction of the Palazzo della Ragione and of the square itself. The epigraph testifies that he “had the building constructed and burned the Catari as his duty required”.
For a while, from the 19th century onwards, the arches were closed with glass and the portico was thus transformed into a shop, but later everything was returned to its original state.
Until 1886, the traditional Milanese “Oh bej oh bej market” used to take place here. Nowadays, it is held near Castello Sforzesco.
In 1952, memorial plaques with the names of the Milanese who died in the liberation struggle were placed on the pillars of the portico.
“Scrofa semilanuta”, the sow of Milan
On the façade on the Via dei Mercanti is a small pre-Roman relief. This is known as the Scrofa Semilanuta (“half-wool sow”) and was found during excavations for the foundation. According to tradition, this wild boar indicated to the Celt Belloveso in the 6th century BC where he was supposed to found a city.
Belloveso was the grandson of the Celtic king Ambigato and had come with his troops from Gaul to conquer northern Italy. After Belloveso got stuck in a swampy and inhospitable place, he consulted an oracle to ask where he should establish his settlement. The oracle replied that a hairy wild boar would show him the place.
And so it came to be. They met a wild boar and founded Medhe-lan, Gallic for “land in the middle”. This was corrupted into the Latin Mediolanum, which would become Milan.
The sow remained the symbol of the city until the Middle Ages. After the Visconti took power, it was replaced by the biscione, a heraldic symbol depicting a snake devouring a young lady.
Nowadays, the sow is only depicted in a few places in Milan. Apart from the Palazzo della Ragione, these are the official banner of the city in front of the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica and a coat of arms in the courtyard of the Palazzo Marina in Piazza della Scala.