Palace of the Reason

Piazza dei Mercanti, 5. (Open Map)


We don’t have to look through books or encyclopaedias to get an idea of what Milan looked like during the Middle Ages. All we have to do is take a walk amongst its many historical buildings, such as Palazzo della Ragione. From about 8 centuries ago, this was in fact the heart of Milan’s trade and business activities. As you leave the Cathedral square and walk towards Piazza Mercanti, you reach the Mediaeval Broletto Nuovo, which is now called Palazzo della Ragione.
This is one of the busiest areas of the city and it is frequently full of tourists and passers-by, including the people of the city who like to stroll here. This part of the city provides a suggestion of life in a Mediaeval settlement. You will also find musicians and street artists here, who are always willing to perform for some spare change.
Palazzo della Ragione (previously known as Broletto Nuovo), built in the 1200’s, was the location in which the municipal authorities conducted their activities up until the 18th century, when Maria Theresa of Austria decided to transform it into an archive for official documents. Constructed in Mediaeval style, it has a rectangular floor plan, with a double portico on the open ground floor which thus forms a large covered but open-air area. At the time of the Visconti rulers, this area was used for trade, both for buying and selling merchandise, and for professional services such as notaries and intermediaries.
Today, Palazzo della Ragione is used for art and photography exhibitions, which are rendered even more attractive by this unique building.
On a pilaster of Palazzo della Ragione facing Via Mercanti, there is a bas-relief of the “Scrofa semilanuta” (a wild boar with long hair on the forward part of its back). This animal of historical tradition is in fact a symbol of Milan, and it probably runs right back to the period in which the Celts founded the city. On the other side of the building there is an equestrian high-relief which depicts a ruler of the city during the period of the Communes.
There are many legends providing an explanation for the city’s name. According to one, it is actually based on the “scrofa semilanuta” (which in Latin becomes “medio-lanum”), with regard to an Ancient Roman artefact found during excavations at a site corresponding to Piazza Santo Sepolcro.
The word “Broletto” comes from the word “Brolo” which, in the late Middle Ages, indicated an open grass field where markets were commonly held.
The equestrian bas-relief monument on the side of Palazzo della Ragione facing Piazza Mercanti dates back to the Communes period, in late Romanesque style.