Now home to the arts, history and law faculties of Milan university, Ca' Granda began life as a hospital and hospice. It was Francesco Sforza who set out to consolidate Milan's 30 hospitals into one Casa Granda, or Ospedale Maggiore ('main hospital'), in 1456. The Ca' Granda was also a place to protect the poor and sick (thus ensuring the salvation of its sponsors) - and to keep beggars, lunatics and other social embarrassments out of the public eye.
Francesco's favourite architect, Antonio 'il Filarete' Averlino, incorporated the idea into his grandiose plan to transform Milan into an ideal Renaissance city. The building had one wing for men and another for women, each subdivided into four inner courts and separated by the Cortile Maggiore ('great court'). The façade, with its typically Lombard terracotta decoration, is one of the few in the city to survive from the 1400s. The courtyards, also from the 15th century, contained the women's baths.
Work continued on the project after Filarete's death (around 1469), but ground to a halt with the fall of Ludovico il Moro, picking up again from time to time during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1942 the hospital was moved to its new headquarters at Niguarda, in the northern suburbs. The university took up residence here in 1958.
The Cortile Maggiore, with its Renaissance portico and baroque loggia, is decorated with busts sculpted from the yellow, rose and grey stone from Angera on Lake Maggiore. It was reconstructed after sustaining heavy damage during World War II. The neo-classical Macchio wing - now home to university offices - once contained an art gallery.