After the Duomo, the Castello Sforzesco is Milan's main attraction - not least because of its 12 mini-museums and archives running all the way from Palaeolithic history through to 1950s furniture. It was home to the noble Visconti family from 1368, and restored to its original splendour by the equally aristocratic Sforzas in the 1450s, and the court gathered here a few decades later by Francesco's son, Ludovico 'il Moro', was regarded as one of Europe's most refined. Castle and court fell into decline in 1499, and Ludovico's game of playing off the French under Charles VIII against Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I ended in disaster and imprisonment in 1500.
While Milan was bristling under French rule in the early 19th century, the castle's star-shaped bulwarks were knocked down. In the late 1800s there was much talk of demolishing the rest, but luckily for the city, architect Luca Beltrami fought to preserve it, coming up with the idea of headquartering Milan's various art collections here. From 1893 until 1904, Beltrami oversaw the castle's restoration, rearranging and rebuilding unashamedly; but it was his unorthodox efforts that saved the edifice from total oblivion. Coming to a spindly point above the façade is an early 20th-century recreation of a tower originally built by the 15th-century architect Antonio Averlino, dubbed Il Filarete (hence the tower's name, Torre del Filarete).
Visitors enter via the enormous piazza d'Armi; gates lead into the Rocchetta (the oldest part of the castle, on the left), and into the Cortile (courtyard), where sculptures are often displayed, and Palazzo della Corte Ducale (on the right), in Renaissance style. The entrance to the Civici Musei collection of museums is here.