Lombardy, a varied and vast region, is known for its dazzling mountains and lakes, affluent economy, developed financial market, world-renowned culture and quite simply, its beauty. It’s the jewel in the crown of northern Italy.
Lombardy is the most populated and wealthiest region in Italy. It is situated in the north of the country, bordered by Switzerland and by the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Piedmont. The capital of Lombardy is the city of Milan, which is the second most popular tourist destination in Italy. This quadrilateral-shaped region of northern Italy is important geographically, providing a crucial link between Italy and the rest of Europe.
The provinces of Lombardy are Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Mantova, Milano, Pavia, Sondrio and Varese. It has a total area of 23,861 square kilometres and a population of 9.4 million. Lombardy is divided into three distinct zones: mountains, hills and plains. Piz Zupo, in the Bernina Range of the Alps, is the highest peak of Lombardy at 3,996 metres. Below the Alpine mountain ranges lie the Alpine foothills. The famous Italian lakes lie in this zone. From west to east these are Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Lake Como, Lake Iseo, Lake Idro, and Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy.
Lombardy first belonged to Italy in the 3rd century BC when the Celtic land was conquered by the Romans. After the collapse of the Roman empire, it was occupied briefly by the Goths and then the Lombards, of Germanic origin. Of course, this is from where Lombardy derives its name. When the Lombard kingdom ended in 1774, Lombardy became a part of Charlemagne’s empire and a feudal system was introduced.
The land then came under the rule of the Austrian Empire in 1815, becoming the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. Fifty years later it changed hands again, seceding to France in 1859 after the second Italian War of Independence.
In this period, strong towns such as Milan and Bergamo were able to overthrow their rulers and become prosperous and powerful communes. In the 19th century, Lombardy joined the new unification of Italy.
For a while, Lombardy was able to enjoy a significant period of industrialisation. Milan, Brescia and Bergamo in particular became the nucleus of the cooperative and trade union uprisings, seeing strong religious and political rivalry between the socialists and the Catholics. The labour battles that followed the First World War largely stemmed from the industrial heartlands of Lombardy, as Italy struggled to control the rise of fascism. Despite the scourge of fascism, the nationalist ideology actually caused modern economic and industrial growth in Lombardy. The rise of fascism ended when Mussolini was captured and killed in 1945. Milan was liberated by the Allies on 25th April 1945, giving Italy its National liberation anniversary. Although badly scarred by the war, Lombardy only took a few years to recover.
Since then, it has enjoyed prosperous growth. However, in 2020, Lombardy was the first region in the world to suffer from an epidemic as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Around 16,000 died in less than two months, with more than 87,000 infections.
Lombardy leads the way in an Italian agriculture sector heavily reliant on its meat and dairy products. Typical food for the area is risotto, polenta and ossobuco. The lowlands of the Po Valley are perfect for the maintenance of dairy cattle. The area around the Po also produces enviable amounts of barley, maize, wheat and rice, whilst north of Piedmont sees the growth of water-intensive crops such as corn and soybeans. In total, it accounts for around 69% of the country’s agriculture. It’s also helped by its geography and unique conditions of the area. High levels of irrigation and fertile ground are perfect for its crops, whilst copious vines are found at the foot of its expansive mountains.
Lombardy also has a place on the world stage for its wine production. Nebbiolo grapes help the region export its unique full-bodied red wine and Franciacorta, a sparkling wine hot on the heels of Prosecco.
Lombardy also boasts an impressive four World Heritage sites: Milan’s Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie; the Valcamonica ‘Rock Drawings’; the Crespi d’Adda (a town built especially for the workers and families of the Crespi cotton factory; and two of the nine Sacri Monti (Sacred Mountains). In addition to this, Lombardy accounts for ten of the country’s fifty-eight UNESCO World Heritage locations.
Milan, Lombardy’s capital, is the leading commercial and industrial centre of Italy. It is also the country’s financial powerhouse, hosting the largest banks as well as the Borsa Italiana stock exchange, renowned worldwide. This is a significant contributor to the fact that a fifth of Italy’s GDP comes from Lombardy.
As well as its strong economy and place on the commercial world stage, Milan is crucial for its tourist income. Visitors from all over the world flock there to visit its blend of rich history and opulence. There are many great sites in Milan including: the Duomo, Sforza Castle, La Scala opera house, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the San Siro stadium. Milan is also famous as the home of 'The Last Supper' by Leonardo da Vinci.
Milan is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world, being home to Valentino, Versace, Prada and Gucci, amongst many others. Curiously, it’s a unique mix of the abundance of historical architecture Italy is well-known for, as well as many modern, high-rise skyscrapers, all of which sit at the foot of the Alps. Milan is also one of Europe’s biggest financial hubs. It’s also known for two of Italy’s most successful football clubs. AC Milan has won seven European Cups, while neighbours Inter Milan hold an impressive 19 league titles. Milan also has a focus on the lucrative design and media markets. Milan Design Week takes place every year. It is also the media centre point of entrepreneur and former PM Silvio Berlusconi.
Elsewhere in the region, Bergamo and Brescia are well-known for their medieval beauty and artistic treasures. Garda is known for not only the crystal-clear waters of its lake but its jaw-dropping Roman ruins and wine-producing lands. Bormio and its Stelvio National Park is a prestigious alpine ski resort. The streets of Monza host the annual Italian Grand Prix. With twelve thriving provinces to choose from, there’s a plethora of culture for just under 20% of Italy’s 100 million annual tourists to enjoy.
The mix of industrialism, rich Roman history, thriving financial sector, as well as opulent fashion, food and drink exports will ensure Lombardy remains the jewel of Italy’s crown for many more years to come.
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