It’s lovely to be in the courtyards, under the arched vaults of the noble buildings, and feel the atmosphere of times past, with words that seem to still echo in the air and the city which disappears behind an ancient wrought-iron gate.

Milan has many lovely buildings with fascinating courtyards, many of which are hidden from the eyes of passers-by behind imposing doors that open to the public only on special occasions, like Cortili Aperti (Open Courtyards), which takes place in May. For the rest of the year, they are enjoyed by only a privileged few. But this is not the case of Palazzo Arese Litta, which is the seat of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and the historical Litta Theatre.

Inside the prestigious Palazzo with its XVIII century façade and its two imposing atlantes, the street’s most recognizable landmarks, are numerous architectural treasures, including some beautiful courtyards. The first one as you enter the building on Corso Magenta 25 is the vast Cortile d’Onore (Honour Courtyard) which dates back to the original project designed by Francesco Maria Ricchino. The courtyard, which is square and surrounded by colonnades covered with barrel vaults supported by granite columns, is one of the finest examples of the elegant classicism of seventeenth-century Milanese courtyards.

Other minor courtyards open up on either side of the central courtyard, including the Cortile dell’Orologio (or Clock Courtyard) onto which the theatre looks. From here we come to the interesting Cortile della Cavallerizza (Riding School Courtyard) that leads us to what was once the lush Arese garden, diminished in both size and splendour at the beginning of the XIX century when the city underwent various renovations and built the Bonaparte Forum. Although transformed over the years, the garden still boasts centuries-old trees and is one of the most fascinating historic green spaces of the city centre. The Bonaparte Forum Courtyard of Residenze Litta is also interesting to visit. Its floor was designed to echo that of the Honour Courtyard of Palazzo Litta. The Bonaparte Forum Courtyard is the ideal continuation of Via Illica, along which you can easily reach the Sforza Castle.

All of the courtyards of Palazzo Litta and Residenze Litta are covered in smooth river pebbles laid out in coloured geometric designs that only the most able of craftsmen can recreate today, as they did in the recently restored Residenze Litta.

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