Art lovers, history buffs and those with a penchant for architecture will swoon over Santa Maria delle Grazie. This exquisite UNESCO World Heritage-listed church is perhaps most famous for holding one of the most recognised masterpieces in the world - Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. The church itself is also considered a sheer work of architectural genius and holds crucial historical significance to Italy.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie, in northern Italy, is both a church and Dominican convent, ordered by the Duke of Milan, Francesco I Sforza, in 1463. Architect Guiniforte Solari completed the design of the convent in 1469, but the construction of the building itself was monumental and took decades to complete. Duke Ludovico Sforza (1494-1499) later modified the church so it could serve as a burial site for his family, and had his wife Beatrice buried there in 1497. Sforza also had the cloister and apse rebuilt, and is most famously known for commissioning The Last Supper.
While there’s some debate over who actually designed the church’s spectacular apse, it's widely believed to be the brainchild of one of the most influential architects of the time, Donato Bramante, who brought the Renaissance style to Milan. The apse, and da Vinci’s painting, heralded a new era of art history.
The church and convent were bombed during World War II, which destroyed much of the site’s refectory (dining hall), where da Vinci’s most renowned piece is preserved. Thankfully, the wall that holds this important mural had been sand-bagged, and it survived. Preservation works and rebuilding have continued over the centuries on the precinct. And while there are obvious signs of age and patchy restoration on this tourist attraction, the brilliance of da Vinci’s work shines through.
Visitors must make reservations to see the painting with 15-minute viewing time slots. These reservations can be made via phone or the website. Historical tours are also available, with packages taking you through the historical centre of Milan and to the 15th-century fortress of Sforza Castle.