Avert your eyes from the lurid McDonalds sign encroaching on the piazza; instead enjoy some modern Italian food at the family-run Ristorante Al Mercante
In the Middle Ages, Piazza Mercanti was the central square of Milan and the heart of the city. These titles may since have passed to the Piazza del Duomo, which holds the resplendent Milan Cathedral, but Piazza Mercanti is no less worth visiting — here you can find an authentic slice of the Middle Ages.
Back then the Piazza Mercanti housed the city hall, law courts and a prison. Weddings were also commonly announced here and, true to its name (Merchants’ Square), you could buy just about anything. The cacophonous crowds are no more, but the historic architecture remains: pay special attention to the Palazzo della Ragione and the Loggie degli Osii.
At the centre of the square there is a well, surmounted by two columns. Centuries ago a large stone was found there, known as the “bankrupts stone”. Those guilty of bankruptcy would be stripped here and have their naked bum exposed as penance.
Oh bej! Oh bej!
More or less translating as “Oh so nice! Oh so nice!”, this is the most important Christmas fair in Milan. It dates back to the 13th century, when Giannetto Castiglione, delegate of Pope Pius IV, visited Milan and sought to ingratiate himself by bringing sweets and toys for the city’s children. Ever since, a festival has take place on December 7th, with its name inspired by the cheerful cries of the children. Until 1886 it was hosted in the Piazza Mercanti, but it has since relocated and now takes place in the Sforza Castle — but they still hold Christmas markets here, too.
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