One of the most emblematic monuments of the city of Milan is the Arco della Pace, a triumphal arch located at the beginning of Corso Sempione. It bears this name because in 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, it was dedicated to peace between European nations.
It was inaugurated on 10th September 1838 with a ceremony in the presence of Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria and it is one of the most important neoclassical monuments in Milan. The first version was created in January 1806 based on the design of Architect Luigi Cagnola, as an ephemeral architecture intended to celebrate the arrival in Milan of the newlyweds Eugène de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, and Augusta of Bavaria. The arch was made of canvas, plaster and wood and, since it was successful with foreign visitors, the Council of Milan decided that a new arch - this time in solid marble – would be built in a more appropriate manner.
The new arch, still designed by Cagnola and conceived as the "Arch of Victory", meaning the French victory in the battle of Jena, was built in autumn 1807, in the area which used to be called Piazza d'Armi that was located behind the Sforza Castle, in an area which is now covered by Parco Sempione. The works were directed by architect Cagnola under the supervision of the Municipality of Milan and of Napoleon himself. Two thirds of the work had already been done when, with the fall of the Kingdom of Italy, the project was dropped.
It was only in 1826 that the construction of the building was resumed thanks to the interest shown by Habsburg Emperor Francis I of Austria. After the death of Luigi Cagnola, the direction of the works was entrusted to Carlo Giuseppe Londonio who completed this architecture in 1838, just in time for the inauguration ceremony to be attended by Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria and King of Lombardy-Venetia. Finally, on 8th June 1859, four days after Magenta's victory, Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II made their triumphant entrance through the Arch, among the cheers of the exultant Milanese.
After Milan went from the Hapsburg domination to Piedmont, the only changes that were made to the monument – which had been completed more than twenty years before - were the new dedicatory inscriptions placed on top of the arches.
The Arch, of Corinthian order, is a large square: it has three arches - two smaller and one bigger - with four columns on the longer sides, surmounted by four statues. At the foot of each pedestal there is a frieze with a bas-relief: towards the city you can see Minerva, Mars, Apollo and Hercules, while towards the countryside Vigilance, History, Poetry and Lombardy.
The position of the horses pulling the chariot of peace was changed by the Austrians who, in order to retaliate against the French, decided to rotate the horses by 180 degrees, so that their backs would be turned towards France.
On the sides of the monument, there are two toll booths which were built at the end of the 18th century when a new organization of Milan had become necessary, both for the collection of duties and for the delimitation of the urban territory with respect to the countryside. Between 1783 and 1786 the city gates were rebuilt, with the demolition of the medieval ruins and the addition of the toll booths.
The Arco della Pace area now shares the green area of Parco Sempione with the streets of Milanese nightlife, frequented by young people who meet especially at aperitif time in the many bars and clubs situated in the area, making this district of the city particularly lively at night.