Although making time to visit Milan on a short trip to Italy isn’t necessarily the best use of your precious vacation hours, the Milan airport is often one’s point of entry (or egress) – so you might as well make the best of that 24 hours or so you’ll spend in the area, right? Easily the top thing to do on a short trip to Milan is to see Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco, “The Last Supper.” The trouble is that doing so on short notice is nigh unto impossible.
“The Last Supper,” called “Il Cenacolo” in Italian (pronounced che-NAH-ko-lo), rests on one wall of a former dining hall attached to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The nature of da Vinci’s work on the fresco – he was experimenting with a new method at the time – meant that it degraded much more quickly than other frescoes painted at the same time. As a result, the environment of the room is now strictly monitored to keep the masterpiece from being damaged even more rapidly.
Visitors are limited to 15 minutes inside the giant room, and this is timed to the second. You’ll be ushered out the moment your 15 minutes are up. You’ll pass through a couple of pressurized doors to get into and out of the room, and there’s absolutely no photography or filming allowed inside – the light and flash from cameras can seriously damage the fragile fresco.
This doesn’t mean you can’t see it, however. You can book a visit online in advance (it’s recommended you start checking available dates months ahead of time), or you can book a guided tour that includes a reserved entry to see “The Last Supper” as part of the tour. Either way, don’t be late or you’ll lose your reserved time. And if you don’t have a tour guide, be sure to get the audio guide – it’s timed to 15 minutes exactly and points out elements of the painting you may miss otherwise.
In the end, 15 minutes is hardly enough to fully appreciate da Vinci’s masterpiece, but luckily there’s a high-definition version online that you can stare at – and even zoom into – as long as you like. Once you see the real thing in Milan, you’ll want to explore all the details even more.