The Sala delle Cariatidi was created between 1774 and 1778 by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini, who was also responsible for the construction of La Scala Theatre in Milan (1776-1778). This room was located on the piano nobile of the Palazzo Reale in Milan, once the seat of medieval mayors and Renaissance dukes, and the residence of Spanish governors, Napoleonic viceroys and Austrian governors.
Also known as the ‘Sala degli Specchi’ (Hall of Mirrors), it extends into the wing of the Royal Palace opposite the north side of the Duomo. It was originally a place for official receptions and balls, with a frescoed ceiling decorated with stuccoes and along the walls forty caryatids, created by the sculptor Gaetano Callani, to make the room even more majestic.

The symbol of tragic war events
In the aftermath of the Great War of 1915-1918, the Palazzo Reale passed into the hands of the city of Milan, and it was here that King Vittorio Emanuele III welcomed US President Wilson in 1919.
But it was during World War II that the destiny of this hall was marked forever. On the night of 15 August 1943, in fact, an Anglo-American bombing ravaged the rooms of the Palazzo, which lost a large part of its treasures: entire rooms on the piano nobile were irreparably destroyed, along with their frescoes, friezes, sculptures and decorations, while furniture and ornaments, which had been moved to another location during the war, were never relocated. The Sala delle Cariatidi also suffered a fire that uncovered the ceiling, overheated the stuccoes, transforming their colour and material, and eroded the statues of the caryatids, permanently ruining the famous room and exposing it to the elements. A parallel story to that of the Teatro alla Scala, which was also half-destroyed and exposed to the elements. The Sala delle Cariatidi remained in this condition for four years, in memory of the tragic event.

The rebirth to a new life
At the end of the war, work began in 1947 to restore the palazzo and in particular the Sala delle Cariatidi: a new floor and a new roof were installed.
In 1952 the Sala delle Cariatidi hosted an exhibition dedicated to Van Gogh and in 1953 an exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work, for which the artist chose to exhibit his “Guernica”, a painting denouncing the horrors of war, displayed exactly where the bombings had brought devastation.
It was not until 2000 that significant restoration work began on the Palazzo Reale’s monumental flats, and the Sala delle Cariatidi became the subject of a conservative restoration project. Today it is the venue for carefully selected temporary exhibitions, enhanced by the undisputed charm of this place.

Sala delle Cariatidi at Palazzo Reale Milano
Sala delle Cariatidi at Palazzo Reale Milano. Courtesy @Palazzo Reale Milano
Sala delle Cariatidi at Palazzo Reale Milano
Sala delle Cariatidi at Palazzo Reale Milano. Photo Lorenzo Pennati