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600px-Alfa_Romeo.svgImages of Milan adorn my house here in Jerusalem.

I am hoping one day they decorate my driveway as well.

I am thinking along the lines of a red cross and a green snake – nicely ornamenting the hood of a 2014 Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe.

Alfa-Romeo-4C-Coupe-47

Two principal insignia of medieval Milan are renown the world over. Thanks to Alfa Romeo.

City of MilanThe first symbol is the Ambrose Cross, a red cross on a white background, still used today as the city’s logo. The Ambrose Cross, alleged to have been the symbol of Milan’s fourth-century bishop, is identical to the St George’s Cross, used by city of Genoa and more recognizably as the flag of England. I like the story that the Ambrose Cross inspired the others, beginning with Genoa in the late eleventh century. Tradition then claims that Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199), the King of England, inspired by Genoa, adopted St George as his patron saint. Such legends – who inspired who – are particularly difficult to substantiate. In any case, by the end of the Crusader period, all three entities were waving a flag with a red cross on a white background.

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Yet, the Ambrose Cross is thoroughly Milan. Along with the city’s coat of arms, it is featured in the logo of AC Milan, and even black-and-blue hometown rivals, Inter Milan, have worn the kit and colors of the city’s red and white cross (below right).

 AC MilanBarcelona v Inter Milan - Gamper Trophy

biscione_6The second symbol is the Biscione, or Vipera, a serpent in the act of consuming a human, usually in the form of a child and sometimes depicted as a Saracen. The symbol was adopted as the insignia of the Visconti family, which ruled Milan beginning in 1277. According to one legend, Ottone Visconti (1207 – 1295), who founded the House of Visconti, killed a Saracen during the First Crusade and adopted the warrior’s coat of arms, a snake eating a man, as his own. Another legend locates an enormous child-eating dragon in Lake Gerundo near Milan. Ottone slew the creature, inspiring the insignia. Yet another version links the image to Matteo Visconti, who became the count of Milan in 1295 and who may have designed the Biscione based upon legends of the Germanic tribes who invaded Lombardia in the eighth century.

Arms_of_the_House_of_SforzaWhen Filippo Maria Visconti died in 1447 without a male heir, Francesco I Sforza (1401 – 1466), who married Filippo’s illegitimate daughter, Bianca Maria Visconti (1425-1468), assumed control of Milan. The Sforza dynasty, which ruled Milan until 1535, incorporated the Biscione into their own coat of arms.

And not surprisingly, while the Ambrose Cross is the signature logo for AC Milan, Inter Milan, notwithstanding its own use of the city’s cross, has adopted the Biscione as its own mascot.

Inter Milan

For the past century, these two insignia of Milan  – the Ambrose Cross and the Biscione  –  have been twinned into a symbol all its own. Or, rather than of Alfa Romeo.

When Alfa (Anonima Lombarda Fabbricia Automobilia) was founded in 1910, the executives of the Milan-based company commissioned Romano Catteneo to design the company’s logo. To do so, he conjured up the city’s iconic past, creating a circular logo of two segments. On the left, he placed the Ambrose Cross; on the right, the Biscione.

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The original emblem was used between 1910 and 1915.

The company was bought in 1918 by Nicola Romeo, and the logo was redesigned by Giuseppe Merosi. The wording, now white, was changed to ‘ALFA  – ROMEO’ with ‘MILANO’ added below. On the sides were two Savoy-dynasty knots in honor of the Kingdom of Italy.

After the Alfa Romeo P2 won the inaugural Automobile World Championship in 1925, a laurel wreath was added around the badge.

In 1946, after the abolition of the Italian monarchy, the Savoy knots were replaced with two wavy lines.

When Alfa Romeo opened its factory in Naples in the early 1970s, the name ‘MILANO’ was dropped from the logo; the overall design was modernized, and the cool green snake became even cooler.

Today, Alfa Romeo remains an recognized leader in high-performance sport cars, driven, as in the past, by the iconic images of medieval Milan.

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