Guide to Milan’s Outdoor Swimming Pools

Young man in fountain in front of Castello SforzescoSummer 2015 has been a scorcher for Milan, Italy and many parts of Europe, with many days seeing temperatures reach the mid- to upper-30s. It’s not easy to get used to sweating amongst locals and tourists on the subway, on the trams and just simply walking down the street. A cold gelato or an icy drink usually helps, as does entering any shop or coffee place with an excellent AC system in place. But there’s an even better way to beat the heat: go swimming!

If you don’t have the option of traveling to one of Italy’s many beautiful beaches, there are quite a few public pools around town. Check out our list of Milan’s outdoor pools below. All you need is a towel, a bathing suit, insect repellent, sunscreen and lots of water! 

Lido di Milano – This swimming pool and sports center dates back to 1931 and its cool retro architecture has worn well over the years. It also happens to be the largest outdoor pool in Milano. While you’re there, you can play other sports like tennis and soccer, gyms, beach volleyball and waterslides. M1 and M5 Lotto, Piazzale Lotto 15.

Piscina Argelati – This public pool is located in the cool part of town near the Navigli. There are three different pools located on different levels surrounded by a green area. If you’re thirsty and hungry after a day of sunbathing, remember that an aperitivo is served at the bar by the pool. M2 Porta Genova, Via Segantini 6.

Piscina Cardellino – Located in the Lorenteggio area of the city, this sports area has a large outdoor pool. It’s about a 15-minute walk from M1 Inganni, but several buses have stops closer to the pool: 49, 50, 58, 64 and 78, Via del Cardellino 3.

Piscina Romano (Ponzio) – Another historical pool complex, it was built in 1929. It’s located near Città Studi, which means you’ll probably be swimming with other students. M2 Piola, Via Ampère 20.

Piscina Saini – This sports center has the largest number of activities and services in Milano, along with lots of classes. It’s near one of Milan’s big parks too, which makes its location very green. It’s not very close to the city center, however, and not even easily accessible by subway. Bus 38, Via Corelli 136.

Piscina Sant’Abbondio – This pool has nice facilities that were built in 1976 and have been recently renovated. The outdoor pool has lots of space to lay out and enjoy the sun. M2 Abbiategrasso, Via Sant Abbondio 12.

Piscina Scarioni – Built in 1957, this sports center has 3 outdoor pools, including one Olympic size pool. It has also been renovated recently. M5 Ca’ Granda stop, Via Valfurva 9.

Idroscalo – Looking for a place with lots of shade, lots of sun, a place to take a dip and cool off and a few options to dance the night away? You could go to the seaside in Liguria or the Adriatic, but if you’re in the city, just go to Milano’s very own lake! You can rent loungers and go swimming, or play one of the 20 different sports available. Be aware that Idroscalo isn’t located near a subway stop, but it’s very close to the Linate airport. Take the 73 or 183 bus to get there.

Remember that all outdoor pools will be open until 30 August.

Bonus tip – Lots of other public pools have sunbathing areas, even if the pools are indoors. So if there’s a conveniently located pool that isn’t on our list of outdoor pools, check to see if you can soak up some rays before doing a few laps!

Free Wi-Fi All Over Milano

Student in park reading tabletIn today’s world, internet access a basic need, on par with clean drinking water, food, heating and a place to sleep.

And a lack of internet access can make the first few days after moving to a new city even more stressful: you’re in a new place, with a new language, new people, a new culture. And you have most of your basic needs met, but you might still be working out one of them: internet access!

If you’re a new transplant to Milano without a decent internet plan, you might be feeling a desperate need to update your various social media accounts to tell everybody about your new city. Have no fear! You can take advantage of a free wi-fi service offered by the city of Milano to all residents and visitors.

Available only in certain locations around town, registered users can use up to 300MB of data every day, plus one hour. After that, the internet speed slows down, but wi-fi is still available. Read on to get all the info!

Registration and Login
Registering is super-easy if you already have an Italian SIM card, but even if you don’t, it’s not very hard to do. For Italian SIM owners, just connect to the openwifimilano network on your mobile device’s wi-fi, open your browser and type in your Italian phone number. You’ll receive an SMS with your password and can then login.
If you don’t have an Italian phone number, you’ll have to register at an ATM Point at one of the various locations around the city (there’s one in the Duomo subway station for example). You will be given your password when you register.
Whether you register on your phone or at an ATM Point, you simply need to login with your password and you will be able to access the wi-fi from any of the many access points around the city.

Access Points
There are tons of access points located around the city, often in parks and areas perfect for sitting on a bench and browsing the web. Just look for the sign, or check out the maps on the Open WIFI website.

Happy browsing!

11 Brand New Attractions and Services in Milano Because Expo

2015 is a great year for Milano. Lots of travel publications are talking about the city as a top destination because of the huge event being hosted here: Expo Milan 2015. (You probably know all about the fair by now… if not, get more info in our practical guide to the Expo.)

To welcome all the extra visitors coming from near and far to the Expo, the city has spruced up, putting its best face forward. The hip canal area, new parks, new exhibits, the Duomo area, public transport and everything in between have all been revamped. So we’ve gathered a hefty sampling of all the new things going on around town, just for you. You’re sure to find a thing or two that you’re interested in!

Check Out the Renovated Navigli
The Navigli area has long been one of the coolest places in Milano for hanging out with friends, sipping a cool drink. Now it’s even better!
View of canal1 Darsena
: The historic harbor of the city was reopened in late April and was quickly embraced by the city as a place to hang out and enjoy the water. There’s a large walkway, a food market and a foot bridge. What’s not to like?
2 Mercato Metropolitano
: Fancy a snack? Or maybe a movie? Then this newly refurbished area near the Porta Genova station is the place to go! It’s like a farmers market meets street food meets outdoor amphitheater. Wander around the market and you’re sure to find something cool or tasty.

Chill in New Green Areas
Milan has its share of parks and greenery tucked in between its busy streets and tall buildings. Here are the latest editions.
Night view of castle and benchesWheatfield: A living art project created by Agnes Denes and sponsored by the Riccardo Catella and Nicola Trussardi Foundations and Confagricoltura. Local citizens planted the field a few months ago and now the field is growing, providing a nice green space in the city. The wheat will then be harvested when ready. It’s a nice place to take a stroll on the path that cuts through the field and admire the juxtaposition of agriculture surrounded by new skyscrapers.
Piazza Castello: The pedestrian area around the Castle has gotten a face lift, with added benches and trees. The white structures kinda match ExpoGate, which is located in the same square. Why not read a book in the shade and take in the scenery?

Browse Exhibit Collections in Brand New Spaces
Milano is home to lots of great exhibition spaces and museums… including two brand new ones!
Empty cafe interiorFondazione Prada
The fashion giant’s foundation just opened their amazing space for exhibits in an area on the outskirts of the city, completing an amazing renovation job on an industrial area. Before the grand opening, there was only one location in Venice, but now Prada’s home town is hosting a huge and very cool space for the foundation. Don’t forget to check out the bar area, designed by film director Wes Anderson. Inaugurated on 9 May, admission is €10.
Museo della Cultura (MUDEC): The Milan Museum of Cultures opened in late March of this year. Located in the hip Tortona neighborhood, it hosts exhibitions showcasing the diversity of world cultures. The two inaugural exhibits feature traditional African works of art and representations of world cultures in Milan in recent history. Admission, which includes an audio guide, is €13 for anyone under 26.

Hang in the Piazza Duomo Area
Restoration works on the Galleria are finishing up and there are a few new tourist activities in the most central area of the city.
Rooftop of GalleriaHighline Galleria: Seemingly inspired by the relatively new NYC park that was built on an old elevated train track, this is Milan’s very own bird’s eye view of the city. Visitor can explore the upper level of the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and admire the Liberty architecture. Full price tickets are €12, but they’re half off until 20 June, and reduced prices are available for large groups. Open until 11pm.
Palazzo Marino: The office of the Milano city government also happens to be a spectacular palazzo dating back to the 16th century. There are 13 areas open to the public, 4 of which have never before been accessible. Admission is free and guided tours in various languages are organized several days a week.

Test Out the Enhanced Public Transport
With a public transportation system that already does a pretty good job of meeting the needs of the public, the city is still expanding its offer. Check out the latest additions below.
Electric bikes
: Milan’s bike sharing scheme has recently added ebikes to their fleet. Environmentally-friendly (they run on solar power), these bikes are great for longer distances and only cost a little more than the traditional bicycles.
10 M5 subway line: The newest underground line now goes all the way to San Siro stadium – just in time for the start of the summer concert season! For info on concerts, check out the TicketOne website.

Try Out Some Expo in Città Events
11 Expo in Città: Last, but not least, many of the above initiatives are included in the wide variety of events included in Expo in Città. This is a website that groups together anything and everything related to the Expo but located in the city and it’s a good way to get a comprehensive overview of what’s going on. You can browse by date, admission price, category or type of venue. You’re sure to find a cool event suited to your tastes! Browse on the Expo in Città website.

*photos from the Comune di Milano website and the Fondazione Prada twitter feed

Watch Movies in English in Milan

Now that last year’s Oscars winners have been announced, it’s time to catch up on all the movies that were nominated for and won awards! Fortunately, if you live in Milan, that will be easy to do, with the English-language film review chock-full of Academy Award winners.

Movies shown in their original language (read: English) are available in Milan each week at 3 different cinemas on 3 different days of the week. This is where they’re located:

Mondays – Anteo Spaziocinema, Via Milazzo 9 (Porta Garibaldi or Moscova stops, green line)
Tuesdays – Arcobaleno Film Center, Viale Tunisia 11 (Porta Venezia stop, red line)
Thursdays – Cinema Mexico, Via Savona 57 (Porta Genova stop, green line)

For more information on the program, go to the Sound & Motion Pictures website (information in Italian, PDF download in English). And always be sure to check dates and times with the movie theater.

Without further ado, here’s a list of the upcoming movies. Enjoy the show!

Sound and Motion logo23 – 24 – 26 February
3:00pm, 6:00pm, 9:00pm
BOYHOOD
directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette – duration: 165 minutes

2 – 3 – 5 March
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
THE IMITATION GAME
directed by Morten Tyldum, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley – duration: 113 minutes

9 – 10 – 12 March
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
directed by James Marsh, starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones – duration: 123 minutes

16 – 17 – 19 March
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
BIRDMAN
directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis – duration: 119 minutes

23 – 24 – 26 March
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:25pm
SELMA
directed by Ava DuVernay, starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo – duration: 128 minutes

30 – 31 March – 2 April
3:00pm, 6:00pm, 9:00pm
INHERENT VICE
directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin – duration: 148 minutes

7 – 9 April
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:00pm
STILL ALICE
directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin – duration: 101 minutes

13 – 14 – 16 April
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
BLACK OR WHITE
directed by Mike Binder,starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer – duration: 121 minutes

21 – 23 April
1:00pm, 3:40pm, 6:15pm, 9:00pm
UNBROKEN
directed by Angelina Jolie, starring Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara – duration: 137 minutes

27 – 28 – 30 April
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
WILD
directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern – duration: 115 minutes

4 – 5 – 7 May
3:00pm, 6:00pm, 9:00pm
MR TURNER
directed by Mike Leigh, starring Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson – duration: 149 minutes

11 – 12 – 14 May
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:25pm
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
directed by Matthew Vaughn, starring Colin Firth, Micheal Caine – duration: 129 minutes

18 – 19 – 21 May
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:15pm
WHIPLASH
directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons – duration: 107 minutes

25 – 26 – 28 May
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:15pm
MORDECAI
directed by David Koepp, starring Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow – duration: 107 minutes

1 – 4 June
3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
directed by John Madden, starring Maggie Smith, Richard Gere – duration: 122 minutes

8 – 9 – 11 June
3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:00pm
RUTH & ALEX
directed by Richard Loncraine, starring Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton – duration: 92 minutes

Celebrating “Fat Saturday” in Milano

Streamers in front of Palazzo della RagioneWhat is Carnevale?
The holiday of Carnevale is celebrated all over Italy (and in many historically Catholic countries), a few weeks before Easter Sunday. Lent starts right after Carnevale ends, which is a period of sacrifice, so the idea is to  have fun before starting a time of religious reflection.
These days, traditions are mostly geared towards children, who can wear costumes, get a few extra days off school and throw confetti and streamers.
University students can get in on the action by taking a day-trip, going to a club or discoteca in a cool or sexy costume, or just enjoying the holiday’s sweet treats.

Famous Carnevale locations
Italy’s most famous Carnevale celebration is held in Venice. You’ll see people with very elaborate costumes and beautiful masks in the main streets and Piazza San Marco. The city is packed, face painters and vendors selling souvenirs are everywhere. Visitors come from all over the world to experience Venice during this time of year.
Students in Milan can take a train to Venice, even just for the day! By leaving early in the morning and taking the last train back to Milan, you can get the full experience of wandering the city for a day, taking breaks for snacks and drinks along the way, without having to look for a hotel. The train takes about 2.5 hours, check the Trenitalia website for times and prices.
In Venice and other cities around the world, festivities culminate on Mardi Gras – Tuesday 17 February this year – which is the last day before Ash Wednesday.

Why is the date different in Milano?
The last day of Carnevale is on Tuesday all over the world, except in Milano.
That’s because a different liturgical rite, called the Ambrosian Rite – named after a fourth century bishop of Milan – is used here. The legend goes that Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was out of town on a pilgrimage; when he announced he’d be back in time for Carnevale, the locals decided to wait to celebrate with him. So now the holiday lasts four days longer than any other Carnevale: until Saturday, called sabato grasso (Fat Saturday). So Lent starts on Sunday instead of Ash Wednesday.
This year, “Fat Saturday” will take place on Saturday 21 February.

Carnevale desserts in a shop windowEvents in Milan
There are tons of events scheduled for the days leading up to and on Fat Saturday, here are just a few:

  • Fabbrica del Vapore, Via Procaccini 4: 18-21 February. Music and dancing, digital art and street art. All to celebrate Carnevale.
  • Milano Clown Festival, Isola neighborhood: 18-21 February. Over 100 events featuring 70 performers at various locations in the Isola area. Check out their website for more info.
  • Tunnel Club, Via Sammartini: 21 February. Orient Express is the theme for the party that will be held on Carnevele.

Carnevale sweets
Baked or fried, filled with cream, fruit, chocolate or nothing, leavened or unleavened, covered in powdered sugar, chocolate or plain, there is a seemingly endless variety of Carnevale treats to choose from around Italy. Milan’s specialty are chiacchiere, which literally means chatting, because that what you’ll be doing while your eating this dessert.
You can find these sweets in any pasticceria in the city, and at the supermarket for a lower-cost treat.
Our advice to get into the spirit of Carnevale: why not organize a taste-testing party to find your favorite dessert? Or just try a new version every day!

2014 Christmas Markets in Milan

With the holiday season almost here, the time has come to think about exchanging gifts with friends and family and maybe decorating your apartment or dorm room with some festive trimmings.

As a predominately Catholic country, Italy celebrates the several important holidays in December and early January. In Milan, the season official kicks off on 7 December, the Feast of St. Ambrose, the patron saint of the city. That’s immediately followed by a national holiday on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Then of course Christmas is on the 25th, and the day after, St. Stephen’s Day, is also a holiday. Winter vacation usually ends right after 6 January, which celebrates the Epiphany.

So now that you know more about the calendar, you can understand why Christmas shopping usually revolves around 7-8 December: everyone has some extra time to think about presents and seasonal decorations! Milan may not be as famous for its Christmas markets as some other northern European cities, but the Milanese do enjoy taking part in some annual holiday shopping. Find out more below!

Crowds at holiday marketL’Artigiano in Fiera
This huge event has been hosted in Milan for almost 20 years – it seems to get bigger each year. With over 3,000 stands (!), you really need at least a full day –and a lot of stamina – to see everything. Your best bet is to make a game plan beforehand so you can hit the countries or Italian regions you’re most interested in. And don’t forget to come hungry: this market is also a great place to taste some good food from all over the world.
Open daily from 10am to 10:30pm through 8 December. Take the red line (MM1) to the Rho Fiera stop, but make sure you buy a €2.50 transport ticket since Rho is outside the city limits. Admission is free.

Fiera degli O’Bej O’Bej
This traditional market reportedly dates back to the 13th century. It’s held on and around the city’s saint’s day, 7 December, and lasts about one week. For the past few years, the market is located in Piazza Castello. Crafts and other items are on sale, as well as typical winter foods like chestnuts and sweets.
This year the market will be held from 5 to 8 December. Located at the Cairoli Castello stop on the subway (MM1).

Corsa dei Babbi Natale
On 13 December at 3:30pm, hundreds of people dressed up as Santa Claus will take the streets on a 5km run starting and ending in Piazza Castello. The registration fee is €15, and all participants will receive a Santa hat, bag, a race number and a few coupons from sponsors. The website is in Italian so you might need a native speaker to help you navigate the online registration.

Other Markets
Various other outdoor markets around the city will also start springing up during the weekend of December 7th, and should last until Christmas. Locations include Duomo, Paolo Sarpi, Piazza Gae Aulenti, Affori, Portello, Isola and others!

Movies in English in Milan!

With the days getting rainier, colder and shorter, outdoor activities aren’t quite as fun as they used to be. So what better way to spend an evening than inside a dark, warm movie theater, munching on a bag of salty popcorn?

A series of movies shown in their original language (read: English) are available in Milan each week at 3 different cinemas on 3 different days. This is where they’re located:

Mondays – Anteo Spaziocinema, Via Milazzo 9 (Porta Garibaldi or Moscova stops, green line)
Tuesdays – Arcobaleno Film Center, Viale Tunisia 11 (Porta Venezia stop, red line)
Thursdays – Cinema Mexico, Via Savona 57 (Porta Genova stop, green line)

For more information on the program, go to the Sound & Motion Pictures website (information in Italian, PDF download in English).

Without further ado, here’s a list of the upcoming movies. Enjoy the show!

Sound and Motion logo17 – 18 – 20 November
1:00pm, 3:40pm, 6:15pm, 9:00pm
THE JUDGE
directed by D. Dobkin, starring R. Downey Jr., L. Meester – duration: 141 minutes

24 – 25 – 27 November
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
A MOST WANTED MAN
directed by A. Corbijn, starring P. Seymour Hoffman, R. McAdams – duration: 122 minutes

1 – 2 – 4 December
2:50pm, 5:55pm, 9:00pm
INTERSTELLAR
directed by C. Nolan, starring M. McConaughey, A. Hathaway – duration: 170 minutes

9 – 11 December
1:00pm, 3:40pm, 6:15pm, 9:00pm
GET ON UP
directed by T. Taylor, starring C. Boseman, V. Davis – duration: 139 minutes

12 – 13 – 15 January
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:00pm
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
directed by W. Allen, starring E. Stone, C. Firth – duration: 97 minutes

19 – 20 – 22 January
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:15pm
JIMMY’S HALL
directed by K. Loach, starring B. Ward, S. Kirby – duration: 109 minutes

26 – 27 – 29 January
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
PRIDE
directed by M. Warchus, starring B. Nighy, D. West – duration: 117 minutes

2 – 3 – 5 February
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:00pm
SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY
directed by P. Bogdanovich, starring I. Poots, J. Aniston – duration: 93 minutes

9 – 10 – 12 February
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
AMERICAN SNIPER
directed by C. Eastwood, starring B. Cooper, S. Miller – duration: 120 minutes

16 – 17 – 19 February
1:00pm, 3:20pm, 5:40pm, 8:00pm, 10:20pm
BIG EYES
directed by T. Burton, starring A. Adams, C. Waltz – duration 120 minutes

Milan’s Evolving Skyline

Skyscraper and tram

There’s a cool new exhibit focusing on Milan’s modern architecture and changing cityscape over the past 100 years: Grattanuvole: un secolo di grattacieli a Milano. Instead of using the typical word for skyscrapers, grattacieli, a similar word, grattanuvole, was used for the title. As a bit of a language nerd, I did some research to find out why. More info on the exhibit itself is below, if you’re more into architecture and not the linguistic aspects!

Have you ever thought about what the word skyscraper really means? The two parts of the compound word have nothing to do with the final meaning, but it is a pretty poetic description of what these modern, tall buildings do. And what about the Italian translation? As so often happened when learning a foreign language, I only started thinking about the different elements of the word skyscraper when I learned the Italian equivalent.

The Italian word for skyscraper is a very literal translation of the two parts of the English word: grattacielo. But what does grattanuvole, the title of the architecture exhibit, mean? This word was initially used more often in Italian to refer to modern towers and it was actually even more popular than grattacielo between 1903 and 1911 (for etymology nerds, see the Ngram Viewer chart from Google below). Grattanuvole translates literally as cloudscraper. Which might be appropriate in a city like Milan that is famous for its foggy winter mornings.

Lamp with skyscraper in the backgroundSo how has Milan’s skyline changed over the past century? Like lots of other Italian cities, the city has tended to hold on to traditional architecture and was relatively slow in adopting new styles such as skyscrapers. But with recent projects such as the Porta Nuova area at Piazza Gae Aulenti and CityLife, which is still in the works, Milano is starting to look more like a modern city with more than one skyscraper towering over the horizon.

If you’re interested in learning more about the past, present and future of Milan’s architecture through photos, definitely check out Grattanuvole, un secolo di grattacieli a Milano. The exhibit features photographs of 75 important buildings that have been constructed over the past century. It’s located at Fondazione Riccardo Catella in the Isola neighborhood (near the Gioia subway stop on the green line).

Fondazione Riccardo Catella, in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano
Via G. De Castillia 28
7 November to 6 December 2014
Mondays-Fridays: 10:00am-6:00pm, Saturdays: 10:00am-1:00pm, 2:00-5:00pm
Free admission

Grattacieli and grattanuvole in Italian books from 1800 to 2008
https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=grattanuvole%2Cgrattacieli&year_start=1900&year_end=2008&corpus=22&smoothing=1&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cgrattanuvole%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cgrattacieli%3B%2Cc0

The History Behind Milano’s Porta Lodovica

Porta = there was originally a postern, a small kind of gate to the city, in this location
Lodovica = Ludovico Sforza commissioned the building of the gate

If you’re trying to get to the Bocconi campus from any other part of the city, you basically have two options: you can either walk from a subway stop (it takes about 15-20 minutes), or you can take a tram. If you do the latter, you should probably get off at the Porta Lodovica stop. If you know a little bit of Italian, the name of this stop might make you wonder, “Why porta?” There’s no gate or door in the area. And other areas with the word porta in Milano have existing gates. Lodovica, however, is only an intersection where the gate once existed, and no traces are left.

About gates in Milano

Some readers may be aware that during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Milano was surrounded by walls, with gates, posterns and ramparts to keep people and vehicles outside and only let them in at specific, guarded points.
At that time, gates were the main entrances. They were placed at the main roads and they usually had arches. Posterns, however, were smaller and were placed on secondary roads, usually in-between gates.
There have been various walls throughout the history of Milano, giving the city various shapes, with locations and names of gates and posterns changing as well.

Why Porta Lodovica?

Commissioned in 1486 by Ludovico Sforza Duke of Milano, Porta Lodovica seems to have been one of the most well-constructed posterns, built with re-used marble from ancient Roman buildings. The Duke’s coat of arms was placed on the postern (see picture), along with monograms of his own name and his wife’s, Beatrice d’Este.
The small gate was originally created for access to Corso San Celso (the street that is now called Corso Italia), probably to help visitors to the San Celso Church inside the city (along with 2 other churches further down the road towards the city center).

Why did the gate disappear?

In the late 19th century, when new districts developed in the periphery of Milano, several gates and parts of the city walls were demolished to make traffic easier. Following this trend, Porta Lodovica was destroyed in 1905. The gate was dismantled and parts of it were to taken the Archaeological Museum.

And that’s why today Porta Lodovica refers to the neighborhood around the Bocconi campus, even if the gate itself no longer exists.

For a complete history of Porta Lodovica in Italian, check out this great blog, Vecchia Milano.

Of Bulls and Mice

Probably few spots in Milano are more well-known than Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, especially to tourists. Linking two of the most famed places in the city, piazza Duomo and piazza della Scala, this sophisticated gallery is an iconic passage itself, with its eclectic decorations, tiled floor and the bright dome arching over the central octagon.

Designed by at-the-time young architect Giuseppe Mengoni and built between 1865 and 1877, the gallery was inspired by those great iron buildings – like the Crystal Palace in London – that embodied the most recent technological achievements and a widespread, unwavering faith in the industrial progress. Its dome, in turn, would inspire Gustave Eiffel a few years later for his own architectural work.

As soon as it came into existence, the gallery became “il salotto di Milano” (‘Milano’s salon’), with all its caffè – Caffè Biffi opened the first, soon followed by Caffè Campari (today Zucca in Galleria) – and the many luxury shops, restaurants, and a hotel. People would gather there to discuss politics in the newborn Italy, even heatedly: and many intellectuals and artists, like Giuseppe Verdi, King Umberto I or Carlo Carrà, were regulars at those caffè.

An unorthodox lucky charm

There’s a very peculiar tradition regarding Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.

If you get to the ottagono, the gallery’s central area where its two branches meet, and stroll around it looking at the floor, you’ll notice five coats of arms. The central one belongs to Casa Savoia, the reigning family back when Italy was a monarchy (that is, up until 1946 when the people, via referendum, chose the republic instead); the other ones, in a circle around it, are the crests of the four cities that have been, at various times, capitals of Italy. In order: Milano (in the Napoleonic era), Torino, Firenze and Roma (under the Savoias).

You see Turin’s? The one with a rampant bull? Maybe you can’t properly make out the crest because there are so many people around it—and someone’s circling strangely around their own right heel, it looks dumb…

Get closer. Their heel’s actually on the bull’s lower region, and you’ll notice that person’s turning around exactly for three times.

Still puzzled? Just follow the example. It’s good luck. 🙂

The allegories

After you’ve secured your fate, have another stroll around the ottagono, only this time with your nose up in the air.

You’ll see paintings alternate with the arches under the dome. Those four frescoes are the so-called allegories. An allegory is like a symbol, where certain images represent an idea, a concept that you understand through a rational interpretation. In this case, they represent four continents: Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

Aren’t they beautiful?

There were also four other allegories by the two short entrances, representing the Human Activities: Science, Industry, Art and Agriculture. They’re no longer at their place, though—today they can be found at the GAM (Modern Art Gallery).

A mouse at the speed of light – Meet the ‘rattin’

Now keep your nose up. Have you ever wondered how the dome was lit when there was no electricity?

You’d be amazed to know the job was done by a mouse. Rattin (the dialectal for tiny mouse) was in facts its name.

It was not a real one, though. At the beginning, lighting in the galleria was still provided by round gas lamps (that are still visible today, between a shop window and another), often with the addition of hanging chandeliers. But this was only in the very gallery, alongside shops and cafes.

How the dome was lit was another matter.

For that, architect Mengoni found a brilliant solution. At the base of the dome was a series of jets to burn with an open flame. To set them on fire, he built like a mini-rail where a spring-loaded device would run, soaked in some inflammable liquid, lighting up the jets as it passed. Ever since its first appearance, this mechanism awoke the Milanese’s admiration, and stories are told about how people would gather at lighting time just to see the little thing run around—just like a tiny mouse. 🙂

More on the gallery can be found in Italian over at Vecchia Milano (here and here). Also, don’t miss the coolness of a HD virtual visit at the ottagono!