One of the first stages of every tour in Milan is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, considered the city drawing room, an elegant meeting point close to Duomo.
For this reason we decided to tell the story of the Gallery, bears witness the many changes that have occurred over the past two centuries and a symbol of the “Milanese style”: did you know, for example, that all the shop signs at the Gallery must have the same color (gold letters on black background)?
The history begins in 1859, when the city was freed from the Austrian control.
Milan counted 196,000 dwellers within its walls and 47,000 outside them.
Each day, its growth became more and more visible: economic opportunities were increasing, as well as the people’s lifestyles.
On the eve of the Italian Unification, Milan was shining with opportunities. However, Piazza Duomo, one of the symbols of the city, didn’t seem ready to this renaissance: its plant was uneven and the space in front of the cathedral was occupied by medieval buildings.
On December, 5, 1859, the king, Vittorio Emanuele II, started a lottery whose revenues had to finance the square modernization. The money was not enough, but the lottery increased the press and the citizens’ awareness: something, therefore, had to change.
The Milanese municipality organized three contests to gather ideas and reward the best one.
It was Giuseppe Mengoni’s project, praised for its pragmatism and elegance, which stood out among the others and won the third contest in 1863.
Two years later, the king laid the foundation stone at the center of what would become the octagon of the Gallery: a granite rock containing some drawings of the Galleria, the act of the ceremony and a few golden coins.
About 1000 people were involved in the project, including masons, blacksmiths and glassblowers, all supervised by Mengoni.
The works were pretty fast and, in two years, the Gallery was completed. Only the entrance arch was finished later, on December, 1867. The day before the inauguration, on December 30, rumors had already begun to circulate: some were excited, others skeptical.
That day, Mengoni was still standing on a scaffold. His body was found right under that scaffold: some said he had a heart attack, others, instead, that he could not put up with the criticism.
Shortly, Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery became the meeting point of the Milanese higher classes, which strolled here to show their furs, to spin, even at the risk of falling, three times on the testicles of the bull (according to the tradition, if a person spins around three times with a heel on the testicles of the bull from Turin Coat of Arms this will bring good luck), and to stop for a coffee at Biffi.
Despite the consolidation, over the years, of other equally elegant streets, the Gallery remained a focal point of the Milanese bourgeoisie. Perhaps it owed its success to its central location, or perhaps to the fact that the Savini restaurant served the best risotto allo zafferano in the city, even praised by Grace Kelly.
It doesn’t matter: the glasses of champagne were raised to the ceiling and the toasts to the Madonnina stopped only on two occasions: after the bombings of ’43, and during the ’70s.
In 1968, the Gallery was dominated by the fast and joined pace of the Milanese students.
Mengoni’s architectural masterpiece turned from a frivolous meeting place into a walkway between two squares, perfect for demonstrations, rallies, debates and… clashes with the police.
We keep walking, spinning and falling three times on the testicles of the bull and having a coffee, at the Zucca, or a drink, at the Campari.
It is now a meeting point for tourists and guides, and a place where clashes happen between selfie sticks and pigeons.
In May, it has managed to renew itself again: on the 20th, it has, in fact, opened the walk on its roof. A new runway of 250 meters, reachable from Via Pellico.
For more information, visit the website: www.ingalleria.com/en