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Art & History

Where to go in Milan: Isola district itinerary

News > Art & History | Where to go in Milan: Isola district itinerary

Don’t be fooled by the name: we are not about to describe you a part of Milan surrounded by water.

We are, instead, about to tell you the story of a neighborhood in the Zone 9 of Milan, separated from Garibaldi by the railway station. Here it is, then, the origin of the name “Isola” – island: it comes from this separation from the rest of the city, a separation that has allowed it to keep a unique character.

Isola between the XIX and XX century

In the nineteenth century, the Isola district was part of the Corpi Santi, the agricultural area outside the city walls.

Where to go in Milan

Integrated within the city in 1873, however, it maintained its autonomy thanks also to the Beruto Plan of 1884. The plan wanted the creation of a radiocentric city, with wide avenues linking the new industrial suburbs: Isola was part of these suburbs and it was actually connected to the city center through the bridge of Via Farini.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Isola became famous for its industrial activities. First of all, there was the TIBB (Tecnomasio Italiano Brown-Bovery), the electrical machinery factory, founded in 1908.

Almost every Isola’s inhabitants had a job in TIBB or in the other nearby industries, such as Stigler, the elevators factory, and Heinemann, the soap industry. Isola quickly became one of the largest working class districts of Milan and the Art Nouveau buildings were soon replaced by the popular ones: the case di ringhiera, the tenements, one of the symbols of Milan. Built around a courtyard with shared toilets, the tenements have their apartments linked one to the other by a long outdoor balcony, also shared.

During those years the term “Isola” did not represent only metaphorically its independence and distance from the rest of the city. Two barriers were, in fact, still there to concretize this separation: the Martesana canal, covered in the ’70s by the Melchiorre Gioia route, and the railway tracks.

Where to go in Milan

Then, the Second World War broke out. Miraculously, Isola was pretty wounded, and not irreparably damaged by air raids.
After the war, Milan experienced a fast growth: Isola was no longer so far away from the rest of the city, so that the role of the “suburban area” didn’t fit it as well as it used to.

The PRG plan of 1953 had the aim to bring Isola closer to the rest of Milan: offices were designed to take the place of tenements and a system of fast roads was planned as well. This plan, extremely shocking, was not completed and was re-adjusted by the Variante Cannarella of 1972, which saw the retreat of Garibaldi railway station to its contemporary position, as well as a series of expropriations and evictions of the inhabitants of Via Borsieri. Evictions to which the people of Isola resisted organizing political struggles. The protests and the high costs of the Variante Cannarella made the town hall uncertain about its decision: finally, it decided to build only a road to connect Corso Como to Via Farini.

Isola today

Quartiere Isola in Milan

Today, Isola has changed a lot: from a working-class district, it has, in fact, turned into an area full of cafes and quirky vintage shops. It remains, however, detached from the rest of the city. The best way to get there is to take the green underground, get off at Garibaldi and, through the underpass, come out in Via Pepe.

An alternative is to take the lilac metro, but we recommend you the first option: you’ll find yourself walking in the narrow streets away from the hustle of Milan and, between a tattoo artist and a French bistro; tenements will pop out, ready to testify the past of this district. We suggest, in particular, taking a ride to Via Abadesse, which retains the charm of yesteryear.

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