“In Milan, we spent most of the time inside the great and magnificent Loggia, or Galleria, or whatever it’s called. Edifices formed by tall and sumptuous new structures [...] this is the Galleria. I'd like to live there forever”
Mark Twain, ‘A Tramp Abroad’
Every home has its own living room, a place to welcome guests, the best room in the house. Milano has its own grand “drawing room” as well, the magnificent nineteenth-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, by celebrated architect Giuseppe Mengoni.
Taking a stroll in the Galleria is a popular pastime and is a way of entering the heart of the city, something the Milanese feel intensely: lingering and meeting people is definitely de rigueur in this splendid covered arcade linking the Duomo to Teatro alla Scala. It was designed as a porticoed passageway that immediately became a showcase for high-end shopkeepers, the place for a leisurely socializing walk and an aperitif or a relaxed dinner after the Opera.
The Galleria is Italy’s oldest shopping mall and - beautifully embellished with mosaics and caryatids around windows and balconies - it has maintained its lustre. The arcade’s luxury brand shops, that could easily compete with those in Via Montenapoleone or Via della Spiga, are juxtaposed with the classic white-tablecloth restaurants, the celebrity chefs’ eateries, legendary venues like the Camparino bar and the iconic Bocca art bookstore, based in the Galleria since 1930 but a significant cultural presence in the city since the nineteenth century.
After a spot of shopping, a coffee, or a classic Milanese risotto sitting at the tables beneath the vault, don’t forget to celebrate an ancient city ritual: to invoke good luck, spin your heel 3 times around over the bull’s testicles in mosaic (representing the Turin coat of arms) on the floor of the gallery’s splendid central octagon.
- All the premises inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are obliged to adopt retro gold lettering on a black background for their business signs, in line with the original design.
- This gallery, with its original and visionary steel and glass canopy, was a source of inspiration for many similar constructions, both in Italy (the Galleria Umberto I in Naples) and abroad (the Toronto Eaton Centre and the Houston and Dallas Galleries). It is possible the Eiffel Tower was in part inspired by the materials and design of the Milanese Galleria.
- The elegant white spheres that illuminate the Galleria at night still rest on their graceful copper 19th-century posts. When the gallery’s innovative lighting system, originally gas-powered, was introduced, a new specific device was created to ignite the lamps higher up in the vault as well. Every evening the device ran on tracks along the entire length of the gallery carrying the flame that lit each individual lamp. The Milanese gathered to watch, fascinated by this display of modernity: the machine darted so quickly that it was immediately nicknamed "rattìn" (Milanese for mouse) because it ran as fast as a little mouse.
Find here 10 clues to discover more curiosities on the Galleria.