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09.07.2018

Navigli in battello

Milano during the years after the Expo of the 2015 saw a rebirth of different areas of the city. New shapes were born redefining the skyline of the city, new areas saw a new life and between these changing, the system of canals of Milan, the so called Navigli, were and will be a big part of it.

Milano is in the middle of the Pianura Padana, once a vast swam, now one of the most crowded and industrialized area in Italy. Now the swam is no more here but the water is still an important part of all the area, even in Milan.

The road system for centuries was poor and not safe but Milan to sustain the grow needed a way to connect better the city to the surrounding areas and the best way was the water. To this project worked also Leonardo da Vinci during his staying in Milan at the court of Ludovico il Moro as engineer to build fortifications and war machines. His interest for the navigation system he was using to move, led him to study and to plan a fully operating system able to connect Milan to the areas around; and to do that he invented the mitre gates (Porte Vinciane in Italian) for the canals locks, a system still used nowadays.

The Navigli consisted of five navigable (once) canals: Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno, Naviglio di Bereguardo; some parts of them are now open to navigation offering a beautiful and peaceful visit of the most romantic areas in Milan and surroundings through a different light. These tours are very popular between tourists but also people from Milan are charmed by the nostalgic atmosphere you can feel during the navigation.

The first three canals were connected through Milan via the Fossa Interna, also known as the Inner Ring. The urban section of the Naviglio Martesana was covered over at the beginning of the 1930s, together with the entire Inner Ring, thus sounding the death knell for the north-eastern canals. Commercial carrying continued on the Naviglio Grande, but the decline was steady and by the 1960s a project of a fluvial port to reach the Po River and consequentially the Adriatic Sea through the canals was shelved for good.

The Naviglio Grande is a canal joining the Ticino river near Tornavento (23 km south of Sesto Calende) to the Porta Ticinese dock, also known as the Darsena, in Milan city center. The construction started in the mid of XII sec and reached Milan in the 1258 and it was extended to Duomo Square in the 1386, when started the construction of the Duomo, to allow the transportation of the marble blocks from the caves closer to Lake Maggiore. Now this part is covered to let more room for the increasing population of the city and for the need of a faster way to commute.

The navigation through Naviglio Grande will bring you to the most iconic spots where it seems the time stops years ago. The first stretch of navigation allows you to admire the Alley of Lavandai (Vicolo dei Lavandai): it takes its name from an old washroom that was used by local women and men up until the end of the 1950s for doing their laundry. Vicolo dei Lavandai is a charming place where you can step back in time and imagine people bent over the clothes as they rinse them in the stream. The alley is called after the washermen and not washerwomen because in the 19th century it was men, organized in a proper guild, who provided this service. The navigation will continue to other interesting spots like the St. Cristoforo Church and Palazzo Galloni, both full of history.

The Naviglio Pavese, once navigable, it is 33 km long and connecting the city of Milan to Pavia, and through a flight of six locks to the River Ticino. Construction started in 1564, but, as sometimes happen in Italy, was interrupted 20 years later just outside Milan due to technical problems. Always considered of secondary importance compared to the Naviglio Grande, had its period of ups and downs: now it seems that a project to renovate the area will be planned soon. Only a short part of this is navigable but there is a project to restore it back to full navigation to connect Switzerland to Venice by inland waterway.

The Naviglio della Martesana is the canal flowing from the Adda river, and originally named Naviglio Piccolo (Small Navigllio)  it changed to Martesana from the name of the county across which it runs.  In my opinion this is the most interesting trip for different reasons.

The location far from city center has always kept this Naviglio far from usual Touristic routes but now it is getting more popular while Milanese people (especially the ones living in that area) have always loved it. The pleasant and quite navigation will lead you through luxuriant nature, historic villas and the presence of Leonardo da Vinci. The Villas here were built for both political and vacation proposal and were used mainly during the hot Summers in Milan. One of the most important is Villa Melzi, private owned by the Melzi family, where Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1511 and 1513 and Villa Castelbarco set in a natural setting of eight hundred thousand square feet of the park where you can see deer and fallow deer in the wild. For architecture lovers during the navigation will also find the Villaggio Crespi, an historic settlement and an outstanding example of the 19th and early 20th-century "company towns" built in Europe and North America by enlightened industrialists to meet the workers' needs. Since 1995 it has been on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. The entrance to the cotton mill is a state-of-art masterpiece in its field, a brilliant example of mixed architecture.

Last but not least the huge presence of Leonardo da Vinci, who took inspiration from the Adda river as background of some of its masterpieces like La Vergine delle Rocce and as challenge to win using his inventions, one of which is still active, the barge connecting Imbersago and Villa d’Adda just using the flow; the others can be seen at the open-air Museum  where the visitor can find out about the history, art and nature of the area.

Following the flow of the Naviglio, in the city or in the full of history outskirts, will leave you wonderful memories and paint in your mind a totally different idea of Milan.

Gold Black Style is a leading luxury service provider in Milan able to organize and manage your tour through the Navigli. Please feel free to contact for any information required, our staff will be more than welcome to plan your unforgettable experience.

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