Now get on tram 33 – just in front of Bastioni di Porta Venezia (Porta Venezia Bulwarks)… Can you see this uphill slope? And what about this massive wall? This long and steep tree-lined stretch that skirts the Giardini Pubblici, is part of Milan’s history: we are talking about the ancient Bastioni di Porta Venezia. Let’s find out something more about them before boarding the tram.
The Italian word for bulwarks bastioni is the augmentative of the term bastìa i.e. “a fortification made up of an embankment surrounded by huge retaining walls defining a polygonal shape“… In a word, we are talking about Milan’s walls – or better – a part of them. Don’t dwell on all the extensions that these walls underwent over the years: from the Roman times to the Middle Ages to the Spanish rule… You must just know that the city changed according to the walls changes and that we can still see some ruins – even though they’re not enhanced enough.
For instance, look at this part, even its name has changed. Originally called Bastioni di San Dionigi because of a basilica that by now doesn’t exist anymore, then Bastioni di Porta Orientale and finally Bastioni di Porta Venezia in the days of the unity of Italy. As early as 300 years ago – under the Austrian rule – this street running along the park turned from a fortification into a beautiful public walk beloved by the Milanese, to finally become a terrible street for all those who take the wheel, who have to proceed at a walking pace.
Now get on the Tram 33 and ready, steady, go! You will go along the bulwarks and cross Piazza della Repubblica! This is one of the widest squares in Italy… It was created to serve the former Milan railway station – when the tracks were closer to the city. Indeed, this district is called Isola (Island in English) because – with the passing of time – it was isolated by the railway surrounding it and the square was called Piazza della Stazione (Railway Station Square)!
All around peculiar palaces, among which – on your left – you can see two of the first Milan skyscrapers: Torre Breda (Breda Tower) and Torre Turati (Turati Tower)! The Tram will drive along Via Monte Santo and Viale Monte Grappa up to Piazza Principessa Clotilde, where you will see – on your left – Porta Nuova, which is one of the city gates, and – on your right – brand new, tall and sparkling buildings of the Milan of tomorrow… Don’t stop, there’s still a long way to go!
Further on, you will spot a yellow and red block… What’s written on? “Cucine Economiche” (Cheap Cooking)? You might be wondering what is this about. As industries and factories started sprouting here an increasing in population was registered consequently, and most of the people couldn’t afford a standard of living like yours… Actually, once upon a time, there were only few well-off persons… These charitable institutions – built in the working-class neighbourhoods – were meant to offer the needy a hot meal at a low price! The Cucine Economiche were shut down during the 70s – when your parents were born – yet the old signs on the facade are still present. Now it is used by the Municipality of Milan as a senior recreation centre for the unluckiest, while the big refectory is used as a party hall.
Now the tram will turn towards Via Gaspare Rosales (what a weird foreign name) from where you can see other skyscrapers, to be precise the back of Piazza Gae Aulenti… You will see the whole area, passing on the railway tracks, thus understanding why this place is called Isola! Crossing the bridge – on the right – you will see a tall and colourful-tiled tower known to the very few: la Torre dell’Acqua (The Water Tower)… Do you know how it was used?
Here water was stored to cool the old steam trains’ engines! Now it is just a memory, a memorial! We are nearly there… Now the tram will turn towards Via Ugo Bassi and beyond Piazza Fidia get off at Via Porro Lambertenghi: you are at the core of Isola neighbourhood… Now take a stroll, stretch your legs and enjoy the silence of this old district that has a lot to tell you!
Due to its “isolation” this area – inhabited by the working class of the nearby factories – became a distinct village. Despite things have changed, today Isola district has its own stories to tell. Now reach Via Boltraffio walking along Via Cola Montano… You can’t be mistaken! On your left a huge tree, a giant plane.
While in Via Boltraffio go along the beautiful Chiesa di Santa Maria alla Fontana (St. Mary’s at the Fountain Church). You can see through the railings to the cloisters within or directly access the Church and discover more about this magic place! In Via Tahon de Revel – towards north – you can go and eat one of the most delicious pizzas of the city at Pizzeria alla Fontana at No. 28 – always packed with people at lunch and dinner, yet is worth a try – or further on – at No. 21 – you can visit Fonderie Napoleoniche (Napoleon Foundries) where a long time ago bronze was melted to create horses and knights statues placed at the centre of the city squares! (Pay attention to the opening times ’cause this is a private museum!).
Now, the most beautiful thing you can do to savour this neighbourhood charm is to go south from Via Thaon de Revel, along the district backbone, the old main route from Milan to Como! These silent streets – teeming with houses and shops – have nothing to do with the city hubbub.
Firstly, we want you to notice a legendary place: Igor Bike, a “bicycle-fixer” and more… If you decide to come here by bike it could come in handy! Further on – on the same side – a bio food shop named MioBio and a lovely and cosy place to have a high-quality lunch: Osteria al 9… Stop here and have a bite, it will be a pleasant experience! Cross the street and have a look at Girotondo – a colourful and tempting children clothes shop.
If you are curious to see how your parents used to dress when they were young you can go at No. 4 and have a look at a funny little shop with excellent prices: Live in Vintage. On the opposite side – if you are passionate about motorbikes – you will find Officine Mermaid Store: one of the most famous clothes and accessories shops with its own workshop nearby, where you can have your bike fixed… You may also see some beautiful Harleys, unique specimen parked outside! If you haven’t had lunch yet, we suggest you Delicatissimo fine food, where quality is the key word – straight after the Mermaid store.
Beyond Piazzale Segrino you will find to be in Via Borsieri: a lively area teeming with small shops! Before reaching Piazza Minniti – along the tree-lined street – you will find on your right Nord Est Caffè: a bar where you can have a drink and where your friends can browse through newspapers and magazines while sipping a good coffee!
While at Piazza Minniti you will see – along Via Garigliano – some beautiful colourful houses and right nearby the yellow one there is Pizzeria la Coccinella: here – in the summertime – you can enjoy your delicious pizza outside, looking at this lovely square. Furthermore, on Saturday mornings – don’t miss the local market! Get Via Borsieri and go straight on until the bottom of the street: on you right – at No.11 – stop and have an excellent artisan ice-cream at Le Botteghe di Leonardo.
While walking around, you must have noticed – beyond the old houses roofs – the new skyline of Milan. that is the brand new district of Porta Nuova that you can reach from , Via de Castillia walking through a pedestrian ramp.
(If you want to continue your walk here, manoxmano suggests you some other places: Teatro Sala Fontana – Pollicino – Miele – Antichi Sapori – Pastaia – B**k – Frida – Particelle Complementari – La Cantinetta)
Weather permitting, if you are here at dusk you can’t help to take thousands of photos of these glass and iron giants, raising close to the area you visited… Early 2015 – while waiting for the works and the Giardini di Porta Nuova (Porta Nuova Gardens) to be finished – a beautiful Wheatfield was planted: opened on July, 9th, it has been reaped in order to go on with the original project!
Many good and bad things have been said about these new buildings, but there is no need for you to know any of it… For now, just enjoy the great contrast between an area where time seems to have stopped and this new one, where these impressive new buildings – with no tenants at the time being – are located.
That very tall building – the tallest in Italy, looking like a rolled piece of paper – is the Unicredit building, to be precise Unicredit Tower: a very important bank with its brand new offices… Unrolling down to the street it shapes a square called piazza Gae Aulenti (named after a very famous female architect wearing huge glasses!) where many businesses are located – some still under construction and some already open…
For sure, you can have an excellent ice-cream at Grom, have a look around Muji – if you love the essential Japanese style – do your shopping at Esselunga, have a look at the huge Nike Store or go to the brand new RED Feltrinelli that opened last September… Everything else, alas, is up to your imagination since the only thing you can see behind those huge barriers are cranes at work!
The only thing we know for sure, is that the old and the new district will be connected by beautiful gardens with beautiful trees, squares, paths and small bridges, so that it will be possible to walk around without ever crossing any road… But for now, it is impossible to describe exactly what you will be able to see… Some of the most attractive buildings have almost been completed, such as the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Garden) near Isola neighbourhood, Torre Solaria (Solaria Tower) – 143 meters high – and Torre Solea (Solea Tower) – a little shorter. Near Milan city centre you will find: Palazzo della Regione (the Region Palace), Casa della Memoria (the House of Memories), Garibaldi Station Towers and Incubatore per l’Arte (Art Incubator) where all the artisans of the area will meet up…
Now feel free to play and run all around… There is room enough and not even a car, don’t be scared! This is a very lively area, despite it was built a few time ago: this makes the difference between a smart urbanization process and the mere construction of buildings!
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