Navigli

The water magnet

I finally made it to Leonardo’s Naviglio Pavese. Back in the old days Milan used to look like Venice: a city on water. Its layout dramatically changed after the Municipality decided to bury almost all the canals, during the Thirties.

Milan changed its face to resemble a European modern capital but, the Navigli area, in the southern part of the city, still keeps its old canals and docks, to enjoy an old picture of how Milan used to be.

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“The Navigli Area” includes two navigable canals and a small dockyard, called “Darsena”. The “Naviglio Pavese” flows from south-west into the Darsena and disappears into a stream of several underground drains.

Back in the XVI century, Leonardo da Vinci invented a complex system of dams to enable freighters and ferries to sail directly into Milan. This ingenious system was dismissed after centuries of honorable service, when the Darsena definitely closed, in the Sixties.

However, if you want to look at the remnants of this ancient system of navigation you can go to Naviglio Pavese, in via Ascanio Sforza, where a dam, though electric, is still in place.

At that point, the Naviglio Pavese divides into two separate streams: one flows underground, a sort of safety valve to lower the strength of the current. Next to it, the water drips from the dam’s bulkheads into the lower level of the Naviglio Pavese.

An octagonal house, made of red bricks, used to host the guardian, who was in charge of maneuvering the complex mechanisms and, eventually, enforce the payments of taxes or fees on goods transported on water.

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I stopped there a while, listening to the sound of water gently dripping through the dam bulkheads and falling like a cascade onto the lower stream of the Naviglio Pavese.

During summer time, this is the centre of Milanese night-life. Bars, restaurants, many with live music, cabaret and shows, are on both sides of the street.

The Milanese aperitivo is definitely a must. From 6.30 pm to mid-night, you can drink “The Spritz” and enjoy an almost gigantic buffet for no more than 10 €, with many different courses: appetizers, meat, fish, desserts, fruits and coffee.

It seems to me that, after centuries on water, Milan has changed its face to resemble a modern European capital. However people, the souls of this City, melt into streets of Navigli to take a walk, to run, to enjoy an abundant meal, as if a water magnet were attracting them there, keeping them united.

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