I was watching a spy thriller the other night where one secret agent passes a parcel to another in the middle of a crowded intersection in Milan. Hey, I said to myself, I’ve been there! and I remembered our four-day trip to Milan in March of 2009.
This was not an ordinary intersection by any means. First of all, this intersection lies beneath a glorious glass dome. And secondly the streets are paved in marble with beautiful designs depicting Italy’s four major cities in the intersection. The intersection is also a perfect octagon with the four corner buildings sharing the same width as the two streets that intersect.
It’s called the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, named after the first king of Italy, and it’s the granddaddy of all enclosed shopping malls. We must have a few thousand gallerias in our country. In a way they are all paying tribute to this one. It was conceived in 1861; work began in 1865; and the Galleria was completed in 1877. Two smaller arcades in London and Paris were the inspiration for Milan’s Galleria. In turn, the intricate ironwork in the Galleria is said to have been the inspiration for the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The Galleria connects two of the most famous piazzas in Milan: the Piazza del Duomo with its magnificent cathedral and the Piazza della Scala with its world-famous opera house. The entrance to the Galleria from the Piazza del Duomo looks like an arch of triumph.
This is the place where clothes-conscious Milanese go to show off their new outfits. And this is where the rich buy their clothes and eat their dinners and the not-so rich window-shop and people-watch as they drink their coffee. And yes, that’s a McDonald’s occupying one of the four most coveted corners in the world-famous intersection. You can pay an arm and a leg for a cup of coffee at one of the fancy restaurants or you can buy a latte at McDonald’s for just a few euros. And you can watch the same people.
Just beneath the glass dome murals representing the four continents adorn each of the four four-story buildings. At one time they were paintings but are now mosaics. Yes, I know there are more than four continents but there are only four buildings!
Outside the Piazza della Scala entrance to the Galleria you can buy cheap souvenirs or walk to the right to view the Leonardo daVinci monument, straight ahead to enter the Teatro della Scala, or to the left and down a block to catch the Via Dante that will take you all the way to the Sforza Castle. You don’t have to walk too far to see all the major sites in Milan.
On the steps of Teatro della Scala I watched a group of schoolkids getting ready to tour the Opera House. The Leonardo monument is to the left and Via Dante is to the right.
There is a design near the center of the intersection that represents Turin, the bull of Turin. If you grind your heel on the bull’s testicles and twirl around clockwise three times you will be the recipient of Good Luck. My wife gave it a try.
And so did I.
It’s Milan version of tossing three coins into Rome’s Trevi Fountain. I guess we’re coming back to Milan someday!