Milan, Piazza del Duomo before the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

When the French-Piedmontese troops liberated Milan from the Austrians in June 1859, the Municipality undertook an urban renovation project aimed at redefining the city’s image and role in the new political and institutional context.

Milan then had a population of approximately 196,000 people within the circle of the ramparts and approximately 47,000 in the Holy Bodies of Milan and showed faster growth rates in both the number of inhabitants and its economic activities. In this context of prevailing prosperity, however, the Piazza del Duomo, which was the civil and spiritual heart of the city and had been subjected to various reform projects since the beginning of the century, still had an irregular structure, unworthy of a city that aspired to play a leading role in post-unity Italy. The space in front of the cathedral was occupied by the medieval neighborhood Rebecchino and the Renaissance Portico dei Figini, both a residential and commercial area. To the north, where a few years later the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II would be built, stretched a populous neighborhood of private residences and public buildings (including the Teatro Re and the Royal Police Headquarters), within a web of narrow winding streets, as effectively shown by the photographs and planimetrics of that time.

1. Alessandro Duroni, View from the Duomo towards the square on the eve from the “Unità”. On the left, l’Isolato del Rebecchino and on the right, il Portico dei Figini, 1859 – 1861 Milan, Milan Civic Photography Archive. Milano, Civico Archivio Fotografico Milano, inv. FM F 2

The need to provide the square with a new look, which had to be complete and monumental, the desire to join directly the Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala and the practical need to promote a more rational connection between the northern and southern sectors of the city (a need which was already felt in the pre-unity period), stimulated a lively debate among citizens, the new ruling class and the greatest exponents of the cultural and political life of Milan. The urge was satisfied during the following year, in 1860, when the first hypotheses and bids to redesign the city center, which included the Galleria, were put forward.

View from the top towards the Duomo of Milan and the urban surroundings, pre – 1860 Milano, Milan Civic Photography Archive Milano, Civico Archivio Fotografico, inv. FM C 81/3

The covered of Figini in piazza del Duomo, ante 1860 or 1866 Milan Milano, Civico Archivio Fotografico, inv. FM D 24

Map of the city of Milan and a detail of piazza del Duomo. From Guida del viaggiatore, Milan 1845.

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