150 years ago: March 7, 1865. The laying of the foundation stone of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Where the Octagon of the Galleria now stands, there, 150 years ago, precisely on March 7 1865, the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone took place, in the presence of the King, His Majesty Vittorio Emanuele II, to whom the great work had been dedicated.
At that time the first demolition of the buildings, located in the area that had been designated for the Galleria, had already been carried out, so that Mengoni could create and set up a representative space for this important symbolic event in what was left of the maze of alleys between the now lost Via dei Due Muri and Piazza della Scala. In particular, an excavation and a straight path were conducted from Piazza della Scala, and ended in a large octagonal area where the ceremony was to be held.
Four-storey stages were built for guests, arranged around a scenic background arch and the canopy pavilion for the King. From here a staircase reached the “pit” at the center of the octagon where the “initiator of the work” stone was laid. The ceremony was followed by a accurate rite, which had ben established by the architect in person in agreement with the municipality and was widely reported by the press of the time.
Unidentified photographer, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Progress of works, 1st may 1865 (with demolitions in Piazza della Scala’s side), area used for the ceremony for laying of the foundation stone.Milan, 1st May 1865. From Civico Archivio Fotografico..
The first stone was, essentially, a granite boulder with a hole in which a lead safety box was placed, some of the Galleria, the act of the ceremony signed by the King, by the heads of the British contractor company and by architect Mengoni and, as stated in the documents, “several gold, silver and copper coins bearing the august effigy of His Majesty the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II”. After Mayor Antonio Beretta’s speech, the King proceeded to seal the lid of the box with a slab of Carrara marble, on whose outer face was carved “in red letters” an inscription bearing the names of the most important attendees (of which a copy remains in the Historical Civic Archive). This was then followed by a religious ceremony held by Rev. Giulio Ratti in the San Fedele.
A huge crowd, many attendees, representatives of the City of Milan, of the contractor company, government and municipal authorities: “People flocked, delegations flocked “, as newspapers reported, despite the “horrible” weather, with rain and heavy snow. Traces of it remain in the photographs that show a gloomy day, stands that were either not too crowded or full of umbrellas, as well as the beautiful painting by Domenico Induno, painted in 1867 and presented at the Universal Exposition in Paris during the same year, which, through its detailed portrayal of overturned chairs, open umbrellas and gatherings of people, conveys the dynamism of the situation beyond the ceremonial rite.
Domenico Induino, the laying of the foundation stone of the Galleria, March 7, 1865, oil painting, 1865 Milan. From Museo di Milano.