The construction of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Men at work

The construction phase of the Galleria, started from the parcel between Piazza della Scala and the future Octagon, after completing the expropriation and demolition of the existing buildings. The rough buildings were completed by 1866. In January 1867 the construction of the cast iron and glass roof began, the roofing before, the large central dome after. The coverage was made of iron and cast iron with prefabricated elements, which were supplied by the French company Henri Joret and striped glass sheets, and mounted in sequence by the workers.

Wooden frames, which had been built at the beginning of the construction work, were used to build the dome, as most photographs of the construction site show. In this phase a platform was raised and equipped, on which an ingenious scaffolding system lay on rails: almost an anticipation of the extraordinary mobile scaffolding workstation used in the current restoration.

Unidentified photographer, worksite of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, with the staff standing in front of the wooden casing at the centre of the Octagon, 1866. Milan, city Photografics Archives, inv. Volume G 107/9.

Deroche & Heyland, Building of the iron hanger of the northern of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, August-December 1866, Milan City Photographic Archives, Inv Volume G 107/27.

Deroche & Heyland, the building of roof of Galleria Vittorio Emauele II, during the laying of the lined glass plates, March- May 1867 Milan City Photographic Archives, Inv Volume G 107/35.

Deroche & Heyland, mobile scaffolding for the construction of the dome in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, March-May 1867, Milan City Photographic Archives, Inv Volume G 107/39.

Its size and significance for the city transformed the construction site of the Galleria in the “theatre” of a collective endeavour, skilfully coordinated by Mengoni and his team. The photographs portray the building under construction and at the same time reveal the material and intellectual commitment of the many men at work: the architect, engineers, construction companies, foremen and workers. About 1,000 people were involved in the construction work everyday: unskilled workers and shovelers, bricklayers and stonemasons, painters and carpenters, machinists and blacksmiths, glaziers and galvanisers, and, in the early stages of final process, painters and plasterers, decorators and artists.

Deroche & Heyland, vittorio Emanuele II Gallery’s internal in construction, during the implementation of the lunettes paintings of the Octagon, the facades finishing and the pavement’s pose, May-June. Milano, Civico Archivio Fotografico, inv. Albo G 107/41

Not identified photographer, V.E.II Gallery at almost finished works. In the Close-up the workers are busy with the finish of the floor, end of July-September Milano, Civico Archivio Fotografico, inv. Albo G 107/42

Deroche & Heyland, V.E.II Gallery at the end of works september 1867 Milano, Civico Archivio Fotografico, inv. Albo G 107/44

In the summer of 1867, while the stucco decorations were being applied to the buildings and the marble mosaic floor was being laid, four “Masters of Brera” worked on the paintings of the four parts of the world (Africa, America, Asia and Europe) and the allegories of the human activities (Agriculture, Art, Industry and Science). Between July and September, the plaster statues of the eminent Italian were put up on the shelves of the pilasters that marked the buildings facades: writers, artists, scientists, explorers and politicians who, over the centuries, glorified Milan and Italy.

In little more than two years, between March 1865 and September 1867, the Galleria was completed with the exception of the entrance arch in Piazza del Duomo. Approximately 700,000 individual working days were needed to complete the most emblematic building in the Italian Milan.

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