GVE’s completion: The entrance Arch and the new Duomo square

Despite becoming immediately one of the favorite places of the Milanese, the Galleria was not considered really completed until the monumental entrance arch on Piazza Duomo was finished, like a sort of proscenium for the big show of “the covered walkway”, like a triumphal entrance and, together, an emerging focal point in the square that had created the occasion for launching of the Galleria.

The construction of this part of the building lasted more than ten years after the 1867 inauguration, following a series of legal, administrative and financial events, such as the election of a new mayor and city council, the British company’s bankruptcy and the subsequent sale (in 1869) to the City Hall of the Galleria and its annex buildings.

Facade of the Arch on Piazza del Duomo with a list of the different covering stones. Historical City Archives Biblioteca Trivulziana. P. R. 1384.

In 1870, after almost two years of inactivity, work resumed under the technical and administrative direction of engineer Gerolamo Chizzolini while Mengoni, solely responsible for the architectural and aesthetic success of the project, was heavily involved in the overall design and in the arch decorative details. Conceived as a triumphal arch magnified in size and intensified in the decorations, the arch of the Galleria was made of valuable marble and granite coatings and implied a challenging comparison with the most famous ancient models. The architect’s slowness in delivering the drawings, delays in the delivery of materials caused further delay and characterised the next six years until October 3, 1876, when a lump sum contract (characterised by a invariable budget) was signed by the City Hall and Mengoni, who, as an entrepreneur, took on the burden of the work conclusion.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the day of its inauguration (15 September 1867), showing the crowds attending the cerimony. From “L’Illustrazione Universale”, 13 October 1867.

By the terms of the contract, the arch had to be completed by December 1877, when however, virtually on the inauguration eve, the architect lost his life. While closely examining the finishing touches, Mengoni fell from the scaffolding on December 30, 1877; also because of his tragic fate, his name was forever linked to the most significant architectural deed in the city during the post-unity era, which still has not served its function and best expresses the positive character of modernity and urban monumentality.

Unidentified Photographer, building of the entrance arch to the Galleria from Piazza del Duomo, showing Giuseppe Mengoni and the technical team in front, 1877. This photograph was originally held by Gaetano Pellini, Mengoni’s foreman. Milan City historical archives and Biblioteca Trivulziana, inv. 13/9 R.

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