Do you really know Milan? Of course, the Duomo, the castle, the skyscrapers of CityLife and Porta Nuova, Navigli: all places full of history or projected into modernity, which are important stops for tourists. But for those who live in Milan, there are hidden places and unknown places that tell a lot about the city. Here are our five secret places in Milan that you must not miss.
The Garden of the Virgin at the Catholic University
Access is forbidden for men: it is not a joke or an anachronism, but a tradition that has continued since 1928. At the end of the central portico of the University of Milan, on the way to Aula Magna, there is a small garden Saint Catherine of Alexandria, virgin and martyr, patron of studies. In the late 1920s, Cattolica students, apparently few compared to their male counterparts, got into the habit of using that space to study and be together without male presence nearby. Hence the name Virgin’s Garden. Even today, the university staff supervising the rooms enforce the ban: men on those benches cannot sit.
Fiorucci and Missoni’s house of cards in Pozzi Garden
On the corner of via Berengario and via Brin, in the CityLife area, inside the garden of Castello Pozzi, there is a castle made with playing cards: like the ones we made as children, but as big as a house. The work dates back to 2014, is called Love Art 4 All and was created by Elio Fiorucci and Ottavio Missoni – in collaboration with Giuliano Grittini and Rinaldo Denti – for the historic building of the workers’ knight Claudio Tridenti Pozzi, as a form of “democratization of art”. The advice is to go there in the evening: neon lighting makes the house of cards even more impressive.
The igloo is housed in the Maggiolina district
The neighborhood got its name from a farmhouse that no longer exists, just as it is no longer part of the engineer Mario Cavallès’ visionary dream: as in the mid-forties, inspired by a construction technique studied in America, designed 12 igloo-shaped houses, with red bricks, two floors (one basement) of a total of 45 square meters. Of the original twelve, eight have survived, and only two of these have retained the original division of the spaces inside. Two other houses had also been built with the igloo houses, perhaps even more peculiar: they were in the form of a sponge, but now they no longer exist.
– Church of San Bernardino alle Osso
It is one of the most surprising churches in Milan, it is located on Piazza Santo Stefano. Skulls and vertebrae as decorations, doorposts framed with femurs and ulna, an ossuary chapel with the walls almost completely covered by skulls and bones placed everywhere. The remains are those of the dead from the hospital in via Brolo (which no longer exists) for lepers and of the skeletons found from the repressed cemeteries from the seventeenth century. There are also skulls of the condemned, closed in some boxes. Legend has it that on November 2, the day of the dead, the remains of a little girl found near the altar come to life again for a macabre dance that also involves the other skeletons. And therefore the church is busier than usual that day. The Ossuary – which is not a museum but a place of worship – is closed on Sundays.
World War II bombing room
We pass it every day without knowing it: Under Piazza Duomo, in the mezzanine of the metro that now houses Atm Point, there is the largest public shelter for air strikes in Milan, built in 1943 and so large that it can accommodate to 1,400 people. It was designed by engineer Luigi Lorenzo Secchi (who was also entrusted with the reconstruction of the Teatro alla Scala) with 24 columns supporting an explosion-proof reinforced concrete slab two and a half meters thick. But in Milan, on the facades of the buildings, you can still find the signs on “condominium” shelters: arrows, the letter R for entrances and the letters US for exits. By 1940, about a hundred shelters had already been opened by the municipal administration. In Viale Bodio 22 you can still today visit “Refuge 87” under the Leopardi primary school: ten rooms and two Turkish baths to accommodate 500 people when the sirens announced the passage of the fighter bombs.