La Darsena – the revival of Milan’s city dock

darsena1In its heyday, canals formed a 150 km network that connected the city of Milan to the rivers and lakes in the Lombardian region. The canals were used for irrigation providing the city with water and transport for people and goods to and from remote areas as far as the Alps and the sea via the river Po. The marble used for the construction of the Duomo was transported via these waterways from the Lago Maggiore to the center of the city.  Thanks to this network of canals, Milan had one of the country’s largest inland ports, La Darsena, despite the absence of a main river. The canals were a large part of the urban fabric of the city. Two of the 3 remaining canals, the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese join at the Darsena, a 750 meter (2460 ft) long bassin that formed the heart of the old port.

darsena2The redevelopment of the former Milan city centre dock, has been described by the local press as “raising the dock from the abyss from which it had sunk”. The area surrounding La Darsena has seen years of neglect all of which was blamed on the decision to fill in the dock site transforming it from a city port to a car-park and hence devastating the neighborhood and its once thriving atmosphere.  But now here we are – with the start of this year’s  Expo 2015 due to take place on 1st May – the reconstruction of the dock is almost complete.  Water is returning to fill the basin which is the first step towards the opening of the new dock and Piazza XXIV Maggio, scheduled for April 26, in advance to the start of Expo.  

darsena3The redevelopment of Milan’s city harbor will be one of the Expo Milano projects to leave a legacy for Milan and Lombardy. Its reconstruction, with a cost of approx 19 million Euros, will restore to the City its harbor and an historical, symbolic site in Milan. The project, developed by architects Edoardo Guazzoni, Paolo Rizzatto, Sandro Rossi and Studio Bodin & Associés, foresees restyling of the port and the redefinition of adjacent public spaces. The operation consists of renovating the banks of the Darsena with new pedestrian areas and a new waterfront for tourist boat trips, plus the redevelopment of Piazza XXIV Maggio, which will be almost completely pedestrianized and planted with green areas. New tree-lined walks are planned on both sides of the dock, while on the western edge of the basin a garden will be developed that leads down to the water’s edge.  Thanks to the project, important findings, such as a fifteenth-century bridge, the remains of the Conca di Viarenna and the foundations of the sixteenth century city walls, found during archaeological excavation and survey, have been preserved and enhanced.

darsena4The masterplan was developed to ensure continued public and urban use of the areas, ​​a space has been created along the northern bank of the dock, creating a new pedestrian walkway connecting the south and north banks. The former site of the city market was demolished and replaced by a new structure, built next to Viale D’Annunzio playing an important role between the pedestrian areas along the banks and Piazza XXIV Maggio, where a newly refurbished portion of corso del Ticinello has been reopened and enhanced.  There will be newly paved areas and a redefinition of the south bank (along Viale Gorizia) and north bank (along Viale D’Annunzio) of the harbor and the formation of a working dock on the south bank next to the western edge of the area. There is also a garden that descends to the level of the water, on the former site of the restaurant Bobino.

darsena5During Milan’s “Salone del Mobile” – April 14 – 19, Navigli Lombardi, the company which promotes and enhances the culture and tourism of Milan’s canal system, will host floating platforms along Naviglio Grande where they are organising a series of events with the Chamber of Commerce of Como.  During EXPO from May – October 2015 there will be a total of 7 floating platforms (4 in Naviglio Grande and 3 in Darsena) hosting a program of events with different departments of Lombardy Region as part of  the “EXPO in Città” program.


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