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I Navigli - The Canals
Milan has a deep, unsatisfied dream: to reunite with the sea through the Po River. This desire was made a reality in the 12th century with the construction of a complex network of basins and canals known as the Navigli, which were used for open navigation. Thanks to these wondrous works of water engineering, Milan made its dream to become a city on water a reality, which played a very important role for irrigation, trade, transport of goods and passengers, and even for amusement.
For centuries, Milan was a city to be travelled by water, similar to Venice, with a ring of canals and little ports: the circle of the Navigli and the lakes of St. Stefano (nowadays Palazzo S. Stefano), St. Marco (today Piazza S. Marco), and St. Eustorgio (which then became the dock of Porta Ticinese). Now the circle of the Navigli is a road that encloses the historic centre of the city. Originally, however, it was the location of the moat of the medieval city, created in 1156 by Guglielmo da Guintellino, a military engineer from Genoa. Fed by natural springs, of which there are many in Milan, the moat assumed other functions: transporting goods, thanks to the basins, propelling mills and waterwheels (for the weaponry workshops; this is how Molino delle Armi – Arms’ Mill – got its name) and even for use as a sewage system.
Walking along the course of the Navigli, which were covered for hygienic and traffic reasons in the 20s, you can see a few of the ancient gates of the city (Porta Ticinese, Pusterla di Sant’Ambrogio, Porta Nuova), some large buildings (l’Università Statale, the former Ca’ Granda Major Hospital, Palazzo Sormani, Archivio di Stato, Castello Sforzesco) and some important churches (St. Ambrose, St. Lorenzo, St. Nazaro, St. Marco).
Today, the neighbourhood of Navigli, with the dock of Porta Ticinese and the urban section of Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, is characterised by many lively fashion stores, local restaurants, and art galleries, and its frequent visitors include artists, fashion models, musicians, and young university students. It also offers some more romantic locations, such as Vicolo dei Lavandai, a national monument with the old stone washtubs.