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The Naviglio Martesana enters Milan on Via Idro, in the north-eastern outskirts of the city, and runs uncovered up until the locally-called Cassina de’ Pomm (via Melchiorre Gioia), where, since 1968, it continues its course underneath the street.
The story of this Naviglio begins in 1443 when the Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti approved a project that had been presented by a group of illustrious Milanese citizens led by Catellano Cotta, ducal administrator of the monopoly on salt. These citizens wanted to divert water from the Adda to create a canal for irrigation, turning mills, and transporting goods.
It was Cotta’s successor Francesco Sforza, who was aware of the military and economic value of having a navigable canal in a strategic point during the war with Venice, that gave the go-ahead for the construction of the Navilio nostro de Martexana.
In 1496, under Ludovico Sforza (il Moro), this naviglio was connected to the circle of navigli near St. Marco, whereas beforehand it stopped at the Cassina de’ Pomm. It is thought that Leonardo da Vinci, who was at the time a guest in the Sforza court, actively participated in its creation.
Along the canal, there are some cycling roads that run from via De Marchi to Cassano d’Adda (30 km from Milan) passing by the Park of the Martesana.
The name “Martesana”, which derives from the area the canal crosses, was commissioned by Francesco Sforza even before work on its construction began in 1460.
Among the many patrician homes located along the Naviglio Martesana, there is the Palazzo Melzi a Vaprio d’Adda. Built in 1483 by Giovanni Melzi, its rooms once hosted Leonardo da Vinci. Here, da Vinci thought out his hydraulic projects and drew inspiration for some of his paintings from the local scenery.