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Learn everything about the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

One of the most famous galleries in the world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan is a work of art! Today you will learn everything about the first shopping center in Italy.

Credit: Fabiana Cavalcanti @fabianacavalcantiphoto

Learn everthing about the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

Today I take you to discover, in detail, all the beauties of the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, in Milan. Famous for being full of luxury stores, the building is home to history, culture, and lots of art! Let’s learn everthing about the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Here at  Your Travel to Italy with Ana Patricia  you make the trip of your dreams !!! ALSO: see our  “Accommodation in Italy – Tips for your holidays!”

Our introduction

When we talk about Milan (Lombardy), some iconic tourist sites of the city immediately come to mind, such as the Duomo, Teatro Alla Scala and, of course, the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, called “the living room of the city”. In this very special post, we are going to discover all its details, some curiosities and facts little known by the general public. Today our destination is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan.

How it all began?

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is splendid! I know it’s redundant to say that, but it’s an undeniable fact. This gallery is considered the “mother” of all Italian galleries, in addition to being considered the first shopping center on the Italian peninsula.

It all started in 1800, having a strong influence and inspiration in the traditional Parisian galleries, which served as a “short path” between one point and another in the city, housing shops, cafes and other facilities, such as restaurants.

The Galleria’s Father!

The story goes that Carlo Cattaneo, in 1839, had the idea of building a kind of corridor between the Duomo and the historic Teatro alla Scala, however the idea only came to fruition in 1860 , when, finally, three decrees were signed authorized to start work.

The work began in 1863 after a detailed analysis carried out by a commission. The winning idea was that of the architect Giuseppe Mengoni and the project pleased, as it was elegant, spacious, and would perform its function very well, that of connecting two important points of the city.

The structure of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The building was built following a plan with a reticular structure and the materials used were resistant, but at the same time elegant: they used iron and wired glass to cover the “pedestrian street”.

With just under 100 establishments, they were distributed in a cross-sectional plan, with side arms of equal width: 14.50 meters long, but with different lengths: on one side we have 105.10 meters, while on the other we have 196.60 meters.

Do you know how much it cost to build the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II? Well, at the time it was built, the currency in Italy was the Lira, and the construction cost around 30 million Italian Lira. Currently, if we convert to the current currency, that is, the Euro, the Galleria would cost approximately 120 million euros to build – converting into reais, around 128 million USD.

The meaning of the side arms

The side arms of this amazing building have representations of different sectors that are part of Lombard culture:

  • The science
  • The industry
  • The art
  • And agriculture

The central octagon has a diameter of 36.60 meters and a height that reaches 12.15 meters above the arch impost, totaling – from the ground to the top – a total of 47.08 meters.

The junction of the four sides, at the top of the central arch, that is, in the dome, is formed by four blocks with a ceiling height of 29.30 meters and an enclosed patio, which delimit the terrain and the height of the arms of the Gallery.

Its HUGE (and gorgeous!) dome!
  • For the construction of the dome, 353 tons of iron and 7 million and 850 thousand square meters of striped glass sheets were used! And it’s AMAZING!

Its rich decoration

Its perimeter walls are covered with beautiful decorations from the 800s, and it presents visitors with beautiful images made in graphite, stucco and imitation marble. The total area of the gallery is 20,000 square meters and the name of the place is a tribute to the Italian King Vittorio Emanuele II, who was even responsible for placing the first stone of the construction of this masterpiece, on March 7, 1865.

The second half of the 19th century in Milan

This was a very important period for the Lombard capital! Milan looked fondly at major European capitals, such as Paris and London, in search of inspiration to transform itself into a cultural and urbanized center, but without losing the elegance and functionality of its buildings.

The Italians, in a way, felt a little “behind” in relation to the rest of the world in the context of the industrial revolution, as industry – if we compare it with other European cities – was slow to arrive on the peninsula.

The Italians themselves compared themselves with the powerful (and already well developed) England and France and, therefore, decided to “modernize” some things.

The artworks of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and its architectural style

The Galleria goes further and presents true works of art inside. On its floor, for example, in the center you can see the coat of arms of the House of Savoy, all done in an impeccable mosaic.

On its sides, we also find mosaics with the signs of the zodiac, and it is where the coats of arms of the four cities that, at different times, were capitals of the Kingdom of Italy are represented: in this order we have Milan (in the Napoleonic Era), Turin, Florence and , finally, Rome (with Savoia).

In the lunettes around the vault called octagon, we can see represented the four continents officially recognized* in that period: Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

* Oceania was already known at that time, but was left out of the artistic representation in the Galleria due to “lack of space”.

The measures of the paitings in the octagon

They measure 15 meters wide and 7 meters high, and here is how the continents are represented in the paintings:

  • Europe: a woman who wears ancient clothes and is protected by a winged man who holds a laurel tree. The work is by Angelo Pietrasanta.
  • America: a woman being hunted by an indigenous man and other African Americans. Work by Raffaele Casnedi
  • Asia: a woman sitting on a throne being presented with figures with Asian features. Work by Bartolomeo Giuliano
  • Africa: a woman dressed in Egyptian clothing, surrounded by a lion and a black man. Work by Eleuterio Pagliano.

Keep looking up…

The decoration of the lunettes at entrances E (est) and O (ovest) is completed by some elegant and very interesting allegorical representations.

The architectural style of the Galleria is neo-Renaissance and is, until today, one of the greatest examples of iron architecture in the world.

The entrance to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is a grand triumphal arch that rises majestically next to Milan Cathedral; it also bears the writing “A Vittorio Emanuele II. I Milanesi”, to remember who the Gallery is, in fact, dedicated to.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II during World War II

During World War II, the Galleria was heavily bombed in August 1943.

The damage was immense and the powers of the attacks were enough to completely destroy the ceiling and damage part of the steel structure used for its construction.

The Galleria was restored and reopened in 1955, together with the Teatro alla Scala.

The mosaics on the gallery floor are constantly being restored, as the immense flow of people damages them quite frequently.

Historic Places of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

The Galleria is, of course, home to the city’s some historical places. Currently, the Galleria has 4 establishments that have been there since its opening to the public: the Savini Restaurant, the Camparino Caffè, the Bocca Bookshop and the Biffi Caffè. All have been operating since 1867!

The Tradition of the Bull from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

Well, this is a well-known tradition among tourists and repeated daily by those who visit the place, even for the tenth time – after all, returning to Milan is never a bad idea, is it?!

On the floor of the central octagon of the gallery there is a huge mosaic that shows the heraldic symbol of the Savoia – the Italian royal family: it is the image of a bull and according to tradition you will be lucky and return to Milan with your right foot and eyes turned closed in the testicles of the drawing. And there’s a PLUS: if you do this little “ritual” on December 31st, midnight: you’ll be lucky all year round!

Oh, and don’t worry about finding the drawing: it’s very common to see a small “entourage” there every day,  practically all day long, waiting for their turn to carry out the tradition.

Some curiosities and common FAQ about the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan:

  • The Rattin (the Little Mouse)

One of the most FAQ is: how was the Galleria lit in the old days? Well, the task was not easy, as you can imagine! Not least because the first power plant only arrived in Milan in 1883.

The Gallery was therefore lit by gas, with a series of flame chandeliers placed at the base of the dome. To light all those flames, which were placed more than 30 meters high, a rail was built that runs along the entire base of the dome and above it a kind of little train, with a burning end that lit all the nozzles as it passed through the wicks.

The little train was affectionately baptized by the Milanese as “rattin”, that is, the little mouse, which with its fiery tail lit up the entire Gallery. The lighting of the place soon became a real spectacle, so much so that it was announced with whistles.

  • The first mall in Italy

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was officially the first establishment to be called a mall in Italy and, of course, inspired so many others.

  • The display of the stores

The Galleria has a clear rule: the names of all of its establishments must be written, obligatorily, in gold, standardized letters, on a black background.

  • How many floors does Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II have?

The Galleria has three floors.

  • The tragedy on the eve of its inauguration

Its creator Giuseppe Mengoni was unable to attend the official inauguration because he died when he fell from a scaffold in front of the site during one of his final inspections, on December 30, 1877.

For some it was an accident, for others, suicide, as the work was being heavily criticized by some Italians who did not conform to the French inspiration and, they say, he could not have borne the criticism.

  • The Galleria inspires other works

The monumental gallery in Milan inspired other works, one of which is the equally beautiful Galleria Umberto I in Naples, built between 1887 and 1890 by architect Emmanuele Rocco with the aim of restoring a neighborhood of the Neapolitan city that was known for its shady taverns, and houses of ill repute.

This gallery, of course, became the “living room of Naples” and is very similar to the “Milanese sister”.

Golden tip:
Want to eat a very special sweetie? Inside the Galleria is the historic Pasticceria Marchesi. Founded in 1824 by the Marchesi family, the place was not only a high-quality pastry shop, but also a charming café and was becoming one of the most suggestive places in Milan. To take a peek at the delicacies you can find there, click here! 

Do you want to stay inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II?

It’s possible! And there’s a very special hotel over there: the Galleria Vik Milano. The hotel is inside the Galleria and offers a super interesting concept in its luxury rooms with balcony and state-of-the-art technology.

The main concept of Galleria Vik Milano is to promote art and, instead of a TV in the bedroom, you will find paintings!

The property is also home to the famous Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.

To make your reservation, or find out more about the hotel, click here!

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Learn everything about the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Milan is a splendor and, of course, it should also have something of its magnitude and beauty, like the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which is a place that goes beyond luxury stores as we could see in the post.

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