Funiculàr Versus Dracula: The Highline and Deep Crypts of Milan
Some people say that Milan is an Italian version of New York, and there is some truth to that as regards the vibrancy in the art world, the efficiency in work, the hustle and bustle of business, fashion and the stock market. However if you intend to visit the new attraction in town, Highline Galleria, you must be fully aware it has nothing to do with the breathtaking elevated park in the Chelsea neighborhood that was built on a historic freight rail line.
Milan’s version of the Highline is a simple path amongst the rooftops of the city center, that has gathered a charming history of Lombardy’s grand capital. To arrive to destination you must take a tiny glass elevator in one of the narrow streets behind the Duomo. Once you start exploring the skywalk, you’ll notice that the Highline Galleria is adorned with various panels that narrate a variety of aspects of Milanese life, from buildings, to cuisine, from traditions to historical characters.
The minimalistic walkway gives the chance to see the Galleria from a different angle and observe the exterior structure of the extraordinary feat of architecture, that was designed and built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1961 and 1877 and named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. We are usually accustomed to engage with the blaze of marble, stuccoes, mosaics from below, promenading through this overwhelming passageway between piazza del Duomo and piazza della Scala. Finally the stunning arcade and glass dome, that are an emblem of Milanese identity, can be seen from bird’s eye view.
The Galleria is one of the oldest trade centers in the world: it became a city favorite for evening strolls, a place of demonstrations and a meeting point for the Milanese bourgeoisie, artists, academics and musicians, including Giuseppe Verdi and the Futurists. Today the Highline Galleria can be seen as a contemporary revival for every kind of rendez-vous. It welcomes guests for romantic dates, formal meetings and even family outings.
You may enjoy any meal, gelato or a picnic (you will be provided with a wicker basket at the entrance), live-music or open-air-cinema. The utmost treat is the ticket that includes a visit to the Cript of San Sepolcro, which is just a few steps away from the Highline, close to the legendary Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a historic library that also houses the Ambrosian Art Gallery and features Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus.
The undercroft is in the Church of San Sepolcro, that was originally built in 1030 and dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. Although it was restored multiple times through history, it is still clear how the main structure emulated the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The sanctuary is located in the area of the metropolis that was occupied in the Roman era by the Forum. Cardinal Federico Borromeo commissioned Aurelio Trezzi to remodel the interior of the church and in 1605 the original pillars were replaced by eight granite columns with Corinthian capitals, and the matroneum was removed.
The fact that the church of San Sepolcro was built on the centre of the 4th century Roman city was something that the people from Milan were conscious about, as witnessed by Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches. The polymath, who spent twenty years at the court of Ludovico il Moro, (the ruler of the city at the end of the 15th century), after visiting San Sepolcro left a drawing of the plan of the church and crypt. He also depicted a small map of the area, where he drew a square on San Sepolcro and marked it as the “vero mezzo” of Milan, i.e. the real center of the city.
Also Carlo Borromeo gave a similar definition to San Sepolcro: “ombelico della città,” meaning “navel of the city.” For him this was a place of ascetic practice and he went to pray every Wednesday and Friday afternoon, as well as spending entire nights in front of the sepulcher of the Christ. To homage the piety of the holy man, after his canonization a statue of the saint archbishop was placed in front of that very sepulcher.
Although the crypt has opened its doors to the public, a lot of restoration is still required to reprise the frescoes and environs to its former glory. Every visitor, with his or her ticket contributes to getting closer to the two million euros required for this epic, but necessary, operation. If Fyodor Dostoyevsky was right in saying that Beauty will save the world, we have to play an active part in it.