Monday, July 15, 2013

Sempione on a Sunny Sunday

"Gotta get out and walk, it's too nice to stay inside all day" actually turned into a walk thanks to my camera. First, down Corso Sempione to the park. Bit of morning haze. Hot, a little humid, but--if in the shade--quite nice....More......

At the northern end, the park begins with the "Arco della Pace" (The Arch of Peace) whose flip-flop tale expresses recent Milanese and Italian history. By the architect Luigi Cagnola, its construction began in 1807 to honor Napoleon and his victories, and the arch is aligned with the back portal of the Sforza Castle on a purposefully straight shot to Paris. The construction had gotten as far as the tops of the side arches by 1807, and then stalled. Work began, again, in 1827, but this time encouraged by the emperor of Austria, under whose sway Italy returned after the 1815 downfall (hoped to bring peace, hence the arch's name) of Bonaparte. The arch was finished by Cagnola, and the two side buildings were added, in time for the emperor's coronation as King of Lombardy-Veneto in September of 1838. The inscription extolling the Austrian emperors--no surprises, here--was taken down, and replaced with an inscription consonant with Milan's liberty won in 1859.

A few minutes walk into the park, and here's a hint of things to come: a modern sculpture called "Chiosco sculpture" (Kiosk Sculpture) by Roccamonte, sponsored by an Italian company of cement-makers in 1973. Needs a good cleaning, though. I found the company online, and have sent their PR office an e-mail. Let's see if it does any good.

Nearby are the Torre Branca (the Branca brand of alcoholic beverages sponsored the restoration, so why not rename the tower after them?; after all, it had languished nameless since the downfall of Fascism, and the fall in disgrace of its original name: Torre Littoria), where you can pay a few Euros and go up to the top for a panoramic view, and the Triennale (here's a view from the backside). Built in 1931-33, thanks to the generous donation of an industrialist, as a permanent seat for international expositions of decorative arts (i.e., art + industry), the building still focusses on what now is called "design," and often has interesting exhibitions. More about those in another post.

For now, a glimpse of just one of the pieces of modern sculpture in its enclosed back yard: de Chirico's "Bagni misteriosi" (Mysterious baths, in the sense of dipping one's body into water, not bathing for cleanliness).

The pond and the seemingly natural growth of trees in the park with its winding paths expresses the 19th century fashion for this English-style of landscape gardening. The park, replacing the castello's large semi-wild "barcho," where the Visconti and Sforza dukes and court conducted the princely pastime of hunting, was planned as early as Milan's independence (remember that 1859 date?!), but financial problems kept anything from happening until Emilio Alemagna's 1893 plan was finally executed (P.S., he also was responsible for the current state of the public park in Porta Venezia).

Just about in the center of the park is the much beloved Siren bridge. Originally built in 1842 over the corner of what are now Via Senato and Corso di Porta Venezia, they were moved here when the canal was covered up. (Boo-hoo! Let's reopen the canals!)

If you've got your eyes open, you might run across this little fountain set up in 1928. The signs say "Acqua marcia" (Spoiled water) and "non potabile" (not drinkable), but...the water coming from a natural well and stinking of rotten eggs thanks to the natural sulfur content is still prized by some as 'good for you.' (blech)

Ever heard of Damnatio memoriae? Here's a good example. Napoleon III was a hero in the peninsula for his decisive aid in helping the Milanese (and, hence, the rest of Austrian-dominated Italy) liberate themselves from the emperor. Happy as clams, the Milanese commissioned this life-sized towering sculpture and base in 1881 from a leading sculptor of the day, Barzaghi, to commemorate him. It was to go in one of the city's principal piazzas. So, what's the problem? Napoleon III shifted allegiances according to his conscience during the long war for independence. As long as the Milanese wanted to free themselves from his rivals the Austrians, it suited him just fine, but when they turned on the papacy (1870) to liberate great swathes of the peninsula from the pope's terrestrial power, that was another thing, entirely, so he jumped to the aid of the pope. Naturally, that didn't make the Milanese very happy, so fighting between those grateful and resentful shunted the sculpture first to the closed courtyard of the ex-Senate, and then tucked away amongst the trees in this area not far from the Siren's bridge.

Just behind the sculpture is a delightful little public library by Parisi and Longhi (1954).

Near to these both is the Arena, constructed in 1806 by the architect Luigi Canonica who also used material from the partial demolition of the Sforza Castle during the brief Napoleonic period of independence. It can hold 33,000 spectators, and still is used, today...though I haven't been inside, yet. Will have to remedy that.

Near the Arena is the Acquarium. Built by Sebastiano Giuseppe Locati and decorated with colorful naturalistically themed ceramic tiles by the firm Richard Ginori for the 1906 Expo in Milan and reconstructed after WWII, it was restored in 2006. Small, but delightful. There also is a tunnel tank to walk under. Fun for all the family. Note, too, the handicapped ramp.

This gives me the opportunity to mention that, in general, Italy is not equipped for those in wheelchairs. At all. You might have a corner, or two, with handicapped ramps, then the subsequent ones don't, or, if they do, have been created just after a traffic light or sign pole that squeezes access. Buildings, even those from just before and after the war, either don't have elevators, or, if they do, the elevators don't go to the ground floor (those crazy architects...thinking more about 'gentility' of style than practicality). There's almost always two, three or ten stairs to go up before an elevator can be reached. Then there's the thorny question of historic buildings. Should, or even CAN, the historic structure be cut and modified to add elevators? It's a question without an easy answer, but here at the Acquarium, it already has been solved. (Before someone writes in the comments about politically-correct language, I personally think this is one of the instances where it has gone overboard. "Disabled" sounds like a machine whose functioning has been destroyed. Much better to de-stigmatize the word already in use. That's my two cents' worth.)

Pretty close is a kiddy park with merry-go-rounds and bumper cars for the wee ones. It was lovely to see families not just at the mini-amusement park, but scattered throughout the park, just sitting on the grass and enjoying each others' company. Lots of dogs with their owners, too. There are fenced in areas to let dogs run free. Legally, dogs are not supposed to be off their leashes unless they are in these areas, but when did that ever stop Italians?! They're finally learning to pick up dog poop, though, and that's a plus.

Don't be afraid to go for fear of thirst and potties. There are port-a-potties throughout the park (though I can't say what state they're in) and public fountains, called "vedovelle" (little widows, because they are constantly "weeping") throughout the park and the city. The water is not just safe to drink, it's also good. For those of you new to town, you don't have to break your back bending down to drink out of the gush from the little dragon's mouth. Look on the top of his head. If there's a little hole (and there should be one), stop up the dragon's mouth, and the water spurts up out of his head.

Heading back in the direction of the Sforza Castle, I passed this odd thing in construction. It will be called the "Chiosco Conti" according to the posted info. The kiosk part I get, but that weird giant hand? Oh well. It will be easy to remember for rendezvous'.

Here, it's shortly after noon, and you can see that the morning's haze has burned off, the sky is a gorgeous blue, and the sun was very very hot. The parks here and behind the church of San Lorenzo were fenced I'm guessing about 10 years ago, and it has made an enormous difference in public safety. They're shut every evening, and opened, again, in the morning. Nevertheless, Parco Sempione also has SOS phone kiosks scattered throughout. Does this make you think twice about going? No, it shouldn't, at least in the more trafficked areas, and when there are lots of other people around. A bit of common sense--especially for us ladies--goes a long way.

A walk through the Sforza Castle took me to the tram stop.

This tram line uses the historic one-car trams built in 1928, and refurbished after WWII. Love the warm honey-colored wood. (Some of the historic trams were sold to San Francisco, where they became trolleys!)

The effortless beauty and sophistication of some Italian ladies is lovely to behold (and causes a bit of envy).

It was a lovely long walk of about two hours. I hope you enjoyed it, too!

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