Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
This is not the earliest covered arcade - Burlington Arcade in London dates to about 1819 - but without doubt it set an example for several other similar structures on this sort of scale (the Gum mall in Moscow, and an almost exact copy in Naples). Incidentally, it also inspired Richard Rogers for his Lloyds building in London, at least as regards the barrel-vaulted glazed roof over the Underwriting Room. The Galleria was original at its time (built 1860-70) for the extensive use of iron and glass in the roof structure. As the period in which it was built coincided with Italy's struggle for unity, the decorative elements on walls and floor are principally dedicted to the country's major cities. One such emblem, the bull on the coat of arms of Turin, has become a method of obtaining good luck. Just put your heel on the well-worn part of the bull's anatomy and rotate once clockwise.
Today, the Galleria is a favourite meeting place for the people of Milan, who can choose from classic restaurant Savini, the "Camparino" or "Zucca" bar on the Piazza Duomo side, Gucci's bar (famous for the chocolate served with coffee), and several other bars and ice-cream parlours. There are some important stores as well, notably Prada, Louis Vuitton, Borsalino and others.
As for many monuments in Milan, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele has its own story regarding the merciless hand of destiny. The Galleria, along with the whole of Piazza Duomo, was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni, and built at least initially by a British contractor, the City of Milan Improvements Company Limited. Unfortunately, the British company ran into financial problems, and the City of Milan acquired the site. By 1877, the Galleria was almost complete, though work on Piazza Duomo - Mengoni's project regarded the whole of the square - was well behind schedule.
On December 30, 1877, Mengoni was on the scaffolding at the top of the main arch opening into Piazza Duomo, put a foot wrong, and fell to his death. This gave rise to no little debate in the city, and the papers surmised suicide or even murder. The judicial authorities eventually archived the incident as accidental death, even though the suicide idea was given extra credence by the fact that Mengoni had put forward a lot of his own capital in order to get the job finished, and he would have gone bankrupt had the work not have been completed by December 31, 1877. As was indeed the case. His death is the reason why Piazza Duomo seems unfinished; the porticoes on the two long sides are not continued in the western side of the Piazza. In addition, opposite the Galleria, there would have been another arch, symmetrical with the existing triumphal arch. Instead of this, in the 1930s, the architects Portaluppi, Muzio, Magistretti and Griffini built the "Arengario" in Rationalist style. Mussolini spoke to the crowds from the balcony. The east tower is presently being converted into a contemporary art museum.