The Navigli district is located to the west of Milan‘s historic centre. This picturesque district used to be characterized by a network of canals, of which only three remain.
Navigli district Milan
History and description
The name Navigli is derived from these canals and dates back to the time when there used to be a port here. The canals were the connection between the city and the rivers and lakes in the area. They had several functions: Apart from transporting people and goods (via the river Po even the sea was within reach), they also served to irrigate the land. As an example, the marble used for the construction of the Duomo arrived in Milan via the canals from the area around Lake Maggiore.
The oldest canal was called Ticinello and was built in 1179. More canals followed and with the help of locks, height differences were overcome. Eventually, this led to Milan having one of the largest inland ports in Italy.
When road traffic began to play a greater role, the canals were filled in one by one and, starting in 1979, the port was no longer used at all. The only canals that still exist are the Naviglio della Martesana in the north-east and the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese in the south-west of the city, the area now known as the Navigli. These last two canals joined at the Darsena, a large basin that used to be the heart of the port. Following the canals from here, one arrives at a part of the city that has changed over time from a working-class area to an artists’ quarter, with its art galleries, cafes and eateries.
The Naviglio Grande is the most interesting of the three. Where once barges were pulled by oxen along the canal, pedestrianized streets now lead to beautiful little bridges and other attractions such as the Vicolo dei Lavandai (the alley where women used to wash their clothes) and the Santa Maria delle Grazie al Naviglio Church. Every last Sunday of the month the Ripa di Porta Ticinese antique market takes place here.