Milan’s Parks: The History of the City’s Green Spaces

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When you take a walk through Milan’s parks, you embark upon a journey of discovery, where history meets nature. It’s always worthwhile to take time out from the frenetic pace of the city to breathe in a little fresh air, read a book, eat a snack, kick a ball around, or explore the hidden treasures of these green spaces.

As you enter Parco Sempione through the Castello Sforzesco gate, you are met with a wonderful view of the manicured lawn. The Arco della Pace rises up in the distance, while on the northern side you spot the Arena Civica. Both date back to the time of Napoleon.

In the heart of the park, close to the pond, you find the Ponte delle Sirenette, built in 1842 over the former site of a canal, in what is now Via San Damiano. On the Piazzale Cadorna side, prepare to be surprised by Giorgio di Chirico’s Bagni Misteriosi sculpture with its playful angles and colors. It was completed for the 15th Triennale di Milano festival in 1973. To get a better look, you head into Triennale’s headquarters, the Palazzo dell’Arte (a gate separates the sculpture from the rest of the park). Or you can visit the Acquario Civico (entrance in Via Gadio) It’s a marvelous Liberty-style building dating from the first Milan expo, which was hosted in the Parco Sempione in 1906, and it’s guaranteed to enchant adults and children alike.

If you prefer 18th century French design over English Romanticism, you’ll love the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, formerly known as Giardini di Porta Venezia. This is the first of Milan’s parks opened to the public and a perfect place to spend an afternoon in the fresh air. You start your tour along the south side toward the impressive rococo Palazzo Dugnani fountain. You stop to fully enjoy the water before moving north along the rocky, uneven pathways past a series of interesting statues. Until recently, this was home to Milan Zoo. Deep in the park you come upon the Planetario Ulrico Hoepli, the oldest planetarium in Italy, built in 1929. You’ll recognize it by its dome and its intriguing, and somewhat magical, temple-like entrance. And fairly close-by is the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, the natural history museum, which is inside a wonderful 19th-century building.

From there just cross over Via Palestro to find yourself in one of the most elegant of Milan’s parks: Giardini di Villa Reale. Next, take in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, the modern art museum, known for its neoclassical architecture. Inside, the museum is home to many unforgettable works by Canova, but be sure to also take a break in the green space behind. Take a gentle walk alongside the ponds filled with ducks and fish, across tiny, old-fashioned, romantic bridges, and stop to admire the temples along the route. You’ll see the facade of the villa in the background, and feel as though you’ve been spirited away into a mini-Versailles.

Parco Vittorio Formentano (also known as the Parco Marinai d’Italia) near Corso XXII Marzo, may not be as old as some of the other parks, but it is no less fascinating. Created in 1969 around the fruit and vegetable market, the park has, at its center, a beautiful Liberty-style building. Its soft Art Nouveau lines, enchanting glass panels, and the beauty of its decorative style will grab your attention straight away. Originally built in 1908, it rose to fame in the 1970s when it was home to La Comune, the theatrical company founded by the future Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo and his wife Claudia Rame.

There’s so much to discover walking through Milan’s parks! It’s one of the most pleasant and relaxing ways to experience the many riches Milan has to offer.

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