Coffee and shopping in 19th-century splendour.
In 1867, designer Giuseppe Mengoni fell to his death from the dome of his spectacular new arcade. It was only two days before King Vittorio Emanuele II, first ruler of a united Italy, arrived to open the galleria. It was a tragedy that Mengoni never got to see his breathtaking creation filled with happy shoppers; the soaring roof of iron and glass, delicate as a spider’s web in the late afternoon sun. Beneath the dome gilded mosaics representing Asia, Africa, Europe and America gleam, while at the central point, surrounded by the coats of arms of the region is the bull of Turin, Milan’s great rival. In fine Milanese tradition, it has become good luck to grind your heel into its testicles, turning three times on the spot. There’s usually a queue of tourists waiting to have their picture taken putting the boot in.
The galleria is home to designer boutiques from Prada to Louis Vuitton, but more people visit it to admire its architectural splendours or for coffee, campari and cake at one of its wonderful grand cafés, such as Zucca or Biffi, which have been here, serving the fur-coated ladies who lunch, since the doors first opened. So popular is it as a meeting place that it has long since been known as ‘il salotto di Milano’ (Milan’s drawing room).