The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy is iconic. It is the place to stop for a major instagram moment, but the historic structure has a storied past that includes films, untimely deaths, and hidden symbolism. Before you visit the glassed arcade, here are some of the coolest facts about this remarkable building:
- Age and Architecture: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. It was constructed between 1865 and 1877 and is elaborately ornate inside. It is named after the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. The architecture is a marvel, featuring an iron-and-glass roof and an elegant four-story double arcade with a central octagonal dome.
- Grand Design Contest: In 1861, a competition was held to select the architect who would design the Galleria. The competition attracted numerous architects, including notable figures such as Giuseppe Mengoni, Emilio Alemagna, and Enrico Terzaghi. Ultimately, the design submitted by Giuseppe Mengoni was chosen as the winning entry. Mengoni’s proposal impressed the judging panel with its grandeur and innovative use of materials.
Tragically, Mengoni lost his life during the construction of the Galleria when he fell from the central dome, just before the building was completed. However, his legacy lives on through his remarkable design, which has made the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II an architectural masterpiece and a significant cultural landmark.
- Luxurious Atmosphere: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was always intended to emanate luxury and grandeur, and it still does that to this day. The interior is adorned with intricate mosaics and beautiful frescoes. The Galleria remains a renowned as a luxury shopping destination. It houses numerous prestigious brands, high-end boutiques, and upscale cafes. You can admire the modern luxury goods while window shopping, in between pauses to take in the visual effects of the architecture. Even if you are not interested in a Prada bag, I recommend a stop in Pasticceria Marchesi on the second level of the galleria. It is above the design store and has pretty high prices but they are worth it for a sumptuous sweet and a near-birds-eye view of the busy floor below.
- Symbolic Mosaic Floors: The four mosaic floors in the Galleria represent the coat of arms of four Italian cities: Florence (the lily), Milan (red cross), and Rome (she-wolf with Romulus and Remus), and Turin (the torino – bull). These cities were critically important in the first years after Italian unification when the Italian capital city was still up for debate. You may notice that a part of the bull is worn out. That is because there is a local tradition that believes that stepping in between the bull’s legs and spinning on your heel three times brings good luck.
- Historical Significance: Over the years, the Galleria has witnessed many important moments in Milan’s history. It has been a hub for intellectuals, artists, and politicians. It also served as a meeting place for important figures during the Risorgimento, the period of Italian unification. It was heavily damaged in World War II when Milan was particularly hard hit in the bombings, but has been extensively restored.
- Hollywood Star: The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II has influenced popular culture and inspired architectural designs around the world. Its iconic structure has been featured in numerous movies, including “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” further cementing its status as a cultural icon. (Both are great films to watch if you are planning to visit).
- Rooftop Terrace and Views: Visitors can access the rooftop terrace of the Galleria, offering stunning panoramic views of Milan. From there, you can see famous landmarks such as the Milan Cathedral (Duomo) and the Royal Palace. It’s a perfect spot to appreciate the city’s beauty from a different perspective- and even order a picnic on the rooftop.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a must-visit in Milan, and impossible to miss thanks to its strategic location next to the Duomo. Be sure to window shop, spin on the bull’s ahem, and remember those who made the building so iconic.
If you are looking for more to do in the city, here are tips on the gorgeous Bar Luce, getting tickets to the Last Supper, and visiting some more quirky museums.