The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. Housed within a four-story double arcade in central Milan, the Galleria is named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877.
The structure consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Scala. The street is covered by an arching glass and cast iron roof, a popular design for 19th-century arcades, such as the Burlington Arcade in London, which was the prototype for larger glazed shopping arcades, beginning with the Saint-Hubert Gallery in Brussels (opened in 1847), the Passazh in St Petersburg (opened in 1848), the Galleria Umberto I in Naples (opened in 1890) and the Budapest Galleria. The four paintings under the glass roof represent Asia, Africa, Europa and America.
The central octagonal space is topped with a glass dome. The Milanese Galleria was larger in scale than its predecessors and was an important step in the evolution of the modern glazed and enclosed shopping mall, of which it was the direct progenitor. It has inspired the use of the term galleria for many other shopping arcades and malls. On the ground of the central octagonal, there are four mosaics portraying the Coat of Arms of the three Capitals of the Kingdom of Italy (Turin, Florence and Rome) plus the Milan’s. The tradition tells that if a person put its right heel on the bull’s genitals depicted of the bull from Turin Coat of Arms and turn on himself three times, this will bring good luck. This practice causes damage to the mosaic: a hole developed on the place of the bull’s genitals (………..no, we didn’t do it…..)
The Galleria is often nicknamed il salotto di Milano (Milan’s living room), due to its numerous shops and importance as a common Milanese meeting and dining place. As of 2013, the arcade principally contains luxury retailers selling haute couture, jewelry, books and paintings, as well as restaurants, cafés, and bars. The Galleria is famous for being home to some of the oldest shops and restaurants in Milan, such as Biffi Caffè (founded in 1867 by Paolo Biffi, pastry chef to the monarch),the Savini restaurant, the silverware store Bernasconi and the Art Nouveau classic Zucca’s Bar. In 2012, a McDonald’s restaurant was prevented from renewing its tenancy in the mall, after 20 years of occupancy. The restaurant contended that it was the only mall tenant to be denied the right of first refusal on its new lease, and that the public tender to replace it was “unfair”. McDonald’s has sued the landlord—the city of Milan—for €24 million in damages, alleging that the loss of the lease will deprive McDonald’s of €6 million per year in sales. During its last few hours of operation, the restaurant offered free food and drink to over 5.000 customers. The McDonald’s restaurant was replaced with the mall’s second Prada store.
From the Gallery you can enter one of the last addition to the many commercial ventures, the Aperol Lounge. We sat there for a while in the afternoon, quietly enjoying a drink between the rush hours of lunch and dinner…