Milan's Darsena reopened

After 18 months of restyling.

Residents and tourists turned out in throngs over the weekend to celebrate the return of one of the city’s best loved areas, just in time for the opening of Expo 2015 on 1 May.

Once mayor Giuliano Pisapia cut the tape, pedestrians poured in to take back an area of the city denied them for so long – and to admire the improvements.

The Darsena – or docks, for the canal barges which for centuries linked Milan with all of northern Italy, bringing produce and materials to the city – has long been a centre of Milan’s heady movida or night-life.

Bars and restaurants, street food and entertainment, canal rides and concerts, dancing or just strolling: it just hasn’t been the same for milanesi night-owls while the cranes and diggers were at work.

After a year and a half of renovation work the dock basin serving the two main canals, Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, now boasts new walkways, a large pedestrian area, a covered market, a new bridge and the Darsena Center for exhibitions, lectures and other cultural activity.

Closed to navigation since 1979, the canals are now open again for boating, and with an additional route: the Ticinello, covered over since the 1930s.

Enjoying the new Darsena Enjoying the new Darsena

Originally built under Spanish rule in 1603, the Darsena has always been a popular meeting point. In the 19th century, it also had a rather louche reputation, with a cast of colourful characters and a repertoire of saucy songs. But it also had a healthier side, with swimming and rowing clubs, and cycling along the banks. Swimming marathons were held here, and the traditional January dive into the icy water was a crowd-puller.

As a reminder of more recent history, during the €20 million restoration work a marble post was discovered at one of the locks separating the Darsena from the Ticinello canal, dating back to 1928 and bearing the fascio symbol of the Mussolini era. 

Later still, the founding of several leading jazz clubs in the 1960s laid the foundation for the night-life reputation which has remained associated with the area ever since.