Battlefield Darsena

Cinque anni fa ho scritto un articolo sulla “questione Darsena”. L’articolo non fu mai pubblicato, ma ad un giorno dall’apertura della nuova Darsena credo possa essere interessante condividere con voi il suo passato. Purtroppo l’articolo è solo in inglese.


Five years ago I wrote an article about the “Darsena issue”. The article was never published, but since the opening of new Darsena of yesterday, I think that sharing with you its past could be interesting.




Text and photos by Carla Sedini



 The Darsena, for many people of my generation and before, represented a place to go to experience the alternative soul of the city of Milan. However, the Darsena, means also “tradition”, since is one of the principal canals, which, like a net, wave together the streets of the city, located in one of the most suggestive and tourist areas of Milan: the Navigli area.

Today, the Darsena is a construction site.

I am going to start since the beginning.

My beginning.

I lived in the province of Milan and every Saturday I used to go and spend my day on the Darsena, to visit the Senigallia Fair, a market where you could find art crafts, music, secondhand and brand new clothes from different countries. You could taste a particular attitude of the city and you could feel the energy that spread from the union of so many different people. As, “il Rosso” (n.d.r. literally “the Red”), one of the historical exhibitor of the fair, said: “When you enter in the fair you feel like you’ve always belonged here and in some way, the fair itself belongs a little bit to you as well!”. One day the news that the Senigallia fair would have been moved to the parking area in Porta Genova came. It was a shock for me, even if while I was growing up I was loosing the habit to go every Saturday on Darsena banks. However, the news was shocking because of the project of the Municipality. Albertini’s district council (ndr Gabriele Albertini was the Mari of the city for two legislatures, from 1997 to 2006, for the centre right-wing coalition. At these days the Mari is Letizia Moratti) proposed to build a huge parking area under the Darsena. The 24th of September 2004 the agreement was signed. Now is 2010. Fortunately the parking has never been battlefield-darsena_5built. However, the Darsena is not what it was anymore. The Darsena now is a horrible huge hole on the underground level filled by garbage and piece of junkies, populated by rats, pigeons and some seagulls. After the deliberation of 2004 several events have passed by: more or less organized protests claimed by groups of citizen (as, for example, the Navigli Committee), the construction of a dam, the discovery of antique rests (the old border of the Darsena from 1800, the basis of Spanish Bastions from 1500 and a wooden basin from 1400), the suspension of the roadworks, which actually would have never started again with enormous waste of public money. The building society, which gained the call for tenders, during the suspension was still receiving money, even if the workers disappeared from the area. Notwithstanding, the money it received, the society left the area unguarded and it never cared about cleaning and maintaining the Darsena in a good state. Because of this state of abandon, the Darsena area was involved in the ambitious project which has started in 2009: the operation “Say it with flowers. Milan can revive” which consists in action of guerrilla gardening in several areas of Milan, such as viale Monza, Rubattino, Paolo Sarpi and also the Darsena ( The interesting thing is that the idea of an action of guerrilla gardening in the Darsena was proposed by a photographer, Alberto Callari, who has his origins in Rome. Everything started at the Biennale of Venice, where Alberto saw an historical picture, from the end of WW2, of the Duomo square, which in those years, in order to fight the hunger, was sowed with wheat. Alberto, who lives near the Darsena, thought that it would have been wonderful to have something similar in that abandoned area. Once he came back to Milan, he decided to involve also the architect Alessandra Mauri and Barbara Fenati, with the intention of bringing light on what was happening in the Darsena. “We have here an enormous historical and natural collective good which is going to the dogs! What we can do to stop this vicious process?”. Alberto and his companions asked a piece of advise to the group of the Milanese guerrilleros, headed by Michele and Alberto. Therefore, in March 2009 the first intervention in the Darsena was made. It was something “little”, but able to bring the attention to that area. “The place is rotten, full of garbage and syringes of junkies…it’s true! So the only thing we can do is cleaning by ourselves, and literally dirt our hands and give this place a new life!” Alberto said. The interventions were minimal in order to exalt the spontaneous vegetation of the area, which is really valuable: epilobium, willows, typha angustifolia, carex, poplar, calamintha nepeta, bidens, bluddeja, and many other species are all present in what has been called the “Amazonia Ambrosiana”. The group of guerrilleros, composed by citizens, members of the Salviamo i Navigli (ndr Save the Navigli) group and volunteers from Legambiente and the Navigli Committee (about 20 people) cleaned all the area and, collecting all the piece of materials throw here and there, built several thanks which then they filled by ground and seeds. The goal was to give the Darsena a new and a better image and also some hope. The interventions of guerrilla gardening have been isolated also because the municipality provided to eradicate many plants and most of all those spontaneous, which probably were though to be weed instead of valuable cultures. Also for this reason the small group, composed by Alberto, Alessandra and Barbara, supported by other citizens, wrote and proposed to the municipality a real project for the Darsena renovation. The project proposes to create a temporary garden in the area, mainly characterized by the spontaneous vegetation and the archeological rests, where to build some passages, like it happens during the Salone del Mobile and give the opportunity to citizens and tourists to appreciate this new role of the Darsena. The municipality has already said that there is no money to invest in it; therefore Alberto, Alessandra and Barbara are investing their time, are trying to collect some funding, in case the project was accepted. At the question “Why a ‘temporary’ garden and not a permanent one” Alberto answered that this is a necessary choice because of a structural problem of Italy, where it seems to be impossible to have project with wider and longer battlefield-darsena_4perspectives. Yes, this is a real “Made in Italy” story, in the worst sense. Indeed, also among this group of citizens, volunteer and experts, who are strictly opposed to the idea of the municipality to build a parking area or to the new project which is very much focused on the commercial and leisure devotion to the Darsena sight, there are opposite factions. Another good proposal come from the Comitato Navigli which have a different opinions about the image of the Darsena. The members of the committee are more oriented to the tradition. They ask to the municipality to break the dam and restore the water flow and the banks. As Gabriella Valassina, representing the committee, said, they have already proposed this project, with the support of Legambiente, Fai, Italia Nostra, to the councils’ zone (ndr consigli di zona), regional and municipal superintendence, local authorities, but they did not receive any answers. The risk, according to Gabriella Valassina, is to have a requalification of the Darsena, which had merely entertainment and commercial purposes, instead of, as the committee would like to, cultural and historical ones. The committee would like to recall there the original artistic and manufacturing activities, which characterized the area in the past and also recuperate the navigability of the Darsena connecting it with the other two Navigli (Grande and Pavese).

What will be the future of the Darsena? Who will win the “fight”?

Hard to be optimistic when in a facebook group called “Milan wants its Darsena back!” the administrator, the architect Luigi Caprella, alerts that in the Piano dei Servizi (Services Plan) at the table number S.02/A3 the Darsena is still defined as a parking area. Hard to be optimistic when the municipality is very much aligned with the merchants, who in Milan have much political power. Hard to be optimistic when on this battlefield even those, who would have to play the same game, seems to fight each others


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s