If you mainly associate Leonardo Da Vinci to his world-famous artworks, The Mona Lisa and The last Supper, flying machines and anatomical studies, then here’s one more engineered marvel to appreciate; Milan’s Navigli District.
Walk the length of the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, take photos from bridges and hop on a relaxing mini-cruise to truly explore and understand the waterways.
What’s the Navigli?
The Navigli District centres around water canals designed and engineered by Leonardo Da Vinci. It consisted of five canals: Naviglio Grande – the main canal currently lined by the bustling streets, Alzaia Naviglio Grande and Ripa Di Porta Ticinese; Naviglio Pavese which extends to the town of Pavia, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno and Naviglio di Bereguardo, however around 1960, the canals had degraded so badly that commercial carrying came to a halt and the canals were mainly used for irrigation. Recently, only the Grand Canal and Naviglio Pavese were restored for navigation.
What’s the Navigli like now?
This area of Milan has become a popular hangout drawing young and old alike with eccentric cafes, bars and quaint restaurants which intermingle with churches, clothing boutiques, gelaterie and painters’ small galleries. Join the locals here for the Sunday market when countless stalls lend additional charm. You’ll find everything from antique furniture, leather goods, vintage clothing and bags to model cars, toys and jewellery.
During the winter months, the canals may be drained leaving behind litter and debris which is then cleaned out in preparation for the summer time when the water from Lake Maggiore, which feeds into the Ticino River , will fill it up once more.
Why and how did Leonardo Da Vinci engineer the Navigli?
During the mid 1400’s, Leonardo Da Vinci was tasked by the Duke, Ludovico Sforza, with furthering the design of the Navigli – derived from ‘Navigum’ meaning “fleet” in Latin – because the waterways were needed to transport heavy marble from Lake Maggiore to the centre of Milan for the construction of the majestic Duomo. He also invented a lock system which allowed one person to change water levels for easier navigation of boats over changes in height, by simply lifting a valve.
Why do a cruise through the canals?
The newest offer from CitySightseeing Milano, the “Navigli di Leonardo Canal Cruise” lets you make sense of the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese with a 55 minute trip – not from the sidewalk, but from on-board an eco-friendly hybrid boat.
Pre-recorded audio guides provide complete explanations in English and Italian as the boat passes Milan’s typical “case di ringhiera” – small flats with shared balconies which sprouted during the industrial developments of the early 1900’s.
The skipper will warn you to keep your arms within the boats perimeters while the vessel makes a U-turn towards the Navigilio Pavese. Ducklings will inspire a collective “awwww…” before reaching the pound lock where the water level is controlled. The boat will then back-track to the departure point.
More information about the mini-cruise:
Departs every day from Alzaia Naviglio Grande 4
Adults tickets cost €15 at the departure point
Buy a Milan Pass which includes a cruise voucher