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Exploring Milano Portello District

Exploring Milano Portello District

In this article, Robert continues his exploration of some of Milan’s newest iconic architecture and reveals the links between the city’s industrial past and its present as a vibrant business, financial and cultural centre at the heart of Europe.

Just to the north-west of Milan’s CityLife area lies the Portello district, home to Casa Milan (the headquarters of AC Milan) and the Alfa Romeo Park. Formerly the site of heavy industry, Portello has been transformed in recent years into a smart commercial and residential area that creates an interesting extension to CityLife, the city’s former trade fair grounds. In fact, Portello is just one metro stop from CityLife’s station “Tre Torre” (Three Towers) on the driverless M5 line, known as the “lilla” (lilac) or purple line. The two sites are further linked by the MiCo Conference Centre with its futuristic crumpled silver roof at the CityLife end.  

Alfa Romeo Industrial Park

Portello was the location of Alfa Romeo’s main factory from 1908 to the 1960s, although it closed in 1986 after FIAT’s takeover of the Milan car company whose logo features the Biscione (a huge snake swallowing a little man, the historic symbol of the Visconti family). Initially, French automotive company Darracq had established the plant situated on Via Gattamelata, chosen for its proximity to Milan’s 1906 International Fair. The area became a hub for automotive giants such as Isotta Fraschini, Citroën, FIAT and others due to its strategic location. Eventually, Alfa Romeo moved its production further north to the Milanese town of Arese, which in turn saw carmaking disappear to other locations and is now the location of one of the largest shopping centres in Europe.

The site of the Alfa Romeo plant now boasts a park (designed by Charles Jencks) with some very unusual features which are well worth exploring: the most eye-catching of these is a round man-made hill with a pathway spiralling round its side up to a statue representing the DNA helix. The hill is known as “The Spiral of Time” and forms part of a “Time Garden”, divided into three areas dedicated to prehistory, the historical past and the present. (By the way, there’s another – larger – artificial hill in the nearby QT8 district: Monte Stella, made using the rubble of buildings destroyed during World War Two.) There is also a lake with a grassed walkway that allows you to cross the water. But without a doubt, the most surprising thing about the Alfa Romeo park is the “longest bench in the world”: a continuous park bench 208 metres long constructed by Pacchiarini, a company based in Bergamo.

Portello Park / Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Casa Milan – AC Milan Headquarters

Leaving the park and crossing Viale Renato Serra by means of the iconic arched footbridge and cycleway, you can easily reach Piazza Gino Valle, Italy’s largest piazza and named after a 20th century architect best known for his desk clocks. The piazza is dominated by three wedge-shaped buildings: the most significant of these is Casa Milan, the HQ of Italian football club AC Milan. (The other two are occupied by Vittoria Assicurazioni “Victory Insurance”) and South Korean conglomerate LG Electronics.)

Since 2014, Casa Milan has been the club’s HQ, combining its administrative offices with visitor attractions, a restaurant, bar and merchandising store. (The club’s previous base was in Via Turati.) Designed by Fabio Novembre, the new building’s facade sports the club’s colours in concentric rings of red and black (providing the team’s nickname – i rossoneri). There are also silhouettes of footballers running up the steeply sloping roof. 

Football fans will definitely appreciate the interactive Museum, complete with touchscreens and exhibits telling the club’s story and covering an area of 1000 sq m. You can also visit the trophy room where the team’s cups and awards are proudly displayed. The San Siro stadium, which AC Milan shares with its arch rivals Inter Milan, is quite close and can also be reached on the M5 metro line.

Behind Casa Milan you can find the Herbert Kilpin Roundabout, a name that probably won’t mean much to you. In fact, Herbert Kilpin may well be the single most influential Englishman who has ever come to Milan. He was the ninth child of a Nottingham butcher who moved to Italy at the end of the 19th century and worked in the textile industry. He founded the Milan Foot-ball and Cricket Club in 1899 (and enjoyed a swig of whisky before and after matches). He also chose the team’s colours, stating that “We will be a team of devils. Our colors will be red like fire and black like the fear we will invoke in our opponents”.

Casa Milan / Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Article by Robert Dennis for Easy Milano

Robert Dennis is a writer and Business English teacher based in Milan. He has been teaching for other 30 years both in the UK and in Italy. A long-time collaborator with John Peter Sloan, Robert published Business English (Gribaudo) in 2020. The book was launched with “Il Sole 24 Ore” and sold in newsstands throughout Italy. Robert has a website for people who want to learn Business English: PayAsYouLearn.com. The site features keywords and phrases, audio and exercises to help professionals improve their language skills. A graduate in English from Oxford University, Robert is a regular contributor to Easy Milano who often writes about plays staged in English in Milan and other cultural events in the city. He is also a translator and “buongustaio” who loves Italian food! robertdennis.it

Featured Image by Francesco Zivoli

Easy Milano

Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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