Everyone visiting Milan is familiar with the Navigli, but I bet only a few people know about the Conca dell’Incoronata, otherwise known as Conca delle Gabelle. I’m talking about an ancient water basin that allowed the waters of the Naviglio Martesana and the Cerchia dei Navigli (a ring of canals that surrounded the city) to communicate, and one of the most unique corners in Milan altogether.
Back in the Middle Ages, Milan was surrounded by a network of canals (navigli) that both guaranteed safety for the city and made navigation possible. The water basin of Conca dell’Incoronata was built in 1496 and it was right here that merchants had to pay a fee when entering Milan – hence “gabella” (duty). Despite the fact that Da Vinci was only one among the engineers that studied and improved the system of the Conca, the Milanese informally call this spot “Le chiuse di Leonardo”, Leonardo’s sluices.
Around 1930, this portion of the Naviglio Martesana, as well as other canals in the “Cerchia” system, were buried underground due to a new city plan; nowadays, the Conca dell’Incoronata is the remains of what once was the path of the Martesana within the city centre.
Whenever I bike or walk around Via San Marco, I use my imagination to contemplate how beautiful Milan must have been during the Renaissance and fantasize about the underground canals being re-opened, something that every now and then even the City administration considers doing.