Everyone knows Milan’s 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 from the North to connect to the ring of canals, known as the Cerchia dei Navigli, that surrounded the city.
Back in the Middle Ages, this network of canals (navigli) both guaranteed safety to the city and made navigation possible. The water basin of Conca dell’Incoronata was built in 1496: it was 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 to study and improve 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 urban planning; nowadays, the Conca dell’Incoronata is the remains of what once was the path of the Naviglio Martesana towards the city centre.
The stone bridge and the surrounding area were restored in early 2020, and you can easily walk or bike under the tunnel that connects Via San Marco to the Porta Nuova area (Via Melchiorre Gioia). Whenever I’m around here I picture 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…