Everyone is familiar with the Navigli, Milan’s two main waterways, 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, in North Milan, to connect to the ring of canals that surrounded the city, known as the Cerchia dei Navigli.
Back in the Middle Ages, this network of canals (navigli) both protected the city and made navigation possible. It was here that merchants had to pay a fee when entering Milan – hence “gabella” (duty). Even if Da Vinci was only one of the engineers to study and improve the system of the Conca, that was built in 1496, the Milanese call this spot “Le chiuse di Leonardo”, Leonardo’s sluices.
In the 1930s, this portion of the Naviglio Martesana, as well as other canals in the “Cerchia” system, were buried underground due to new urban planning; today, the Conca dell’Incoronata is the remains of what once was the path of the Naviglio Martesana towards the city centre: so no water, but yes beauty! The stone bridge and the surrounding area were restored in early 2020, so you can easily walk or bike under the tunnel that connects Via San Marco to the Porta Nuova area.
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…