Disrepair, decay tests Milan's "drawing room"

Wed Oct 22, 2008 9:17am EDT
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By Barbara Cornell

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Milan's historic shopping arcade, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, has been described as a flower in the buttonhole of Milan, but lately its thorns are showing as it falls into disrepair.

Inaugurated in 1878, the vaulted confection of masonry, iron and glass that provides a pedestrian thoroughfare from the Duomo cathedral to La Scala opera house has long been a source of pride to the Milanese, who refer to it as their "drawing room."

Prada opened there in 1913. Gaspare Campari mixed liqueurs in his shop. Charlie Chaplin and Maria Callas have dined at its restaurants. Street performers, rock-throwing protesters and the poor receiving Christmas packages have all flocked there.

But now luxury shops like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada line a pocked mosaic floor whose dazzling motifs are marred by cracks, missing tiles and black splotches.

Some of the rooms surrounding the main thoroughfare are padlocked or abandoned, with decaying walls and gaping holes. In September, blocked sewers turned a downpour into a flood.

"This place is falling apart. It's more than falling apart," said Maria Teresa Baldi, who has worked for 13 years at the National Association of War Volunteers, which has an office in the 19th century complex.

"Have you seen the walls?" she asked, sweeping a hand toward a wall-length crack poorly concealed by a suspended green helmet and war photographs.

"In my opinion, it's shameful."   Continued...