You’ve got two chances to experience something amazing in Milano. If you are in town on Jan. 16th or 23rd, make sure you visit the Albergo Diurno in Porta Venezia.
Being built between 1923 and 1925, the Albergo Diurno Metropolitano opened exactly 90 years ago underneath piazza Oberdan as deluxe public baths. Troiani, Cavacini and Masini signed the project, while the interiors were conceived by Piero Portaluppi, one of the most significant architects in Milano, at the beginning of the XX century. Forget about the uneasiness you may feel in public baths today. Visiting the Albergo Diurno is a great exercise for your imagination.
Think about a chic place where anyone could go to take a bath, have a hair-do, a manicure or a pedicure. A place elegantly furnished, open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., with different rates, so that everybody could afford it. About 1.200 square metres to take good care of oneself and have a clean-up after long jouneys on smoky trains (the Centrale station by that time was in Piazza Repubblica), while other facilities, like a bank and a post office, were under the same roof to give customers the best possible service.
The Albergo Diurno has been neglected for a long time, so now you won’t see it as it used to be. In 1985 the baths were officially closed, while shopkeepers and artisans closed their shops between mid ’90s and 2006, when the last one, a barber, was forced to leave. Most of the furniture went with them (they probably felt they owned it), so the grand lounge is quite empty. But to me, this is even better for my mind games.
I don’t know how many times I passed by the entrance, while going in and out of the Metro station, and never realized the hidden treasure behind that door. I passed by the entrance while rushing in and out of the Metro station and never realized the hidden treasure behind that door. I managed to visit this wonderful place thanks to FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano), a non-profit organization promoting respect for Italy’s natural heritage, for its art, history and traditions. In July 2015, FAI launched a fund raising initiative in order to restore the Albergo Diurno and bring it back to life. The idea was to show it and ask visitors for suggestions about a new possible use, which should be both compatible with the authoriy requirements to preserve it and the desire to open it to the public again. I’m afraid I didn’t have a solution at hand. However, I daydreamed a lot.
As you get in, a strong damp smell stings your nose. You eventually get used to it, so try to focus on the atmosphere. Think about men and women hanging around while waiting for their turn, maybe chatting or reading the paper. By that time, most of the flats in the neighbourhood didn’t have private bathrooms, so it was quite normal to go there. Everything was nice and clean, there was some kind of equality, as everybody could go to the same place. They could actually choose between different fees and treatments, but they all meet there: can you think of anything like that in our super technological XXI century world?
There was a kind of equality, as everybody could go to the same place
We have spas and beauty parlours for the rich, and public facilities for the poor. That’s it. I’m not complaining about having my own bathroom at home. Life improved so much since then and I’m quite grateful for that, only I miss the idea of beauty (not wellness) affordable to everybody. We all need to be surrounded by beauty, regardless of our bank accounts.