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Hidden City

The Secret Garden

The Martesana canal transformed into a flowered garden

Saturday morning the city, sleepy and more quiet than usual, allows us – walking around in the calmer streets – to keep our heads in the clouds, to walk distractedly and rest our elbows on a little bridge… and then looking underneath discover that, where there was once water, now there is a rich and well manicured secret garden.It’s so beautiful that you’d think it’s accessible to a select few.

The temptation is too strong, we want to know more, we want to enter and enjoy this reserved corner. We scan with our eyes to find the entrance and in front of us is a stairway with an open gate. Before we can blink our eyes we are under an umbrella of petals and surrounded by happy dancing bees and butterflies. The fenced bushes protect flowers and plants of various colors.

A tiny path beside the greenery guides along what used to be the basin of the Martesana canal, now transformed into a flowered garden. The basin still has the big double doors in wood, falling apart by now, but identical to the ones drawn by Leonardo in the Atlantic Codex, preserved in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Brera.

Leonardo was extremely fascinated by water and began studying the canals immediately after his arrival in Milan. Along with Giuliano Guasconi, hydraulic engineer at the court of Ludwig the Moor, he elaborated a system of basins that was supposed to solve the problem of the uneven level between the Naviglio Grande (lower) and the Naviglio Martesana (higher). That genius of Leonardo devised an improvement system for the closure mechanisms with the insertion of an inferior door which guaranteed a gradual opening from the water pressure, allowing a better control of water pressure. The autographed design is in the Atlantic Codex, dating to 1506 – 1513.

We pass a careful eye over the Ponte delle Gabelle (Bridge of the Gabelle) – named after the fact that the boatmen paid a tollhouse – and we exchange looks with the little ones that now live in the basin. It’s time to retrace our steps. In the end we discover that the recreational center for the elderly is just around the corner. How can you help thinking that someone very wise designed something so beautiful?

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