14 April Apr 2016 1648 2 years ago

The Navigli and the Artifizio delle Conche

From the Fabbrica's Annals

On occasion of the inauguration of the restoration of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano's archives, which will be celebrated this coming May 26th, the Annals of the Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano will be made available in digital format on the website: a gift to all the citizens and academics who would like to retrace the history of Milan's people over the centuries through the voices of those involved in the ongoing construction project that is the Duomo di Milano.

The Annals  tell the story of the Duomo's construction; for example, regarding the devices and artifices designed for the irrigation of Milan in 1387: “il canale naviglio” (shipping canal). This was used by “our fathers, once the city had  resurrected itself from the ruins of the Barbarossa, to transport pieces of marble, which, mined in Candoglia at the extreme north of Lake Maggiore, had to reach the Duomo." 

For this purpose the Varco di Viarenna was opened and a canal was dug which, skirting around doors and bridges, flowed into a small lake in Brolio where the Ospedale Maggiore was later erected. Here they unloaded the marble which was easly transported to the Camposanto, where it was then used.

To introduce water to the canal they came up with the “artifizio delle Conche”, on which even Leonardo da Vinci worked, arranging the angled doors. This practice made it possible, at a later date, for the canal to go around the entire city and connect  the water from Lake Como and from the Adda with that of Lake Maggiore and the Ticino.

Oddities from the Annals  
There are various accounts describing the transport of marble on the Navigli. The agreement and conditions for the delivery of marble to Milan dated November 4, 1387 reads as follows: “To the Reverend father, Archbishop of Milan, it is requested that the pieces of marble be mined and delivered to the banks of the Naviglio in the following forms (…)”; on the 9th of July of the same year are listed the prices of the  “Fabbrica's materials” , and various documents explain and modify the rules regarding public waters and the distribution of expenses: “The vicar and the 12th provision together with the city auditors, to Beltramo de’ Bollate and Lanzarino Caimi managers of the store Signore Nostro, and to the deputies of the Fabbrica, all unanimously in agreement, (...) establish quod expensae quae fieri expediunt ad bucham Ticinelli Mediolani.” (17 February 1392); “These expenses will be covered one third by the Fabbrica, one third by the chamber of properties of the Principe Signor nostr, and one third by the city of Milan”.
At times certain controversies ignited regarding repairs and maintenance of the Naviglio: “That tomorrow the undersigned go together on a boat on the Naviglio all the way to the mouth of the Ticino, for the purpose of determining the defects of the mouths and closures, and all other damages to the same Naviglio” (1 May 1392); “The deputies, for the benefit not only of the Fabbrica but also of the entire city of Milan, have undertaken the task of repairing and maintaining the waterway of the Naviglio of Milan, as seen in the document issued by the notary of Milan, Antonio Vimori di Carate” (6 May 1408).  

An interesting testament to the historical-social time period is the language used in administrative documents, a medieval Latin alternating with an archaic form of Italian from the 14th and 15th centuries.

From the Toce to Santo Stefano 
Some traces of articles and notes have been preserved along the marble route all the way to the small lake in Santo Stefano, for example on 9 March 1395 a resolution was stipulated “with Antonio da Crema and Pietrolo de’ Poli” for “the manual transport of 1500 slabs of marble from the Toce River all the way to the Santo Stefano lake, for the first of August, with the usual compensation." In the notes it is specified that: “The small lake between the hospital and Santo Stefano, recently filled in, was dug specifically for the purpose of bringing the marble for the Duomo all the way to that point.”  Furthermore a canal was dug all the way to the Vettabia with an artifizio di conche managing the water supply necessary for the transport ships. From there the pieces of marble “were then carted all the way to the Fabbrica”. A description of the transport details is dated 26 September “Initially, from 1179, the Naviglio named Tesinello led only from the Ticino to Abbiategrasso; in 1257 it was extended all the way to Gaggiano, and made to accommodate ships not just for irrigation.” Here it flowed into the Vetabbia canal and, through a "conca" (basin), the water was made to flow into the trench, in which the ships could transport the “stones”  for the Fabbrica del Duomo all the way to the Santo Stefano lake, the opening of which was paid for by the Fabbrica and which was the closest and most functional point. That lake was filled in in 1857. “With the use of a crane the large pieces of marble were removed from the ships and placed on carts."  

Ludovico il Moro's donation of the Conca di Viarenna to the Fabbrica, 1497 
To commemorate this donation on “Datum Mediolani, dei ultimo augusti 1497 ” signed by  “Sign. Ludovicus Maria” a monument was erected at the Conca with the initials “LV. MA. BE. EST SF. Mediolani Duces” and the Fabbrica's coat of arms , in which “an old project of the Como cathedral” was recognized.
Speaking of the Conca, the Annals mention a small lake formed by the waters of the Naviglio Grande, known as the Gazzano, which once existed near the Church of Sant’Eustorgio.
Gian Galeazzo Visconti however, extending the Naviglio Grande of the Ticino and creating a basin to facilitate the transport of the marble into the city from Gandolia  to the Duomo, created another naviglio, known as the Viarenna, closer to the city. A Chiaravallese document dated 27 April 1439 communicates this piece of news and mentions the new naviglio, planned for use by the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano. In the same year Duke Filippo Maria ordered the closing of the portion of the naviglio around the first external lake, subsequently called old, all the way to the new one located within the city, ordained by Duke Gian Galeazzo, his father, in 1388 to transport the stones to the Fabbrica del Duomo. The same document also reported that Filippo Maria ordered the opening of another canal which he called Viarenna , extending the navigation of the entire canal that surrounded the city, through the use of the Conche, the invention of which would be credited to Filippo degli Organi, of Modena, and Fioravante, of Bologna, both Grand-ducal engineers..

How did the ships travel from the old to the new lake for 51 years without that Conca despite a difference in elevation of almost five arms between the two?

Discover this and much more right here on May 26th, the date of the inauguration of the restoration of the archives, a true treasure chest and diary of Milan.