19 September Sep 2017 1206 one year ago

A historic district of Milan recounted on paper

A curious document of 1720 from the Archives of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo

The Carrobbio (in Milanese el Caróbi), also known as Corrivio, a term which is obsolete today, is an area in Milan with origins that go back to Roman times. It is located more or less at the meeting of via Torino, via San Vito, via Cesare Correnti and via del Torchio in the central area of the city. 

Carròbbio [Lombard term, literally Caróbi: from the Vulgar Latin quadrŭvium, class. Quadrivium: meeting of four streets, carruggio] It refers to a crossroads of streets, a spacious area where various streets meet. In Milan and in other places in  Lombardy it was often a meeting place for merchants, carters, shopkeepers and a marketplace, hence the figurative meaning of confusion and bustle in the Lombard expression: “Non fare il carrobbio!”, addressed to someone who is disturbing other people’s quiet or rest.

The area today called Carrobbio was referred to as Quadrivium Portae Ticinensis; other carrobbi included Quadrivium Portae Novae, also referred to by Manzoni:

«Renzo became disheartened as he passed through one of the most dismal and desolate parts: the crossroads called the carrobio di Porta Nuova»

(Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, chap. XXXIV)

Over time the name came to be used in the city of Milan only for the Quadrivium Portae Ticinensis. The origin of the area goes back to the time of the Roman Republic: this was the location of the ancient Porta Ticinensis (Porta Ticinese – Ticino Gate) of the Roman walls and there was even a bridge that crossed the Nirone, a stream that no longer exists today; this was the starting point of the road that connected Mediolanum with the Ticino and with Pavia. With the subsequent erection of the new walls, the gate was demolished together with the walls, except for a tower called "Torraccia" or "Torre dei Malsani", which can still be seen in the courtyard of one of the palazzi in the area. Massimo Fabi, a writer around the year 1860 recalls: «Before the destruction by Barbarossa, the old walls were located here; some remains can be seen in the cellar of the antica osteria dei Tre Scagni». [an old inn]

During the period of the Counter-Reformation, more precisely in 1577, the cross of St. Maternus was erected in this open space, part of the work  ordered by St. Charles Borromeo during the plague in order to create altars scattered around the city where mass could be celebrated and seen by the sick from the windows of their houses, so as to avoid large gatherings of people which would have further spread the disease.  In 1658 a column was added surmounted by two angels bearing a cross and the dedication was extended to St. Charles.  In 1786 it was removed to facilitate the circulation of traffic.  Meanwhile, the tower became a hospital for leprosy and then tuberculosis, after which it was closed and became a house. Other dwellings grew up around, ultimately creating an alleyway  (probably the ancient  Contrada S. Materno that followed the outline of the ancient Roman walls), which in the end hid the ancient complex. In addition to the chance discovery of the final stretch of Via Torino and its connection to the Carrobbio following modernization work after the unification of Italy,  the biggest surprises were revealed, ironically, with the bombings of 1943. The traces of the ancient gate and the remains of the two-arched bridge opposite reappeared, with ashlar blocks at the base and a brick structure, which crossed the canalization of the Nirone (during the Roman period, an ancient ditch around the walls).

None of this survived the war, in fact today the only original part left is the name: Carrobbio and the extraordinary thousand-year-old tower of the ancient Roman walls.

According to the ancient document from the Archives of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo going back to 1720, the urban  layout of the  district and the names of the streets  have remained practically the same: contrada del Torchio, contrada della Stampa, contrada de Medici and contrada San Sisto, in addition, the site of the “Carrobbio Cross” can be identified, opposite the shops owned by Mr. Pietro Maria Mosca; and the palace where Gian Giacomo Medici, known as  il Meneghino, lived.

The documents and images kept in the Duomo Archives represent a real diary  of the city, in many forms but comprising all aspects of the social, political and cultural life of Milan from  1100: economy, history, finance, music, architecture, archaeology and topography. An infinite resource, just like the Cathedral that generated it.