The Navigli system – artificial and navigable canals in Milan – reminds us that the city’s history is closely linked to water, even if it is not a city of sea, river or lake.
The Navigli area has a long history and was one of the city’s most important commercial points, with a capillary network of canals built between the 12th and 16th centuries both to supply the city with water and to transport goods and people. The two canals that give the area its name are the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese, connected by the Darsena, an artificial basin that was once the ancient merchant port of Milan.
Today, the Navigli are an attraction for their romantic, old-world atmosphere: the Naviglio Grande, with its narrow streets lined with pubs, restaurants, shops, historic buildings, museums and beautiful secret courtyards, is the livelier of the two Navigli.
The Darsena, the junction between the Naviglio Pavese and the Naviglio Grande, is a reference point for Milanese nightlife; the perfect place for a stroll, enlivened by street artists and musicians, or for an aperitif or dinner with a panoramic view. On the occasion of its reopening during Expo 2015, the historic Darsena municipal market was also restored and has become a must for food lovers and tourists alike.

A  history linked to Leonardo da Vinci
Ludovico Il Moro, Duke of Milan, entrusted the project of building waterways in Milan to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. However, it was not until 1805, under Napoleon, that the construction of the Navigli was completed. The waterways connected Milan to Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and the lower part of Switzerland.
In the second half of the 19th century, following the development of other viable methods of transport, Milan’s canal system fell into disuse. Today, the remains of what was once a state-of-the-art navigable system are scattered around the city. The only canals still visible are the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese (which make up the Navigli district), the Naviglio Martesana located north-east of the city and a small stretch of canal in the Brera district.
A visit to the Museo dei Navigli allows a journey into the past: descending the steps leading to an area below street level, one can admire the structure of the old house that now houses the museum. The highlights are a labyrinth of rooms, walls, red brick arches and beautifully preserved medieval ceilings. In addition to numerous views of the Navigli, painted by important Milanese artists, one can also see several sketches of the lock system designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Shopping and tasting in the Navigli area
Trendy Milanese, who could never mingle in big crowds, shop in the Ticinese area and surrounding neighbourhoods. Here, amongst the columns of San Lorenzo and the Navigli, you’ll find numerous trendy boutiques, niche labels and small vintage shops where it’s still possible to bag a bargain and find showrooms that sell to the public. Together with Brera, the Navigli is one of the most picturesque districts in old Milan.
The Navigli and the Darsena are two favourites among the locals, who love to enjoy the traditional aperitivo here, but are also a must-visit for visitors who will find themselves seduced by the artistic atmosphere of its numerous painters’ studios.

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