Stranded at Milano Centrale

I’ve always taken pride in this grandest stations of all. For me, it represents the power of the railways, the celebration of the age of speed made possible by iron rails, a concept that first appeared with the Industrial Revolution and returned in recent decades with the advent of high-speed trains.

Today, while trapped in this station because of a train strike, I firstly looked up and saw the glass panes of the great awning covering the rails shine in the sun with the colours of the national flag. Their rusty red hue at the top, which I’d always put down to pollution, matched the green marquises over the lateral openings, as well as the white panes in between. It was like spotting a rainbow after a storm.

Earlier, I had a bad opinion of this awning for looking paltry and dirty. But, little by little, I have come to realise that it is a real work of art in this masterpiece station. Its shape and dimensions are a wonder in its own right.

My eyes fell on a titbit: some of the pillars bear an inscription in period lettering “Soc. Naz. Off. Savigliano costruì Anno IX EF” (Built by the Savigliano Workshops National Company in the 9th year of the Fascist era). This factory, which also built the Paderno bridge, has been a protagonist of Italian railway history for 150 years.

Recently, Milan Central station has undergone a massive refurbishment that, if aiming at bringing out sellable commercial space, it has also allowed to update the functionality of the building and restore its decoration. It has not been a conservative renovation. The architects were asked to recover unused spaces and devise ways to force the travellers’ flow through them to make them appealing. Not all can be said to be perfectly functional to the primary purpose of the building and some of the original logic has been betrayed in pursuit of commercial goals. However, if one merit can be given to this vast operation it is that now Milano Centrale shines again of its own light.

Since 1931, when it was inaugurated, the sheer bulk of the station has been an imposing sight and a landmark of the city. Its eclectic style was jokingly dubbed Assyro-Milanese, but it drew many admirers. Seen from the adjoining square the edifice looks colossal, and once inside, you are literally dwarfed by the vast interior spaces that are, in a word, stunning. With the removal of the sprawling additions that had encumbered its beautiful halls, now your gaze is free to wander over the stone reliefs, the mosaics, the painted tiles, the Futurist designs. It is tantamount to an art gallery in a monumental edifice.

I am not sure whether my enthusiasm for this station is shared by others. After all, I am a fan of railways architecture and I consider this a national monument. Nevertheless, I have recently taken a foreign friend here while on a visit to Milan. For all introduction, I did not unbalance myself by praising its architecture, but limited myself to saying the station would be interesting to see. When I heard my friend rave about it, I felt secretly flattered.

My journey back to Bergamo, today, was not the most relaxing with all the local trains cancelled. But at least, I spent time at leisure in my favourite station and that was enough to repay me for the inconvenience.