The Naviglio della Martesana starts from the river Adda, in Concesa, near Trezzo, and after a course of thirty-eight kilometers – flanking the Via Gallica that once connected Vaprio and Cassano – ends its race in Milan, in front of the Cassina de’ Pomm, then continuing for a few kilometers still below the road surface. The territories affected by its course are included in the Ecomuseo della Martesana, a “widespread museum” that, instead of exhibiting works of art and memorabilia, includes within it an entire territory to be safeguarded and valued with all its resources and natural and environmental, artistic, historical and cultural attractions. Along its course laps many centers, including Vaprio and Gropello d’Adda and, finally, Gorgonzola – home of the famous cheese – before entering the territory of Milan, and is bordered by a cycle road that leads to Milan.
In 1443 it was Filippo Maria Visconti who approved the project that would later lead to the construction of the canal, but it was Francesco Sforza, in 1447 to issue the edict that officially marked the beginning of the design and construction of the canal. Under the lordship of Galeazzo Maria Sforza the first stretch became navigable, while the work was completed in 1496, during the duchy of Ludovico il Moro. The waterway, in fact, was designed to irrigate the fields of the north-eastern area of the Lombard capital, but also to strengthen the water transport system that had as its center the city of Milan. During the 1700s, Martesana became particularly busy, and in the following century saw the birth of the so-called barchett de vaver, bus-boats that were immortalized in the film The Tree of the Hooves by Ermanno Olmi.
The Martesana, as we have seen, along its course touches several places that retain a considerable historical, artistic and cultural interest. Starting from Trezzo sull’Adda, where there is the Visconti Castle of Trezzo, which according to tradition was built on the remains of the Rocca of the Lombard queen Teodolinda. Contested by the Emperor Federico Barbarossa and Milan, and later by the Visconti and the Torriani family, the castle today consists of the remains of the fortress built by Bernabò Visconti in 1370, where he was later imprisoned and killed in 1385 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The guided tour allows you to discover the well of the ‘400, the underground with the former prisons, and the square tower. The museum, housed in the Park, exhibits the findings and reproductions of gold objects from the Longobard necropolis of Trezzo, brought to light between the ’70s and ’90s. In the hamlet of Concesa, where the Naviglio Martesana is born, stands the sanctuary of the Divine Maternity, built between 1635 and 1647 – under the fortress of Concesa, the rocky spur that dominates the valley of the Adda – by Francesco Richini and Carlo Buzzi, and frescoed by Gian Stefano Manetta. The complex, consisting of the Baroque sanctuary and a small convent that includes six cloisters, was the destination of pilgrimages reserved for the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Concesa, and the water that gushed at the parish bell tower, the Water of the Madonna, beneficial.
Cassano d’Adda, however, preserves the church of Santa Maria Immacolata and San Zeno, with the bell tower built by Beatrice Regina della Scala at the end of the fourteenth century, declared a national monument, and the beautiful Villa d’Adda Borromeo, designed in the eighteenth century by the great architect Piermarini, 142 rooms and embellished by an extraordinary Italian garden. Without forgetting the Castle of Cassano, built to ensure control over the river Adda, becoming over the centuries a mighty fortress overlooking a bend of the river. Inside, you can see today two thousand five hundred square meters of decorations and frescoes.
Vaprio d’Adda, halfway between Bergamo and Milan, is a destination of absolute interest first of all to be deeply linked to the presence and legacy of Leonardo da Vinci, who stayed here at different times. The building of major historical and artistic interest is the Romanesque church of San Colombano, near the Villa Castelbarco, built in the twelfth century on the ruins of a previous temple erected by San Colombano, the Irish monk who passed through the Lombard lands in 612. In the presbytery, you can see a sculpture in which the theme of man appears among the fairs, and – on a capital of the right pillar – a bearded character, with long hair and double tail, probably representing a male mermaid. Villa Melzi, on the other hand, is the residence overlooking the Adda River where Leonardo Da Vinci stayed during the period in which he devoted himself to studies on water canalization, outlining some technical drawings now kept at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Always linked to the great Tuscan artist and inventor are also to be seen the monumental wash-house called by Leonardo Da Vinci, which is located near the Villa dei Visconti di Modrone, built in the thirteenth century on his project, and the House of the Custos of the Waters, which served as a stopover station for travellers crossing the Adda on board the ferry or using the barges that operated on the Martesana. The House was also the seat of duty and residence of the “camparo”, whose task was to regulate the flow of water. Of great interest is also Villa Castelbarco, built on a settlement of the monks of San Colombano, particularly interesting for its sundial “at French hours” and for a hypogeum consisting of themed rooms, with walls, floors and ceilings decorated with mosaic.
La Martesana, entering the territory of Milan, skirts the Via Idro and bends near the town of Tre Case, in the village of Crescenzago, where still stands the historic Trattoria Novelli, which boasts a history of over 100 years, and who saw among his frequenters such people as Adriano Celentano, Enzo Jannacci and Renato Pozzetto. Here, bathes the so-called Riviera di Crescenzago, overlooked by numerous villas and summer residences, a reminder of when the area was one of the most popular holiday destinations, between ‘700 and ‘800. Continuing, it comes close to the so-called “Bagnin de Gorla”, the place where the first public outdoor swimming pool of Milan was built, and then crosses the village of Gorla, once called “Little Paris” for the presence of elegant villas of noble delights, boulevard, restaurants, places dedicated to shows and entertainment of the citizens of Milan. After flanking the Via Tofane, the Martesana reaches the height of the ancient Cassina de’ Pomm, built and developed in the fifteenth century by the will of Francesco Sforza. The building became in the sixteenth century a post for horses, while two centuries was transformed into a hotel, on the road that led from Milan to Monza, and in the last century was used as an inn. Among its walls stood Stendhal, the poet Carlo Porta, Casanova wrote a page of his erotic exploits in Milan, and also Napoleon Bonaparte and Giuseppe Garibaldi stayed there.
Cover Image: pianuradascoprire