Almost anything that sets us above savages, maintained Samuel Johnson, has come from the shores of Mediterranean. Italy, more than any other country, has shown the way out of the darkness of time; just as her towns have always been test cases of urbanity, her streets- seemingly antiquated but even on brief examination still valid, indeed future oriented models- are full of the sort of inspiration that comes from theorizing. Her covered streets, for example, are unknown hereabouts.

---The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan's Via Triumphalis, was built in 1867 as a memorial to Italy's unification. Unlike London's arcades, it never closes. It is an authentic street, owned and maintained by the government. click for image source

At one time the comfort of the protective roof in the street was taken for granted in most old civilizations. In Greece, walking outdoors under cover was part of the discipline of two schools of philosophers- the Stoics, from stoa, the sheltered promenade, and the Peripatetics, from peripatos, meaning covered walk.

Rome’s versionof the stoa, enlarged and embellished, of a splendor hard to imagine in our impoverished world- pavements inlaid with porphyry and jasper, gilded capitals crowning marble columns imported from the Greek islands- was the portico. Through the porticoes poured the myriads on their way to the theatres and baths, pausing to harangue and to be harangued, to discuss or expedite matters of state, and to enjoy the lavish displays of merchandise and art works. Edward Gibbon said, “From the portico, the Roman civilians learned to live, to reason, and to die.”

---Giacomo Brogi (1822-1881) - "Milano. "Octagone of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II", around 1880. Catalogue # 4608---WIKI

The only modern covered street comparable in scale to the ancient ones, perhaps is Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. For over a century, through booming years and wartime austerity, the Galleria has been forum and foyer to the Milanese. Here, before the last war, met statesmen and captains of industry, writers, opera singers, and conductors. The heroes of the musical world- La Scal is only a few hundred feet from the Galleria’s North Portal- mingled with Milan’s lesser citizens and the inevitable crowd of peddlars and pickpockets, tourists and prostitutes.

---Bologna." the whole town is so cloistered, that one may pass from house to house through the streets without being exposed either to rain or to sun." John Evelyn. 1645. click for image source

The Galleria achieved a near apotheosis of the Italian street: a theatre where actors and spectators merged and became indistinguishable from each other. However, an aerial bombardment in 1943 left the Galleria in ruins, to be resurrected twelve years later. Its architecture was faithfully rebuilt from the wreckage, but life under the glass roof was never quite the same.

For delight and sustenance the porticophile is perhaps better to look at Bologna, with its twenty mile long urban network of covered passages whose origins stem from its university that owned no buildings or property and the professors lectured in their own houses or in rented rooms, while the streets doubled as corridors for their ambulant institution. By the thirteenth century, when the students numbered nearly ten thousand, the town fathers enjoined the citizens to provide a continuous roof for pedestrians, a portico to every house.

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