I have spent the past couple of months trying to learn new things about the city of Milan where I am currently based. After almost 2 years here, there is still a lot to learn and I’m more than curious to discover hidden and unforgotten stories capable of arousing curiosity, wonder, and even nostalgia. One such story that caught my eye is that of the Albergo diurno Venezia, a structure built under Piazza Oberdan in Milan, on the western side towards Via Tadino.
Long-abandoned, The Albergo Diurno Venezia oozes the elegant charm of the 1920s preserved intact in the furnishings, coatings, and decorations of a functional service center for travelers and citizens designed by the architect Piero Portaluppi. It was planned and built between 1923 by Marcello Troiani and opened on January 18, 1926. Its official name was Albergo Diurno Metropolitano and it was opened every day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. During its prime, the baths at Diurno Venezia represented a restorative place for travelers and Milan’s citizens after the engineer Cobianchi imported the novelty of the day baths from England to Milan. The Albergo Diurno Venezia equipped itself with these refined salons dedicated to personal care, which responded to the trends of the time but also to the reality of a metropolis where much of some houses were still without adequate services within the home walls.
According to Atlas Obscura, the elements that had always set Diurno Venezia apart from its counterparts were the Italian art deco details, particularly the mosaics peppered throughout the structure, as well as the main hall’s vaulted ceiling and the looping iron beams of its two entrances. One of these entrances was demolished in the 1960s to install a subway exit, but the place was already in steep decline by that time. Two columns served as final reminders of the former glory of what had once thrived below ground; one column was purely decorative while the second cleverly disguised a chimney protruding from the boiler underground. The last feature of the Diurno Venezia to survive was the barbershop, which operated as recently as 2006. Since its closure, the entire facility had sat vacant, with only trespassers catching a glimpse into Italy’s gleaming past, until March of 2014.
The Albergo diurno Venezia’s first proper visitors in decades arrived in partnership with the Italian National Trust (Fondo Ambiente Italia, or FAI), whose mission includes restoring lost national monuments and places of beauty to the public. A pair of clean up days allowed a slew of volunteers – do-gooders, photographers, and explorers alike – access to the baths in exchange for cleaning and hauling out debris that had accumulated over the years.
As of late, the facility at Albergo Diurno Venezia is moving towards a full revival and reopening, in the guise of a modernized wellness center to be enjoyed by all who pass through her classic, underused gates.