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“Bovisa’s drop”: history (and future?) of Milan’s secret wood

4 min read

The only noise is that of the trains that stop at the nearby Villapizzone station.
Then there is only silence, and a rarefied atmosphere in which time is frozen.
This is the “Goccia della Bovisa” (Bovisa’s drop), now the largest spontaneous wood in Milan, Italy.
Nothing remains of the noise of the old gas plant, only abandoned structures and the skeletons of gasometers that stand out against the clear sky.
Today the building artifacts have a historical value with a strong identity, so much so that they become important structures of industrial archeology, and walking among the buildings means savoring a portion of the industrial history of that old Milan made up of factories and industries.

Next to it is the Polytechnic, which since 2000 has become the owner of at least 90,000 square meters, and the initial project was to create a student residence. It was because since last year associations and committees have come together to prevent the entire area from being dismantled to give life to what they called “pouring of concrete”.
But today the former industrial area is one of the many spaces left abandoned. And nature, as always happens, has re-appropriated all the spaces.

Historically, the area was occupied by a floating tank, the volume of which depended on the amount of gas present inside.
It was here in 1905 that the Union des Gaz arrived.
The project was simple: to build a plant to distill hard coal to be used for lighting the city and for heating.
The French company therefore had the merit of bringing a historic innovation to Milan: it allowed the Milanese to turn on the light in their homes, as well as being able to wash themselves with hot water.
Until then, the lighting in the city and in the houses worked mainly with oil with the “lampedee”, the lighting workers, who switched on or off the few lamps placed on the streets.
With the arrival of the Union des Gaz, things changed, and the artificial light gradually made its way into all the houses in the city. In addition, people could wash themselves with hot water and cook without the coal stove. The raw material arrived at the factory by train and for this reason the Union des Gaz had a drop-shaped rail system built around it.
The presence of the factory gave a new life to Bovisa, a popular district that developed also with other types of production, including the cinematographic one of which it was the first production center in Italy until the end of the World War I.
Gasometers at the time were capable of producing 300,000 cubic meters per day. The raw material arrived at the station, while the distillation process was carried out inside.
Then with technological innovation something changed, and the area ceased all activities.
It was 1969, but more than 20 years had to pass before the area was definitively abandoned.

In 2015 there was a turning point, with a project that included remediation and redevelopment works, with a fund of five million euros.
Because the area is polluted, very polluted, so much so that it is part of the sites of national interest. Reason that blocked the purchase of the area by the Polytechnic itself.
And, in the meantime, many dreams have sprung up and gone down, from the Citadel of Science, to Museums, to the Milanese Silicon Valley.
All held back by the complexity of cleaning the land of poisons. And, after all, the reclamation interrupted and then resumed even recently due to the opposition of the committees that have fought also with strokes of appeals to preserve the wild nature that arose over time, were also at the center of the last part of this tormented journey.
And in fact, the area preserves a real green heritage estimated by the State Forestry Corps, in 1995, in over 2000 trees, including some of value, and certainly today even more extensive and flourishing.
Other projects are underway, the last to be completed by this year, 2021.
But for the moment the inverted drop-shaped area is still left to itself ….