Albergo Diurno Venezia in Milan: underground Art Nouveau
Albergo Diurno Venezia opened in 1926 in Milan, in the hypogea under Piazza Oberdan, known as Piazzale Venezia at the time. It was meant for the men and women of Milan who did not have toilets inside their homes, and for the travelers who had just reached Lombardy’s capital city.
Its 1,200 square meters were divided into different spaces: thermal baths, bathrooms, pedicure and manicure booths, ladies’ hairdressers, shower stalls, ironing and wardrobe facilities, a barber, a shoeshine, a newsagent’s, a bicycle garage, and a left luggage office.
For a few days in March 2015, this underground pearl of Art Nouveau, designed by architect Piero Portaluppi, reopened to the public thanks to FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano). If you missed it, your next chance for a guided tour is in January 2016, on the 9th, 16th, or 23rd between 10 am and 6 pm.
Here is what the great Tuscan writer Luciano Bianciardi (1922-1971) wrote about Albergo Diurno Venezia in his 1960 novel, “L’integrazione”:
“Sunday mornings were spent writing at home and taking a bath at the day-time hotel, because Mrs Gemma’s water heater was broken and she was afraid the gas would blow everything up. The hotel was below street-level, and you went down a spiral staircase to find a maze of hallways, white tiles, and lots of doors. A dozen women – stout and about fifty years old, with light blue aprons and large handkerchiefs on their heads – trotted up and down carrying used towels, buckets of disinfectant liquid, and mops to scrub tubs.”
“Clients, instead, sat in line on chrome-plated stools, waiting for their turn. They gave you a ticket with a number at the entrance, and you had to pay close attention when the lady called your number out, or she might skip right to the next one, and you’d miss your turn. ‘Ninety-sex!’ she yelled. And immediately, unless someone got up to say ‘Here!’ or ‘That’s me’, she would urge ‘Ninety-seven’, and so on.”
“With so many people waiting, you had to wash quickly or the lady would knock on your door, yelling with her nasal voice: ‘Hurry up!’. So I never had time to cut my toenails in peace: I have always had special clippers for my toenails, the ones with a spring in the handle, like garden shears.”