Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, located in the heart of Milan, was built by architect Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877. The neoclassical Galleria was erected as part of an urban project to modernize Milan after French-Piedmontese troops liberated the city from the Austrians in June 1859. It connects Piazza del Duomo with Piazza della Scala and is built in an octagonal form that features vaulted glass and iron arcades, an enormous central glass dome and an arch located just steps from Milan’s impressive Duomo. Although it’s similar in style to a lot of galleries that were built in Europe during the 19th century, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was larger and grander than its predecessors and helped usher in an era of modern shopping malls.
The Galleria is a fascinating space because it is at once a place of transit, leisure and artistic admiration. Mosaic imagery on the floor below the dome represent Italian cities, such as a wolf for Rome, a lily for Florence, a bull for Torino and the flag of Milan. The Galleria has also been dubbed il Salotto di Milano – or “the living room of Milan” – as it was a meeting and shopping place for Milanese bourgeoisie. Today it houses luxury retailers, cafés and restaurants, so you can enjoy a morning coffee, an afternoon shopping expedition or an evening aperitivo after attending an opera at Teatro alla Scala next door.