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The air raid shelter in Piazza del Duomo

An image for investigating history

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5 March Mar 2020 1925 05 March 2020

At times, what makes a photo interesting are not the elements and subjects in the foreground, but instead those details that we note by stopping to look at the image more closely; that is, analysing all the details that the shot has crystallised forever, in some cases without the photographer even realising that they were doing so.

And this is the case with the document we are presenting this month: a photographic print kept in the Archive and catalogued as “Falconatura (decorative elements) on the facade damaged by the bombardment of 16 August 1943”. Indeed, as we can see from the photo title in the inventory, a detail of the marble decoration on the facade features in the foreground.

The original objective of the shot, captured just two days after the bombing, that is on 18 August 1943, was probably to document a part of the extensive damage suffered by the Cathedral. There are many other photographs stored along with this one, which, in a dramatic reportage, bear testimony to the damage suffered by the Cathedral, even if it was not as serious as that caused to other monuments and buildings in Milan. However, looking beyond the detail of the cracked falconatura, the floor of the square is not visible, but rather a sort of building site which, in the area immediately adjacent to the parvis, reveals a significantly large excavated area.

This area was indeed excavated in that period with a view to building a public air raid shelter, located on the south side of the square. Situated in the heart of the city, it would have helped to compensate for the lack of underground areas and tunnels beneath Milan. Indeed here, unlike in other European capitals, the subway had not yet been built, even though designs for one had been developed since the early 1900s, creating considerable concern on the part of the Veneranda Fabbrica about the effects this might have on the monument.

However, the construction works for the air raid shelter in Piazza del Duomo were not finished in time for the end of the war and therefore it was never used.

Rediscovered during the renovation works on the square, the bunker was subsequently incorporated into the design for creating the Duomo stop of the Milan Subway.