It was built to provide a moment of rest and rejuvenation for citizens going about their day in the big city; a temporary home away from home for travellers arriving in Milan to find their feet. Welcome to “L’Albergo Diurno Metropolitano”, which literally translates to the Daytime Metropolitan Hotel.
Situated beneath Piazzale Venezia in Milan, indeed, it once had all the trimmings and services you might find in a lavish Venetian hotel today. Open everyday from 7am to 11 at night, there was a magnificent lounge, public baths, spas, barber shops, ladies’ hairdressers, manicure and pedicure salons, ironing and wardrobe facilities, a shoeshiners, newsagent, bicycle garage, lost luggage office, travel agency, photography shop, all housed in 1,200 square meters of underground art nouveau splendour.
To get a better idea of how it once was, here are some archival images from the book “Il Tempo Sepolto” (Time Buried) by Stefano Masi:
This incredible space beneath what is today the Piazza Oberdan, has been closed up to the public since 2003, when the last surviving barber, Carmelo Aiello, was evicted by the council. But the rest of Milan’s Venetian “daytime hotel”, the public baths and most of the other services, had been out of operation since the mid eighties.
From what I can make out via Google translate, in the 1960s, the construction of Milan’s Line 1 subway began, and several rooms, a portion of the atrium and toilets were removed and demolished to make way for a new public service. From then on, the Daytime hotel shared its access stairway with the subway. I can imagine it was at this point that the Albergo Diurno Venezia began to lose some of its glamour, leading to its eventual demise.
The closure of the premises and lack of ventilation and maintenance over the years has led to an extreme deterioration of the space. Most of the wood furniture was sold at the end of the 1990s by the artisans who believed they owned them.
At some point, the skylight was also covered in asphalt from the outside. A group of students from the film school of the City of Milan made a short film around this time, interviewing the last barbers remaining.
Even without subtitles, the visuals are quite powerful and the nostalgia for a forgotten bygone era can be clearly be felt…
In the years that followed, the Albergo was repeatedly overlooked for restoration projects and city council funding. In the 2006 there was a proposal to renew the space to house the Italian film archives, but contracts were never signed and the money went to restore the spiers of Milan’s Duomo.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the FAI, the Italian environment fund for the preservation of artistic heritage stepped in and volunteered to step in and literally just start cleaning away the dust of time.
Over several months, volunteers worked hard to bring it back to life for a series of public open days. For a few days in March 2015, the underground Art Nouveau gem designed by architect Piero Portaluppi in 1926, finally reopened. I’m a little late but luckily there’s one last open day this January the 23rd between 10am and 6pm.
Since the FAI has signed an agreement with the city, committing to design a formal restoration project, the purpose of these open days is to raise awareness and funds to ensure this pearl of Milan’s buried past can shine once again for the public.
I certainly wish we could have a “Daytime Hotel” to welcome us into every big city today, don’t you?!