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From Leonardo to the Naviglio Grande

History of the Naviglio

Leonardo Da Vinci designed the system of locks to overcome the problem of the unevenness of the land, to make navigation possible and did not miss the opportunity to make some sketches, now preserved in the Navigli Museum. The construction of the first navigable section dates back to the second half of the 12th century. Thus the fifty kilometers of the first canal (Ticinello) were inaugurated in 1179, giving way to the construction of the Naviglio grande. Great engineers contributed to the project and still today you can admire the innovative system of locks designed by Leonardo towards the end of the fifteenth century. The transport of the marbles from the Candoglia quarries (Val d'Ossola), used for the decoration of the Milan Cathedral, took place precisely through this canal. It was born in Tornavento (barrier of the Paladella) and passing through Abbiategrasso, it reaches the Darsena di Porta Ticinese in Milan in about 50 kilometers. The Naviglio Grande, in the stretch between Milan and Turbigo, is a pure example of the wealth exchanged in the past: there are numerous noble palaces, ancient farmhouses, villages, wrought iron bridges, fishing facilities and churches of all era and style.

It was born from a horse-drawn railway


From 1858 to 1865 a particular horse-drawn railway was used for the transport of barges which, having gone up the Naviglio Grande, passed in Ticino towards Lake Maggiore. This means of communication, also called "Ipposidra", was conceived by Carlo Cattaneo. The Milanese statesman and economist invented this railway in order to speed up the "return" of the boats that came from Milan where they had unloaded construction materials, food goods and whatever else the land of Verbano offered to the Lombard capital. The idea of the railway, distinguished by the towing of the cart on which the barge rested by 6/8 horses, originated from the considerable ascent difficulties encountered by the convoys along the Ticino in the Tornavento and Sesto Calende stretch caused by the presence of some rapids. In Tornavento, shortly after the start of the Naviglio Grande, there was a dock where the barges arrived waiting to be loaded onto the wagons. There was also a building also used as a shelter for the numerous horses necessary for towing. The route, long approximately 18 kilometers, separated from the Tornavento dock to go up to the Malpensa plain and thus reach Somma Lombardo near the Strona river. There was another railway building, used for changing horses. Subsequently it continued up to the steep descent of the "Gruppetti" where an inclined plane of 400 meters and a slope of more than 20 per thousand, allowed the cart to reach the dock directly along the Ticino towpath in Sesto Calende. Here the boat was put back into the water and, pulled by horses, reached the Sesto Calende yard. The only example of an American"tram-road" for goods in the 19th century in Europe. The end of this revolutionary construction of the Cattaneo was decreed by the opening of the Milan-Somma-Sesto Calende railway line.