History of the Naviglio
Leonardo Da Vinci designed a system of canal-locks to solve the problem of level differences of the ground to make navigation possible and he didn't miss the chance to make some sketches, which are now kept at the Navigli Museum.
The first navigable passage was built in the second half of the 12th century; so the first fifty kilometers of the first canal (Ticinello) were inaugurated in 1179, giving start to the construction of the Naviglio Grande.
The great engineers were involved in the project and still today we can admire the innovative system of canal-locks designed by Leonardo towards the end of the fifteenth century. The transportation of the Candoglia marble (Val d'Ossola), used for the decoration of the Duomo of Milan, was carried out through this canel. Starting in Tornavento (the Paladella barrier) and passing through Abbiategrasso, it reaches about 50 kilometers at the Darsena of the Porta Ticinese in Milan. The Naviglio Grande, its part between Milan and Turbigo, is a clear example of resplendence of different epoches: there are numerous imposing palazzos, antique villages, faubourgs, iron bridges, fishing facilities and churches of each epoch and style.
From 1858 to 1865 a special railway was used for the transport of boats that, when they reached the Naviglio Grande, passed to the Ticino river in the direction of Lake Maggiore. This means of communication, also called "Hipposidra", was conceived by Carlo Cattaneo.
Milanese statesman and economist invented this railroad to speed up the "return" of boats coming from Milan where they had unloaded construction materials, foodstuffs and whatever the land of Verbano offered to the Lombardy capital.
The idea of the railroad, characterised by towing of a wagon on which the boat was set, by 6/8 horses, originated from the considerable difficulty of drawing the convoys along the Ticino river in the Tornavento and Sesto Calende tracts caused by the presence of some rushes.
In Tornavento, shortly after the beginning of the Naviglio Grande, there was a dock where the boats arrived, waiting to be loaded on the wagons.
There was also a building used to shelter the numerous horses needed for towing.
The track, about 18 kms long, stretched from the Tornavento dock to the Malpensa plain, reaching Somma Lombardo near the Strona river. There was another railway building, used for the change of horses. Subsequently it continued to the steep descent of the "Gruppetti", a slope of 400 m long and inclination of more than 20 per mille allowed the wagon to arrive directly in the dock along the Ticino slope at Sesto Calende. Here the boat was put in water and, drawn by horses, reached the pier of Sesto Calende.
It was the only example of "the tram-road" for goods in American style in Europe in the nineteenth century.
The sunset of this revolutionary constraction of Cattaneo had been decreed by the opening of the Milano-Somma-Sesto Calende railway line.