The Santa Maria alla Fontana complex: Sacred site, theatre and Eugenia Napoleonic Foundry


Did you know that the purest of water once flowed from a spring in Milan?


To uncover the details of this ancient story we must take a step back in time, to the sixteenth century, and walk along via Comacina outside the city walls. Here stands a site of healing and pilgrimage, due to the beneficial properties of this miraculous water: we are at the Santuario di Santa Maria alla Fontana.



History of Milan’s Santuario di Santa Maria alla Fontana


According to tradition, it was the healing of Charles D’Ambrose, French governor in Milan, that initially led to development of the site. The first stone, as recorded there, was laid in his presence on 29 September 1507.



In addition to veneration of Mary, the spring soon also became an important place for treatment and healing, like the Ca’ Granda hospital. Despite the many transformations undergone by the Santuario, the core site has been preserved to this day in all its beauty. It features a square chapel with richly frescoed 12 sectioned vaulted ceiling, housing the ancient medieval stone from which the water flows through eleven spouts. The splendid cloisters designed by renaissance architect Giovanni Antonio Amedeo have enchanted visitors past and present of every origin.



Fonderia Napoleonica Eugenia


With the Napoleonic conquest of Milan in 1797, life at the Santuario was suddenly interrupted. The new ruler took it over and in 1806 Eugène de Beauharnais, stepson of Napoleon and Viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy, transformed part of the site into a bronze foundry, called the Fonderia Eugenia. Under the direction of the Manfredini family, the foundry specialised in the creation of small objects and large statues, such as the Sestiga, a colossal bronze sculptural group that still stands on top of the Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace).


From the Napoleonic foundry to the Barigozzi family foundry


Halfway through the nineteenth century, the foundry was purchased by the Barigozzi family and production switched over to bells and artistic casting of great dimensions, including the monumental statue of Vittorio Emanuele II located in Piazza Duomo (1896), the bells for the Giotto’s Campanile in Florence (1966) and the main entrance of the Duomo, a work of Ludovico Pogliaghi.



The Barigozzi family still owns the foundry, and are now the custodians of a piece of Milanese history spanning centuries. The foundry ceased operations in 1975 and today some parts of it house offices and co-working spaces, in addition to the Barigozzi Museum, which carefully documents its glorious history. The monumental Sala Forni holds the furnaces and equipment, while the Sala Paradiso contains hundreds of plaster moulds, once used for bronze decoration of bells. A visit here is like taking a step back in time.



Milan’s Teatro Fontana: the Elsinor theatre production centre


But the surprises do not end here: the Santa Maria alla Fontana complex has another hidden gem. In front of the sixteenth-century cloisters of the Santuario is a theatre production centre managed by Elsinor, the Teatro Fontana. This venue stages performances of all different genres and for various types of audience. What was once a disused parochial cine-theatre is today a community theatre in the truest sense, a cultural hub for the Isola neighbourhood and an idea factory.

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