The Lambrate and Ortica districts are full of places that determine their identity; places that have made history in this corner of Milan.
The church of Ortica, for example, dedicated to Saints Faustino and Giovita, is a treasure trove of memory.
Inside, there is a fresco depicting the Virgin and Child, entitled “Virgin of Graces”. The work dates back as far as the 12th century, when the church and Ortica itself were founded.
Some ancient inscriptions were uncovered during the most recent restoration work. They have been interpreted as a vow made to the Virgin by Milanese citizens who took refuge in these lands after fleeing the city in the wake of its destruction by Frederick Barbarossa in 1162.
The engraved text reads: “…this is a prayer… in the year 1182 – 12 April to beg clemency from God. Silano”.
Another more recent discovery of lost art was made in a small annex to the church, which is part of the original structure: a series of high-quality16th-century frescoes, evidently influenced by Leonardo da Vinci.
Another place that expresses local identity is Via Conte Rosso, the road along which the ancient village of Lambrate grew. The street still retains its ancient feel and is lined with historic workshops and its signature buildings, complete with inner courtyards and railing walkways. Here we also find the church of San Martino, dating back to 1181, which was demolished in 1913 because it was unsafe and then rebuilt in neo-Romanesque style in the late 1920s.
The street also commemorates Lambrate town hall, next door to which the Casa del Fascio (Fascist Party headquarters) was later erected. The two buildings no longer exist, replaced by a small garden with a children’s play area and a mural by street artist Omar Hassan. A little further on there is a shop that has been in business since 1938: the Guarnieri family framing shop, that has been supplying custom-made picture frames for individual customers and art galleries for three generations.
Via Conte Rosso is also home to the Circolo ACLI, a key community resource for the district in the post-war years and a meeting point for local residents.
The Circolo ACLI organises many different activities, such as leisure and wellness courses, cultural meetings, theatre and children’s workshops, and also hosts the Patronato and CAF – the tax and welfare assistance services. It also heads the QuBì project fighting fragility and poverty for families and minors.
At the end of Via Conte Rosso we can find the famous Cappelletta, or “Little Chapel”. It contains an altar which was built on what was once a pagan place of worship, dating back to when the neighbourhood was founded by the Romans. It later became a place of prayer.
There are many tales surrounding this little chapel, from the religious services celebrated by Saint Charles Borromeo in the 16th century to World War II bombs that landed on its roof.
However, someone somewhere must have liked this little chapel very much, because the bombs failed to explode, thus ensuring the building’s survival.
On Via Pitteri we find another building that is not only a local institution but also a symbol of Milan: the former Martinitt Institute, now a student residential building.
The Martinitt has a history dating back centuries. In 1532, Francesco Sforza, committed to philanthropic endeavours, offered San Gerolamo Emiliani a refuge for orphans and abandoned children.
The numerous inhabitants of the orphanage became known as “Martinitts” (singular, “Martinin”) owing to the location of the institute’s second branch in the parish of St Martin of Tours, between Via Manzoni and Via Morone. This is why orphans in Milan were thus named.
The Martinitt Institute provided accommodation and assistance and also undertook to educate the children and teach them a trade. Over the centuries, the Institute moved various time for historical and political reasons, until it finally obtained new premises, designed by engineer Emilio Prandoni in Via Pitteri. The building was inaugurated in 1932.
Thanks to the institute’s assistance and commitment, many Martinitts went on to become successful entrepreneurs. Most notably, Angelo Rizzoli, who trained as a printer at the Martinitt, and Leonardo del Vecchio, who began his career as an engraver.
The institute still exists, now in the form of a public non-profit organisation in the social and health care sector. The Via Pitteri site is now a modern 439-bed university residence, managed by ALER Milan.
The Martinitt Theatre, which stands next to the main complex, was built to provide entertainment for orphans. Since 2010, the cinema theatre has been managed by the company La Bilancia, which opened its doors to the public after renovations and continues to offer a wide range of initiatives and new spaces.
Lastly, a special mention for Villa Busca Serbelloni in Via Rombon. This elegant suburban villa, built in the 18th century, tells of a time when this strip of land was filled with aristocratic villas outside the city walls.
The Villa is now home to “Noah Guitars”, a beacon of Italian excellence in the production of premium-quality electric guitars.
The Noah Guitars story began in the 1990s almost as a joke. Architect Renato Ruatti accepted a challenge from his friend Giovanni Melis and took it upon himself to make an electric guitar. After much research, he opted for aluminium as a construction material.
In 1996, he and his co-founder, Mauro Moia, finally brought their first guitar into the world. They called it the “Ammiraglia”. Since then they have continued to create limited numbers of electric guitars and basses of the highest quality.
Today, Noah Guitars is synonymous with excellence and is lauded by some of the world’s leading musicians. Bruce Springsteen, Ben Harper and Lou Reed, among many others, own one of these guitars.