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Milan, Italy

Albergo Diurno Venezia

Long-abandoned art nouveau baths beneath Milan's Piazza Oberdan. 

Beneath the surface of Piazza Oberdan in Milan, near the Porta Venezia bastions, lies the forgotten baths of Albergo Diurno Venezia, whose destiny seems to be that of rising from ruin… if given enough time.

Designed in 1923 by Marcello Troiani and completed in 1925, during its prime, the baths at Diurno Venezia represented a restoritive place for travelers and Milan’s citizens to whom it offered complete aesthetic and sanitary services including baths, showers, shaves, manicures and pedicures to all. The project included 30 bathrooms ranging in caliber from “average” to “luxury” with six shower cabins and changing rooms, ten toilets, two water closets, a coatroom, and an ironing room.

The services were not limited to solely those involving hygiene: Diurno Venezia also boasted a buvette, a full Post Office, business meeting rooms, flower shops and newsstands, a stationer, a bank, a commercial agency, a barber shop, two phone booths, a copy bureau, a small luggage storehouse, a travel agency, a bicycle garage with attendant, and a shoeshine stand.

Elements that had always set Diurno Venezia apart from its counterparts were the Italian art deco details, particularly the mosaics peppered throughout the structure, as well as the main hall’s vaulted ceiling and the looping iron beams of its two entrances. One of these entrances was demolished in the 1960s to install a subway exit, but the place was already in steep decline by that time. Two columns served as final reminders of the former glory of what had once thrived below ground; one column was purely decorative while the second cleverly disguised a chimney protruding from the boiler underground. 

The last feature of the Diurno Venezia to survive was the barber shop, which operated as recently as 2006. Since its closure, the entire facility had sat vacant, with only trespassers catching a glimpse into Italy’s gleaming past, until March of 2014.   

The space’s first proper visitors in decades arrived in partnership with the Italian National Trust (Fondo Ambiente Italia, or FAI), whose mission includes restoring lost national monuments and places of beauty to the public. A pair of clean up days allowed a slew of volunteers – do-gooders, photographers, and explorers alike – access to the baths in exchange for cleaning and hauling out debris that had accumulated over the years.

The facility at Albergo Diurno Venezia is now inching ever closer to a full revival and reopening, in the guise of a modernized wellness center to be enjoyed by all who pass through her classic, underused gates.

 

Know Before You Go

Under Piazza Oberdan, next to Porta Venezia. The entrance door (now closed) is on the left side of subway exit upstairs