Every day over 300,000 people pass through the Stazione Centrale, Milan’s main railway station. Many of them walk in front of a series of closed doors without every wondering what is behind them. They have no idea that those doors give access to the most luxurious and exclusive room in the building, the Padiglione Reale, or Royal Pavilion.
The station was designed in the early 1900s by architect Ulisse Stacchini and its blueprints had to be changed several times, especially after Mussolini became the head of the Italian government. In 1925 the Minister of Communications, Costanzo Ciano, suggested adding a waiting room for Italy’s royal family, the Savoias, who took the train to their countryside palace in Monza. Even though the monarchy was disestablished in Italy right after World War II, the royal waiting room is still there.
The pavilion is structured on two levels. The ground level has a couple of bare rooms (which became even emptier after some Fascist symbols were removed) and serves as an anteroom to the upper level. A sumptuous room is on the first floor, at the same level as the railway tracks: There are marble interiors in different architectural styles, sculptures of the royal emblems, elegant furniture provided by the best interior designers of the time, and a balcony with a view on the public square below.
The main room was also planned with the idea of welcoming Hitler in one of his travels to Italy—as suggested by the swastikas subtly inserted in the wood flooring—but he never used it. A door in the main room leads to a small bathroom with a huge mirror, which hides a secret ladder behind it, leading to an emergency escape route. As far as we know, it has never been used.
The pavilion is usually closed, but it is sometimes used for special events and photo shoots. People passing through the station can only look at the doors from the outside, but if they also look up, they will see three majolica lunettes showing some events in the history of the Savoias, including a meeting between Mussolini and King Vittorio Emanuele III in the city of Vittorio Veneto—a meeting that never actually took place. The eyes of Mussolini have been removed from that picture: Rumor has it that a man with a rifle shot at the majolica soon after the fall of the Fascist regime.
Know Before You Go
The Royal Pavilion is open to the public only on selected occasions: Look for the free events organized by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI) in Spring (“Giornate di primavera”) and Fall (“FAI Marathon”). You can still look at the exterior and the three lunettes whenever the station is open: They can be seen on the side of Platform 21. Note that the platform area is currently accessible only to people with a valid train ticket.