Construction of the large Bovisa gas works started in 1905, and it, along with its gasometers, has come to be a distinctive symbol of Milan. Enclosed in the teardrop-shaped railway yard, the area and its neighbouring district have been subject to various redevelopment projects, including the locating of some campuses of the Milan Polytechnic, though the gasometer site is still being studied to develop the reclamation and repurposing projects.
In Milan, the first plant to manufacture gas for public lighting was built in 1845 near Porta Ludovica, a few steps away from the Spanish Walls. The City of Milan initially contracted out the plant’s management to an engineer from Lyon, Achille Guillard, and in 1863, after various changes of ownership, the French company Union des Gaz bought out the entire gas works and its contracts.
Although towards the close of the nineteenth century the introduction of electrical energy and its increasing applications in the field of illumination had given rise to new and vigorous competition, private consumption of gas for heat and illumination grew, as did the use of gas for industrial purposes.
It was in this context that, starting in 1905, Union des Gaz launched the construction of a large gas works in the Bovisa quarter. The vast structure, spread over a territory of 450 thousand square meters, was to supplement the old Porta Lodovica gas works and the smaller plants at Porta Nuova (1870) and Porta Venezia (1880).
Inaugurated in 1908, the plant ran Italy’s largest gasometer, an 80-thousand square-meter “Cutler”. Parallel to the new coal gasification batteries, a large heating plant was built along with the first pressure room and the mechanical workshop, structures that can still be seen there today and have been heritage listed.
When World War I broke out, the expansion project ground to an abrupt halt, and it was not until the Società Gas e Coke Milano took over ownership in the twenties, that it was resumed, with the construction of new distillation chambers. When the Edison Company came onto the scene in 1934, the plant reached full autonomy, becoming the largest gas works in Europe.
After World War II, the plants were modernized for the first time: in 1952, a system for the Semet Solvay diluent gas was installed, donated by the United States thanks to the Marshall Plan.
The sixties marked a turning point in the history of the gas works: in 1962, the increase in demand and the limited yield of coal forced the company to develop new reforming systems using liquid petroleum distillate, while in 1969, the by-then obsolete distillation chambers were decommissioned and then demolished.
In 1981, the prospect of a natural gas supply service prompted the City of Milan to revoke its concession and entrust the distribution of gas to the Azienda elettrica municipale (AEM). From this time on, AEM embarked on a campaign to bring natural gas to the city, concluded in 1994 with the closing down of the Bovisa’s old facilities.
A transitory backdrop for television broadcasts and cultural events, as well as the scenario for several recovery plans and policy agreements, the gasometer area is presently in a sort of limbo: the site is still heavily burdened by the costs of its clean up. Today, a part of the area and the adjacent neighbourhood have undergone various redevelopment projects, including the locating of some campuses of the Milan Polytechnic, but the gasometer site still awaits a clear and coherent repurposing plan.
Another one from myself and RA’s whistle stop tour of Northern Italy.
Now we only really intended to climb the gas holders but then @Camera Shy posted up a report on this place and after confirming it was the same place a spanner was removed from the works and we made our way around the huge site
Both of the holders here are pretty cool, they are a pair of water-sealed frame type gasholders. One made by Samuel Cutler of London and dates from 1905 and the other is a Klönne-dating from 1930 and both have four lifts.
The taller one has had a hole crudely gas axed in the side to allow you to have a look inside.
It was quite interesting inside, someone has constructed a bridge over to the middle and it was evident it had been host to a few parties. There was also what appeared to be an old raft inside it too.
But it was the views from the top we came for.