As time swiftly goes by at the fast pace of a big city, one often fails to notice the small changes that day after day shape the lifestyles of its inhabitants. And in Milan, a dynamic and elegant city par excellence, there are plenty of examples of countercultural currents that reveal the city’s different facets and of alternative ways of interpreting everyday life.
We are thinking of Milan’s street art and bold architecture, or of alternative itineraries far from the conventional tourist routes, but also about places of social gathering that introduce to ever new sensibilities. Let's get to know the capital of Lombardy more intimately, by drawing up a map of the main landmarks of alternative Milan.
“Arternative” Milan: bold architecture and street-art
The urban fabric of Milan has always undergone massive transformations. Currently, the development of buildings and neighborhoods that project the city into the future is accompanied by a review of the city's historical heritage, for example through its street-art. Think of the square of the Basilica of San Calimero, profoundly transformed by the portraits of the Wallart project and by the graffiti at the entrance to the Diocesan historical archive by Ivan Tresoldi, the famous author of the "scales", or short painted poems that appear here and there on Milan’s building walls.
Different facets of an alternative Milan, there is no other way to describe them: as in Piazza Andrea Ferrari, in fact, graffiti decorate the walls of the Ortica district, depicting some of the celebrities of Milan. We could define it as the "arternative" Milan, where you can see more and more often works of street-art made by famous artists such as Zed1 and Seacreative, or the studio Pao Pao, which also designed, among others, the traditional Christmas panettone cake painted as penguins, and some of the control units of the traffic lights painted by various artists as part of the Energy box project.
Among the landmarks of the alternative Milan, though, are also those historical places and daring examples of architecture that deserve being discovered and rediscovered, by venturing on routes that will take you away from the conventional tourist sites. The Monumental Cemetery, to mention a particularly evocative place, is in all respects an open-air museum that tells a lot about the history of Milan and its artistic heritage. Another wonder that will leave you speechless and that reveals a different facet of Milan is the Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa, known for its macabre decorations made entirely of human bones and skulls.
Speaking of bold architecture, in Milan it is easy to come across a number of tiny gems, such as Casa Berri Meregalli and the peculiar Cà dell'Oreggia, an intercom ahead of its time, while at Maggiolina you can still see some houses built in the shape of igloos, located near the mushroom-shaped houses that were built in the 1960s and later demolished.
Countercurrent movements in Milan: music, books, places of social gathering
In Milan there is no shortage of places of social gathering and, in the lively urban setting, there are more and more spaces that reveal a new approach to the city’s everyday life. Milan, the Italian capital of publishing, hosts many independent bookshops, as well as many highly active publishing houses, some of which have been present on the territory for decades, like Radio Popolare, which for more than 40 years has been promoting an inspired and independent type of information. In Milan, the countercurrent movements make the city truly rich and vibrant.
There are many clubs in Milan where people come to gather for shows and concerts. Two primary landmarks of alternative Milan and counterculture, with their transversal setlists, are the self-managed public space of Leoncavallo and the Cox 18. The Beltrade cinema offers a refined and attentive programming even at odd hours of the day, and among the gay-friendly places most frequented by young alternative Milanese are the Toilet and the Mono.
To browse through that book you’ve been looking everywhere to find and maybe grab a bite to eat, you can go to the LibrOsteria, a beautiful gathering place of alternative Milan that embodies a new concept of the city square.
Focus on sustainability: an alternative lifestyle in Milan
There are over 100 green areas in Milan that include urban gardens, shared gardens, farms and activities in schools. The theme of attention to sustainability is very topical and, for some years now, for two Saturdays a month you can also do your shopping at the Mercato della terra in Milan at the Fabbrica del Vapore, created to serve as a point of contact between new consumers and producers in agricultural areas just a few kilometers from the city. Elicriso, much more than a colorful house near the dock, is also an alternative popular space that advocates sustainable agriculture and offers the sale of agricultural products at affordable prices.
Milan is full of ethnic, vegan and slow food clubs. Ready to satisfy any kind of need, these restaurants promote an alternative lifestyle also at the table. Govinda, for example, is a historic Hare Krishna cultural association, one of the first to promote the philosophy of convivial social eating.
Among the alternative districts of Milan, Isola and the Ticinese district stand out for the proliferation of graffiti, events and places that are always one step ahead of their time. Very popular because of the immense offer of old and new places, goodies for all tastes are hidden there. An aperitif at the Frida or a cultural evening at the Corte dei Miracoli reveal just how much alternative Milan has to offer, even far from the city’s business and fashion districts.