National Geographic : 1961 Nov
from a panel of colored photographic transparencies, each illuminated by its own light button. The rates were so low that I asked the proprietor how he expected to recover the large sum of money he has poured into his brand-new establishment. "I may never get it back," he smiled. "This is my expensive hobby." Resisting further detours, we went on to Milan, called the New York City of Italy. Here businessmen have abandoned the traditional Italian siesta and at lunchtime jam instead into Gonzales, the new Ameri can-style snack bar, for a hamburger and milkshake. The city's new buildings, including her pioneering skyscrapers, symbolize modern Italy. They are smoth ering the past; they ring the Piazza del Duomo, over shadowing the rich Milan Cathedral, third largest church in Europe after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and Spain's Seville Cathedral. Milan's queen is the breath-taking Pirelli skyscraper near the Central Railway Station, headquarters for the firm that makes Pirelli tires and high-tension elec tric cables. The graceful building has 31 stories above ground. It tapers at each end, like the bow and stern of a double-ended ship. It depends for strength upon massive central pillars of concrete and steel rather than exterior walls (opposite). Interior partitions can be moved for variety of of fice arrangements. It has so many windows that it takes 50 days to wash them all from special little cars scampering up and down the building's exterior on per manent tracks. Subterranean floors hold power plants, communications centers, and elevator machinery. The best architectural and engineering brains of Italy, including the gifted Gio Ponti and Pier Luigi Nervi, had a hand in the creation of the skyscraper. There is no other building in the world like it. Leonardo's Masterpiece Saved From Decay I said that modernity smothers the past in Milan. That is not completely true, of course. Leonardo da Vinci's glorious painting of "The Last Supper," which he did on the walls of the old Santa Maria delle Grazie convent refectory, owes its existence to modern tech niques of restoration and dehumidification. The paint ing, long believed in process of final decay, will last many years yet, though it is faded and mutilated. I mentioned earlier making two trips to Italy for this article. The second was this year, in the spring, and I went with a small group of American travel writers who were looking over the Alto Adige, South Tirol, where few American travelers ever go. The invader of old reached the south of Italy by sea, from the warm countries, from Greece and Af rica. But here in South Tirol he struck across the Alps, and the blue-eyed Austrian in his rude fur clothing used the Brenner Pass. He came to stay, this Austrian, so that no place in Italy today is so unlike the usual concept of Italy as 632 Milan at Twilight Glitters With Brilliance and Prosperity Sleek new Pirelli Building tow ers 31 stories above Piazza Duca d'Aosta, commercial center of the industrial city. Designed by Gio Ponti and Pier Luigi Nervi, it is Italy's tallest structure of rein forced concrete. A blur of traffic swirls up the bustling Via Vittor Pisani (cen ter), which cuts a swath through the financial district. Milan's Cathedral glows in the Piazza del Duomo. Christmas tree adds tinsel to a sparkling setting.