by Gabriele Micalizzi
Speleology is the scientific study of caves and other karst features, their make-up, structure, physical properties and history. Besides countless hidden natural underground caves, humankind left its trace, to then forget all about it. Milan’s underground, as many other italian ones, is full of sewage pipes, tunnels, military bases, crypts, churches and loads of forgotten works. Brothers Davide and Gianluca Padovan, explorers and speleologists from Milan brought all of this back to light. They’re bound by a strong passion for speleology, which they’ve been practising with an innovative spin. Instead of looking for mountain caves, they focus on urban ones, giving life to the so called S.C.A.M ( Artificial Cavity Speleology Milan). Gianluca is a researcher and if he only had shelves in his house, it’d definitely be a library; on the contrary, a jungle of tomes, digging tools and block notes are scattered everywhere. He is a natural born communicator: his voice tone and gesturing are magnetic, his manners friendly and a self confident gaze marks his features. He takes care of every single aspect in his expeditions, he could whether be found in his house dressed in a yellow overalls setting up carbide for his acetylene lamp or smartly dressed in his teacher role, while biting into a doughnut, reading through his notes. Skeptical by nature, he doesn’t believe in anything or anybody that he hasn’t checked himself first. On the other hand, Davide is an athletic and versatile man, ranging from graphic design to designing simulation softwares for high-risk war areas training . Such work has also caught N.A.T.O attention. Bodybuilder on the outside but with an inner Zen temperament, he always makes sure the situation underground is going well, always ready to help if a wall is too tall or if bags are in the way. For the Padovan’s every expedition is like a new adventure to discover hidden places, secret passages and forgotten areas hiding past lives and stories under. As in Indiana Jones, a well-known series to the two of them, their adventures are a mix of passion, research and desire to push themselves to unknown places. Places thought to be buried in exotic sites are instead at our door side, or better, just below it. There’s a whole word below Milan’s ground: miles and miles of canals and tunnels, multi-level structures hiding main pieces of history such as Sforzesco Castle’s secret passages, the underground railway in Central Station and the secret passage hidden in Holy Virgin’s case in San Marco church in Brera area. Unusual point of views for describing a city; from its foundations, where traces of past civilisations can be found, in order to dig into which supports the city. Many of this sites are forbidden for public users or, in some cases, unclear guidelines rule them. However, a researcher’s spirit can’t really stop in front of bureaucracy, can it? Padovan brothers served out several archeological and architectural findings which never received the right acknowledgement they should; in fact, they often been banned from some of these places. Though For Milan’s authorities they do represent a problem, they’d instead be an extraordinary resource. Exploring a city’s underground helps digging - literally deep down- a better understanding of it, besides finding out exactly what is going on upstairs, not only architectural wise, but also in a social and behavioural way. From a city’s depths the environmental and physic reasons that determined the reality we live in and see every day really emerge. Past traces are hidden everywhere around us; they’re waiting for someone’s curiosity, likely as the Padovan’s, somebody driven by that thirst of knowledge, to always find out more - and not only metaphorically - through the city’s History.