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Vicolo dei Lavandai

Mil.3

In a hiddden corner of the Naviglio Grande this historic alley which has been recently restored, conserves a spin-dryer from the early 20th century. It is an archaeological site that bears witness to a past Milan unknown to many of the Milanese themselves. It takes its name from an old washroom that was used by local women up until the end of the 1950s for doing their laundry. Vicolo dei Lavandai is a charming place where you can step back in time and imagine the washerwomen bent over the clothes as they rinse them in the stream. Today the space that used to house the old grocer’s shop that sold soap, bleach and brushes to those hardworking women has become the restaurant El Brellin which, with its fireplaces and coffered ceilings, still has the atmosphere of times gone by. The alley is called after the washermen and not washerwomen because in the 19th century it was men, organised in a proper guild, who provided this service. The Confraternity of Laundrymen of Milan dates back to the 18th century. Saint Anthony of Padua was their patron and there is an altar dedicated to him in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Naviglio, situated about 100 metres from Vicolo dei Lavandai, along Alzaia Naviglio Grande. The stream (el fossett, in Milanese dialect) is fed from the waters of the Naviglio Grande. Once upon a time the washerwomen knelt on wooden brellin scrubbing the dirty laundry in the stone tubs that can still be seen in the alley. The detergent used by the washerwomen was called palton, a thick paste of ash, soap and soda.