«But what if the shelters aren’t ready yet?»
«Anyway, it’s always been safer in the cellar!»
«Oh, really? Maybe if you want to die like a rat!»
They were all talking in a normal tone, without any regard for the night, as if it suddenly had become day. That sudden animation had an unnatural effect. And then for the first time I experienced a feeling I had never had before, and it seemed to me that it must be the feeling of war.
My mother came in and said, "The others are taking shelter in the doorway. What are we going to do?»
On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on France and England.
After only five days, at 1:48 a.m., the first air-raid alarm sounded in the city of Milan. The British bombardment continued throughout the year, not stopping until 1941.
The bombing recommenced in 1942, and in 1943 it intensified, hitting homes and factories as well as infrastructure.
The city faced the war with a defensive system based on anti-aircraft weapons and a network of shelters.
When the sirens wailed, the population sought refuge in bomb shelters.
At that time, Milan had about 15,000 shelters.
The most common air-raid shelters were undoubtedly basements.
Basements reverberated not only with fear and anguish, but also with the adventures of those who at the time were children and adolescents.
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At least a hundred shelters were of a public nature, and some of them were specially designed in case of war.
Industrial plants such as the Breda factory had systems in place to protect workers during air raids.
Today, the factory’s abandoned air-raid shelter is part of Milan's Parco Nord.
Built in 1935, this shelter is located underneath a fountain, the structure of which is partially functional to the shelter itself (the tower of the fountain, for example, is designed to facilitate the circulation of air in the shelter). About 400 people could be accommodated on the premises.
During World War II the cellars of what is now Giacomo Leopardi Elementary School were transformed into “Shelter 87", which could accommodate up to 450 people.
The basements of the Istituto Moreschi were used as a shelter; its premises, as in the case of Leopardi Elementary School, were available to both students and the local residents.