By Max Prola
The Italian Museum of Cycling was officially dedicated on Oct. 14, 2006. It is located in northern Italy in the lakes district north of Milan, just north east of Como and next to the Madonna del Ghisallo Church. This is a brief account of my experience of visiting the site.
The Church of the Madonna del Ghisallo (Madonna of Cast Iron) sits on little piazza overlooking Lake Lecco. This particular Madonna became the "Saint" dedicated to the well being of cyclists and is part of the cycling lore in Italy.
The church had accumulated all sorts of relics through the years and it was decided to build a modern structure nearby to adequately house and display some the historic memorabilia. In front of the church are two statues: One of Coppi and one of Bartali, the perennial Italian cycling adversaries during the 40s and 50s. On the side of the church is also a sculpture of the Fallen Cyclist appealing to the sky as he is lying prostrate on the ground.
The museum sign has an outline sculpture inside the circle with a cyclist having the arms raised victory and the outline of the little Ghisallo Church in the background.
The museum consists of a rectangular structure with four narrow rectangular roof segments each with its own curvilinear form. Inside, the entryway takes you down a long ramp revealing a sunken floor plan with a varying set of displays.
We entered the museum around 1630 and stayed there until it closed at 1800. Upon entering the front door, one makes an immediate right and descends a long ramp; then there is a switchback for another ramp to take you to the main floor. Of course at each overlook you can see the overall layout of the museum, but I will describe it as if on a walking tour.
Once on the main floor, to the right is the main glass enclosed display case of classic bicycles, jerseys and awards. The main display case has a set of bicycles that document the progression of technology from the early 20th century to the 1970s.
To the immediate left of the display cases on the main floor were two circular rooms. On the exterior walls were newspaper descriptions of important events, mainly in the pink color of the Gazzetta Dello Sport, the paper that sponsors the Giro. Inside the rooms were partitioned displays dedicated to each famous cyclist that could be opened and their career accomplishments could be observed.
On the mezzanine above the circular partitioned rooms were the offices of the museum where they were selling souvenir postcards and stamps of the museum opening.
On the far left wall of the main floor was a mural depicting each cycling decade with enlarged photos of the most important cyclists. Most notable was the 1950 segment that had an enlargement of the famous photo of Coppi handing a water bottle back to Bartali during a mountain stage.
Immediately below the wall one could pick up an audio device and listen to recordings about the events.
To the front, next to windows facing the lake, was an elliptical enclosure that had various displays discussing the technology and physics behind the design of bicycles. You will notice the white haired curator of the museum in the center of the enclosure. I spoke to him at length about the bikes and the shifters in the main display case.
On the right wall of the museum, next to the entrance ramp, are various photos depicting some memorable events.
At the extreme end of the wall, past the end of the ramp is huge rock, probably part of the mountain. On top of the rock is a marble slab that says "Omnia Vincit Amor" Benedictus PP XVI / Visitatio BMV Anno Domini MMVI. (The Pope already visited and blessed the museum.)
Needless to say, I could have spent several days to appreciate all the information that was presented in the museum.
Even as we left and it was getting dark, the sage curator of the museum was still discussing a topic of interest with two cyclists who still had to ride home on their bicycles!
The museum is an appropriate embodiment of the reverence with which Italians view cycling history.