Set at the margin of the central nucleus of the palace, the Ice House is one of the hypogeal structures built in the northern service buildings transformed today into elegant settings of the Borromeo Hotel Park. This venue was discovered in the last decade of the 20th century, after the public acquisition of the mansion and garden during some identification and renovation works on the architectural volumes on the property.
This was a particular structure used to store the snow, also found in the Milanese and Lombardy areas, to limit the view of neighbouring lands close by, whether they were uplands or irrigation planes where the stock yards – on the surface or underground – existed in most of the country houses or rural estates. It is thus not surprising that some ice houses were present in the villas belonging to the series of noble villas, since apart from the one in Cesano, there was also an important ice house in the architectonic complex of Villa Arconati in Bollate, though much smaller in size.
During the winter the place was filled with snow, which when pressed, assumed the consistency of ice. The mass was thus limited, often to a thickness of a few metres, and kept for a long period until almost the next winter season. It served to refrigerate the contiguous rooms, cellars and pantries, and supply quantities of ice gathered in blocks for the purpose of cooling foods and beverages to be consumed in the hot season. The structure in brick and stone walls was laid out in an overall square floor plan, inside which the circular rooms of the ice house and lower lying cellars were arranged at different levels, giving rise to an extremely practical system for access to the rooms intended for the conservation of beverages in a cool place. Though simple, it was quite a complex construction.
The main area of the ice house was the basin in the shape of an overturned cone trunk – 5.60 m deep and with an upper diametre of 8.15 m, reduced at the base of 5.35 m – composed of a continuous wall of brick in full view. All around, at almost 10 m in depth, was the cellar laid out in a circular floor plan. It was a sort of ample gallery of walkways which led to the various rooms where the barrels were kept, placed on two supports of specifically profiled stone.
During the first interventions to ensure the safety of the structure, in the year 2000 the owner started off the renovation works assigned to the Cesano architect, Fiorenzo Barindelli, owner of Studiosette. The design process saw the participation of various entities involved in the project following a unique and coherent process, with solutions, components, and materials complying with the recovery of the venues in regard to their architecture and historical features.
Along with the wooden and cobbled flooring there are above all, metal and crystal components that were added to the old material, from the arched lining set to the conic wall, to the lid of the well and the central table, that gather admiration for the beauty of the space under the effects of scenic lighting systems.
The dating of the Arese ice house is quite complex, and was probably built between the second half of the 17th century and the first half of the next century. If the structure above the ice house is recorded in the map Charles VI drew in 1722, nonetheless it was referred to explicitly by Ferrante Baselino, illustrious member of the Board of Accountants of Milan, to which Renato III Borromeo Arese assigned the task of recording the inventory of items in the mansion, which was forgotten in the succeeding centuries.
Today the architecture and dimension of the ice house seem to be proportionate to the importance of the noble mansion that could also count on a second, smaller ice house located below the Faun Temple, at the northeastern tip of the garden.