For anyone that’s ever made it to Milan, you’ve no doubt spent at least a bit of time within the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the famous, arcaded mall adjacent to the equally-famous, equally-magnificent Milan Duomo, between the Piazza del Duomo and the Teatro alla Scala.
And if you’ve been within the Galleria, you likely have heard of the timeless curiosity that is the tradition of stepping on the bull’s balls. Inside the Galleria, located on the ground within an octagonal floor pattern, is a tiled mosaic depicting a bull which is reared up onto his hind legs. The tradition is that if a person puts their right heel on the bull’s testicular region and “turn on himself three times,” which is to actually rotate backwards, or counterclockwise, this will bring good luck. This practice has led to a bit of damage, and a hole has formed showing where the bull receives his daily punishment.
So, what’s the story behind it? Well, most people (especially the Milano locals) say that this tradition is simply a tourist one, that you would never find a local that did this. This might very well be true for the most part, but having friends who are native to Milan, I can say that it is not entirely so; locals may do it, though you may see them pass by nonchalantly, step on the balls without even looking and deftly give it a quick grind as they continue to walk, never breaking stride.
The bull is actually the centerpiece of the Turin Coat of Arms. Turin, or Torino, was one of the most prominent Italian cities, and their symbol is the bull, because Torino literally means “young bull.” (There are the coats of arms of three other prominent Italian cities located nearby – Milan, Florence, and Rome.) As for the story, well, it appears to have been lost to time; Milan’s own tourism portal can’t even say for certain. But at least this tradition appears to be alive for quite awhile further!
Want more about Italy? Check out these pages:
- Italy Travel Guide: Country & Destination Information for Visiting
- Italian Holidays: Important Events & Days Off for Italy
- Italy History: A Quick Timeline of Italian Historical Events
- Aperitivo: A Brief Look at the Aperitif Culture in Northern Italy
- 36 Hours in Udine, Northeastern Italy’s Capital City of Friuli
- Trieste: A Day in Italy’s Northeastern Seaport City