Home Culture & Museums 10 Steps in the Roman Milan

10 Steps in the Roman Milan

Colonne-di-San-Lorenzo
© Georgios Tsichlis

Milan, called Mediolanum in ancient times, was an important city in the Roman Empire, and for over a century it was actually the capital of the Roman Empire. Although the city has preserved numerous interesting artifacts that testify to its glorious past, many are hidden or buried underground.
However, over the past few years, the city’s local administration has been working towards promoting ‘Roman Milan’, giving visibility to individual attractions, creating itineraries, restoring and opening forgotten ruins to the public, and creating an archaeological park, that is well worth a visit. milanoarcheologia.beniculturali.it

Step ① THE ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM

Museo-Archeologico-esternoThe best place to start your tour is the Civic Archaeological Museum of Milan, housed in the former convent of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore. If you want to discover what Mediolanum looked like in the 1st century AD, you’ll find scale models, information panels and an extensive collection of artifacts here. The Museum also provides visitors with information regarding the habits and customs of the ancient Romans, through reconstructions and educational areas. The itinerary consists of several sections: Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Barbarian and Gandhara.

Museo-Archeologico-bell-towerAs shown by the excavations, this was the heart of Mediolanum. In days gone by, the area housed a Roman villa dating back to the 1st century, the Maximian walls and the Roman circus. In the courtyard of the museum, you can still see the bell tower of the church of San Maurizio. This was originally a 14-metre tower, from which the chariots used to race in the circus.
Corso Magenta, 15.
M1-M2 Cadorna, M1 Cordusio
www.museoarcheologicomilano.it

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Corso Magenta, 15, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ② MEMORIES OF THE LOMBARD HERITAGE

The archaeological section at the Castello Sforzesco represents a sort of local site of the Civic Archeological Museum and completes the visit to the Milan’s archaeological collections. With the aid of numerous explanatory panels the Museo Archeologico-Sezione Preistoria e Protostoria describes the evolution of the area of Lombardy, sequentially from the Neolithic era to the Roman colonization.
Piazza Castello.
M1-M2 Cadorna, M1 Cairoli
museiarcheologici.milanocastello.it

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Piazza Castello, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ③ THE ROMAN FORUM

Cripta di San SepolcroIn the Church of San Sepolcro, at the back of the Ambrosiana, the stones of the ancient Roman Forum are still visible. Built in 1030 on the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum, the Church of San Sepolcro contains a copy of Christ’s tomb made in the early 14th century in its underground crypt. Inside, tradition has it that relics of the holy places and the land of Jerusalem taken by the Crusaders were placed. Carlo Borromeo also chose the crypt as a place of prayer, as evidenced by the polychrome terracotta statue of the saint. The historical importance of the crypt is also given by the paving with large slabs of white “Verona” stone, which was the paving of the ancient Roman Forum in the 4th century.
Corso Magenta, 15.
M1-M2 Cadorna, M1 Cordusio
www.museoarcheologicomilano.it

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Corso Magenta, 15, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ④ TRACES OF AN ANCIENT CHURCH

San Giovanni in ConcaIn the centre of Piazza Missori are the remains of the ancient basilica of San Giovanni in Conca, one of Milan’s early Christian basilicas built in the late imperial Roman period between the 5th and 6th centuries. The building was demolished between 1948 and 1952 in order to build the Via Albricci-Piazza Missori road axis. Only a few traces of the church remain today, dating back to the 11th century, namely part of the apse and the entire crypt characterised by splendid round arches.
Piazza Missori. M3 Missori

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Piazza Giuseppe Missori, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ⑤ A GREEN ARCHEOLOGY PROJECT

PAN anfiteatroAnother must-visit site for those wishing to learn more about Roman Milan is the Parco Amphiteatrum Naturae (PAN), with the adjacent Antiquarium, which can be accessed from via De Amicis, in the Porta Ticinese district. Opened in 2004, the park, a relaxing green space in the centre of the city, hosts the remains (surprisingly only unearthed in 2000) of the city’s ancient Roman amphitheatre to host Roman games and gladiator fights. Although the imposing oval-shaped Roman building was destroyed in the 6th century, excavations were finally able to demonstrate its importance. It could seat up to 20,000 spectators (even larger than the Arena of Verona ) and was fitting for the role played by the city during the days of the Roman Empire. However, the complex known as the ‘Arena Civica’ in viale Byron, is a 19th century building that has nothing to do with Roman Milan.

The Parco Amphiteatrum Naturae (PAN) is a “green archaeology” project that will see the light of day at the end of 2022, in line with the redevelopment of the city aimed at the forestation of every new urban project. The result will be a land art project for the recovery of nature and antiquity. www.parcoanfiteatromilano.beniculturali.it
Via De Amicis, Via Conca del Naviglio, Via Arena
(Porta Ticinese). M2 Sant’Agostino

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Via Edmondo de Amicis, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ⑥

The adjacent Antiquarium, housing other finds of antiquity, is named after Alda Levi, the Italian archaeologist who fought for the recovery of Lombardy’s historic heritage. As a woman and a Jewess, she lost her job in 1938 due to the shameful racial laws introduced by Fascism. The park was dedicated to her, restoring her reputation, and pays tribute to her invaluable work.

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Antiquarium "Alda Levi", Milano, MI, Italia

Step ⑦ A THEATRE OF TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO

Teatro_romano_milanoTwo thousand years ago, in the heart of Milan, there was a theatre. Today its remains, covering an area of about 450 square metres, are kept inside the Palazzo Turati, two steps from the Milan’s Stock Exchange, in the basement of the palace of the Chamber of Commerce.

Today it is possible to visit the Museo del Teatro Romano, a building that was erected during Augustus empire (31 BC-14 AD) and likely to remain in use until the fourth century AD (a different one from the amphitheatre, which is a part of the aforementioned Parco Amphiteatrum Naturae PAN).
Via San Vittore al Teatro, 14.
M1-M2 Cadorna, M1 Cordusio
www.milomb.camcom.it/teatro-romano

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Via San Vittore Al Teatro, 14, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ⑧ ROMAN WALLS AND TOWERS

Imperial palace MilanAmong the numerous archaeological traces in Milan, some remains of the Roman walls are clearly visible. Although only a few sections of the circle erected in 49 BC remain, we know that the walls demarcated an area of approximately 80 hectares, much smaller than the present city and corresponding to a portion of the modern centre. One of the ancient towers can still be seen in via Carrobbio, while a piece of the original Roman walls was incorporated into a private building in via San Vito (located  behind via Torino, at street number 26)! The same is true of via del Lauro (at street number 7, near Teatro alla Scala), where the remains of a quadrangular tower can be found. In via Brisa, just a short distance from Castello Sforzesco, the sizeable remains of an Imperial Palace built by Maximian were unearthed. Based on the ruins, it’s easy to see that this was once a sumptuous building, equipped with every comfort, including heating. Not far from here, at no. 4 via dei Bossi, you can see the remains of an old warehouse built, at the same time, in a decentralized area of the city!

Civico Museo Archeologico Milano

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Via Brisa, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ⑨ THE DUOMO AND THE BASILICAS

Battistero di San Giovanni alle FontiHowever, several of the city’s most surprising finds are housed in the city’s most important religious buildings. Although the Duomo, Milan’s imposing Gothic cathedral needs no introduction, not everyone knows that from its interior visitors can access a real subterranean archaeological area dating back to the late Roman era. From the earliest centuries, the area was home to numerous religious buildings, many of which were commissioned and frequented by Sant’Ambrogio, a key figure of early Christianity. Another of Milan’s most important and revered churches, the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is, in fact, dedicated to him. Here, even older remains can be found in the underground areas of this medieval church.

The same applies to San Simpliciano and Sant’Eustorgio, which houses a beautifully preserved early Christian apse and an early Christian cemetery. Also particularly notewor thy is San Lorenzo in the Porta Ticinese area.
In addition to the church, which was also built on the remains of a previous building, this area of the city is renowned for the Colonne di San Lorenzo (the Columns of San Lorenzo). Although the complex has been partially rebuilt, and the place bears little or no resemblance to its Roman predecessor, the colonnade is one of Milan’s best-loved symbols and a site that is often used for bacchanalias reminiscent of Roman times.

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Sant’Eustorgio, Piazza Sant'Eustorgio, Milano, MI, Italia

Step ⑩ SCATTERED REMAINS

qc-termemilanoThe Terme (thermal baths), another typical venue of Roman life, can be seen from Largo Corsia dei Servi, in the San Babila area, while a portion of the ancient mosaics can be admired in the atrium of a nearby building, at no. 16 corso Europa. Furthermore, spectacular floors of several domus are still visible in private buildings near Piazza Missori, in via Amedei (street numbers 4-6) and in via Nerino (street number 12). Finally, the remains of the imperial mausoleum of San Vittore al Corpo, where guided tours take place, are found in the courtyard of the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia in via San Vittore.

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Largo Corsia dei Servi, Milano, MI, Italia