The modern city of Milan is a magnet for lovers of fashion and anyone involved in banking. But of course the city has a history, and offers so much more than shopping. For instance, did you know that there are Roman ruins in Milan? They’re not as plentiful as elsewhere in Italy, but that might just make them more special.
The ancient city of Mediolanum was founded in roughly 600 B.C.E. by a Celtic tribe, and later conquered by Romans in the 3rd century B.C.E. Not long after that, Mediolanum became a capital of the Western Roman Empire. It remained an important city to the Roman Empire until the early 5th century A.D. Upon learning all of this, it should be no surprise to learn that there are Roman ruins in Milan that you can still see today. In fact, it may be surprising to learn there aren’t more.
There were several churches built during the 4th century A.D. that are still standing today, as well as the remains of a 2nd century public bathhouse. While they may not make most lists of the top things to do in Milan, they make for an interesting look at an historic side to this modern city.
Here are some of the Roman ruins you can see in Milan.
- Colonne di San Lorenzo – The square in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore is lined on two sides with ancient Roman columns. These were taken from a 2nd century Roman structure, usually believed to be a bathhouse. The columns may no longer be in their original place, but they were actually moved to their current location and configuation in the 4th century by the ancient Romans themselves.
- Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore – This church was originally built in the 5th century, although it has been damaged and rebuilt in places since then. You can still see 4th-5th century elements in the church, including mosaics in the Chapel of Saint Aquilino.
- Basilica of San Simpliciano – This church was begun in the 3rd century by Ambrose, then-bishop of Milan and later the city’s patron saint. It was St. Ambrose’s successor who actually finished the church, and the basilica bears his name – Simplicanus. Saint Simplican is buried inside.
- San Nazaro in Brolo – This is another church built by St. Ambrose, started in the 4th century on the road that led to Rome. Some of the interior has been replaced, but much of it is original – including the walls.
- Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio – This church, bearing the name of Milan’s patron saint, is one of the city’s oldest. It was consecrated in the late 4th century, and originally called the Basilica Martyrum, since it was built in an area where many martyrs had been buried. The basilica was restored and rebuilt during different periods, and the church we see today dates largely from the 12th century. A few elements of the early church remain, including the 4th century oratory with 5th century mosaics. The remains of St. Ambrose are inside the basilica.
- Milan Amphitheatre – There are some remains of the Roman amphitheatre that once stood in Mediolanum, although what’s left is minimal. It was built in the 2nd-3rd centuries near the Porta Ticinese and, like many ancient Roman structures, was used as a quarry for other building projects in the 4th century and beyond.
Learn more about the fascinating history of this northern Italian city on a history walking tour of Milan.