Milan is known for being the magical city of fashion, the European Italian city par excellence, but not everyone knows that beneath all those beautiful luxury buildings and those beautiful art galleries, Milan hides an entire underground city.
For the uninitiated, as far back as 286 AD Milan was chosen as the capital of the Western Roman Empire under the name of Mediolanum (does it mean anything to you?). The choice of Milan as imperial capital came from the fact that in those days the city had extreme military, political and economic importance. Its status lasted until the crisis of 402 when the imperial scepter passed to Ravenna because of the barbarian raids from Northern Europe.
During this time, the emperor Diocletian together with his caesar and co-emperor Maximian made the city from a small provincial village to a real imperial capital.
Now let's discover together the six most suggestive places of the Mediolanum of a time of which we can still see the remains.
1. Il Palazzo Imperiale di via Brisa
Let's start from the place that makes an imperial city, or the residence of the emperor. Starting the tour from the historic Corso Magenta up to the famous Pasticceria Marchesi, you reach Via Brisa. There you can admire the open-air remains of what was once the Roman imperial palace. Unfortunately, the remains are currently surrounded by post-war buildings, but with a little imagination, you will be able to review the huge palace that housed the emperors for more than a century. The palace occupied an entire neighborhood along with its very high walls, with government buildings and administrative buildings inside.
2. Il Forum di Piazza San Sepolcro Next to the famous Via Torino, not far from the Duomo, it is possible to discover a very interesting and central area of the life of Mediolanum.
Between the Piazza San Sepolcro, via Cardinale Federico, piazza Pio XI and part of via Moneta, the beating heart of the Roman city extended: the Forum. The area extended for about 160 meters in length and 55 in width, with an elongated rectangular shape. In it there were several important public buildings such as: the Capitolium, the basilica, the curia, the macellum and the tabernae. The Mediolanum Mint was also nearby, in the homonymous Via Zecca Vecchia.
3. Colonne e Basilica di San Lorenzo
The columns of San Lorenzo are perhaps today among the best-known places in the Milanese nightlife. The famous colonnade recovered from an unknown building of the second century AD is the background to the various young people and their light-heartedness. Legend has it that out of the 16 7-meter high columns, one is missing because it would have been the Devil himself who had hidden it ... still many people look for it near the walls of Porta Ticinese. We are therefore in the extra-urban area, in front of the famous colonnade stands the large Aryan church of the Roman city (today of Catholic worship): the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The structure, mostly from the early Christian era, is still visible today in combination with the medieval and mannerist style. Inside you can admire the chapel of Sant’Aquilino, dating back to 400 AD and the chapel of Sant’Ippolito.
4. Terme Erculee
Moving north-east of the Milanese center, in an area where the Milanese certainly pass by often without even realizing it, there are the remains of what was once the Terme Erculee. We are in Largo Corsia dei Servi and near the Sorbillo Pizzeria it will be possible to identify a sign indicating a stone wall that is not completely visible, this will lead you to a flowerbed where you can admire the ruins. Something more can be glimpsed inside the Church of San Vito in Pasquirolo (which refers in the name to "pasquee" the public pastures located in the Middle Ages near the churchyard), hidden between the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Europa. In front of the facade of the church fragments of the floor and basins of tanks are visible; easily recognizable as they are built with marble slabs. Furthermore, in its proximities there is also a trap door, from which you go down to a room where part of the hypocaust with parts of the mosaic has been preserved. At the beginning of the 19th century, a fragment of a large statue of Hercules was found, now preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Corso Magenta. It would be a copy of a statue by the sculptor Lisippo.
In the list of the remains of Roman Milan, our Lady Sant’Ambrogio, the second church in Milan, as well as one of the recurring symbols, could not be missing, it is the first "Roman" church named after the patron saint of Milan. The basilica is located in the homonymous Piazza Sant'Ambrogio near the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and today represents a fundamental point of Milanese history and the Ambrosian Church. It was built between 379 and 386 at the behest of the same bishop Ambrose. Inside it is possible to admire, along the central nave, the Sarcophagus of Stilicho, a Roman general of Germanic origin, it is not known exactly how it was killed and it is likely that the name is wanted by popular tradition. In addition, the basilica was dedicated to several martyred saints buried in it, namely: Satyr, Vittore, Nabore, Vitale, Felice, Valeria, Gervasio and Protasi.
6. Il Colosseo milanese
Yes, our Roman imperial capital housed its own Colosseum, like that of Rome and Capua. Behind different buildings of the sixties between via de Amicis and Conca del Naviglio, hidden, we find the remains of what was the first century AD Roman amphitheater. C. We are already in what was the extra-urban city, that is, outside the city walls. The amphitheater hosted twenty thousand spectators and had a facade of three orders plus a crowning attic for a total height of 38 meters. Its rediscovery happened by chance in the thirties during the excavations for the laying of some hydraulic pipes. At the entrance to the park of Santa Maria della Vittoria it is possible to visit the few ruins that once hosted fights between gladiators, between men and wild animals, naval battles and other atrocities considered recreational at the time. The structure was so large that it was erected by four orders, like the current Arena in Verona. Unfortunately, its destruction occurred in the 5th century, its bricks were used for the foundations of the medieval Basilica of San Lorenzo and for the walls. Even today, the amphitheater has not been fully explored. The good news is that today the focus is on an all-green project, which will see the recovery of the area for the construction of a 22,000 square meter city park that will reproduce the vestiges of the amphitheater redesigned through the trees.
For history buffs, it is also very interesting to visit the Archaeological Museum, in the Corso Magenta area. You will also be able to see the remains of the Imperial Palace, Sant'Ambrogio and the Roman forum by participating in our Corso Magenta quiz tour! You will also discover other curiosities about the Roman coliseum and the Columns of San Lorenzo (but not only!) With our quiz tour in Corso di Porta Ticinese and also in Corso di Porta Romana you will discover places related to ancient Rome. We are waiting for you!
I hope I made you discover curiosities about parts of Milan that preserve such an important history for the city itself, for Italy and beyond!
Written by Antonella Spanu