The ancient Roman city that stood where the stunning Italian city of Milan stands today was called Mediolanum. Milan is one of those cities with a very deep history and much more than first meets the eye. Milan is a city with many things to see and is one of Italy’s most delightful cities to explore today. If one goes to Milan, then seeing the old Roman ruins are part of any essential weekend itinerary.
For a period of time, Milan became the most important center of power in the Western Roman Empire. After seeing the ancient architecture of Milan, if one would like something very different to do, consider the old Italian and French pastime of hunting for truffles.
The Importance and Deep History Of Milan
The Capital of Rome was … not always Rome. Under Constantine the Great the Roman Empire’s capital moved to Constantinople. Later the Roman Empire split into East and West. The capital of the Western Roman Empire went back to Rome for a while but then moved to Milan and later Ravenna.
- Capital: Milan Was The Capital of The Western Roman Empire For A Time
Mediolanum predates the Romans and traces its history back to around 600 BC. It was incorporated into the Roman Republic in 222 BC and went on to become one of the most important cities of the Roman Empire.
achieving a peak population of around 100,000. That made it one of the largest Roman cities at the time. After the Roman time, Milan remained a very important city in northern Italy.
The great Roman Emperor Diocletian decided to divide the Empire in two (he chose the Eastern half). The ruler of the Western Half (Maximian) decided to rule from Milan. During this time the second set of city walls was built (around 4.5 kilometers long).
As the Western Roman Empire started to wane in the 5th century, things got very difficult for Milan. After Milan was besieged by the Visigoths in 402, the emperor moved his residence to the more defensible city of Ravenna. Attila the Hun sacked and devastated the city in 452 AD. Later the wars between the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines saw a lot of destruction in the once-mighty city.
- Besieged: By The Visigoths
- Sacked: By Attila The Hun
Today there are many ancient Roman ruins in Milan. The most notable ruins include an amphitheater not much smaller than the Colosseum itself and the emperor’s palace.
The Columns of San Lorenzo & Basilica
The Columns of San Lorenzo:
The Columns of San Lorenzo is one of the most impressive groups of Roman ruins in central Milan. They are located just in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo and are recognizable for their 16 columns standing 8.5 meters high. The pillars likely support the great baths that were built by Emperor Massimiano in the third century AD. They likely were taken from an older pagan temple.
Here one can see the pillars and the remains of an amphitheater, a theater, and the “Erculee” Baths.
Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore:
The Basilica of St Lawrence was originally built by the Romans and then rebuilt several times over the years. It is one of the oldest churches in Milan and is one of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture in Milan. The inner chapel of the basilica (named after Saint Aquilino) dates from around 400 AD.
- Best: One of The Best Examples Of Roman Construction In Milan
Other Notable Roman Ruins In Milan
The Roman Theater:
The Roman Theater (Teatro Romano) is underneath the modern Chamber of Commerce building. Excavations were carried out in 2005 that showed the theater dates from the first century AD. One can visit it by appointment.
- Basilica of Saint Ambrogio: Dates to the Fourth Century
- Crypt of San Giovanni: The Only Surviving Example of a Romanesque Crypt In Milan
The Archeological Museum of Milan
If one is in Milan, don’t skip the Museum of Archeology (or Museo Archeologico). It is a great museum housing a collection of ancient artifacts. See the history of one of Rome’s greatest cities and one that was for a time the capital of the empire.
The Museum is housed in the former convent of the Monastero Maggiore and the church of San Maurizio (both founded in the eighth and ninth centuries).
See examples of Romanesque mosaics and pottery, as well as a Roman watchtower and walls. The first part of the museum is dedicated to ancient Milan (Mediolanum).
- Tuesday to Sunday: 9 am until 5:30 pm.
- Monday: closed
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