Mediolanum city of the empire

From 286 to 402 BC, Milan was one of the capitals of the Roman Empire. The itinerary, which winds along the ancient road of the city, from the outside the walls basilica of San Lorenzo to what is now Via Monte Napoleone, allows bringing to light the great architectural and urban enterprises of Maximian, aimed at conferring to Milan, the feature and dignity of the imperial city.

Mediolanum city of the empire

1. The fortified Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore

Corso di Porta Ticinese, 35               

Where a church resembled a fort and an empress commissioned a mausoleum.

A masterpiece of the early Christian age, the Basilica of San Lorenzo was built in the Fourth Century, outside the city walls along the road to Pavia. In origin, it was fortified as a palace, and what stands out today is the reuse of materials of pre-existing Roman buildings, mainly the superb Corinthian style colonnade. Not to miss is the chapel of Sant'Aquilino with its wonderful early Christian mosaics that, for richness and complexity, competed with those of Ravenna, both commissioned by Galla Placidia, munificent patron and the first empress in the history of ancient Rome.


2. Carrobbio: at the origins of Milan’s traffic

Largo Carrobbio

Where one of the liveliest and busiest intersections in the city used to be in Roman times.

Milan had a lot of traffic already in Roman times when it was full of carts, chariots and horses, coming and going from the city! The Carrobbio intersection was one of the liveliest and chaotic of the city.

The term Carrobbio derives from quadrivium, crossroads: it corresponded to Porta Ticiniensis in the Maximian age, from where the road to Pavia and Vigevano started, a strategic crossing point of Milanese traffic. If you look closely, one of the towers is still visible hidden between the buildings. If you enter the coffee shop at its feet, you can see it up close, making your way between one table and another! Which coffee shop? It is up to you to find it out.


3. The Circus, a stage for the emperor  

via Circo and via Cappuccio

Where a district of noble people and swarms of nuns has taken the place of the chariot.

Built in the Maximian age, nestled between the city walls and with the imperial palace as the spectacular stage from which the emperor stood before his people, it was used until the Lombard age, if it is true that Adaloald, son of Agilulf and Theodelinda, was crowned here in 604 AD. It survived the looting of Alaric and the Greek-Gothic wars (535-553), the circus collapsed only to the fury of Barbarossa who, in April 1162, after a heroic resistance of the Milanese people, stormed the city and literally battered it down: Milano delenda est! A stroll around hunting what remains: from the Carrobbio, passing by via Medici, via Circo via Cappuccio, Via Vigna, down to via Luini, with one of the towers of the carceres that marked the start of the chariot.


4. San Giorgio al Palazzo. The eternal debate between the sacred and the profane

Piazza San Giorgio, 2

Where a church took over the place where the emperor’s palace stood.

In 286, Emperor Maximilian built his huge palace in an area defended by solid walls. Milan was grand to the extent that the poet Ausonius said “the buildings are more impressive than the other, as if they were rivals, and not even their proximity to Rome diminishes their greatness”.

Time passes, things change, and bishop Natale built the church of San Giorgio al Palazzo in 750 on the miserable remains of the imperial palace, of which the memory survives today with the name of the place of worship.


5. Along the cardo like “mediolanenses”

Via Cantù, Via Santa Margherita

Where the ancient cardo becomes the heart of the medieval city.

During the second century BC, ancient Mediolanum was structured according to a quite orthogonal urbanism with its hub in the great forum, coinciding with the current Piazza San Sepolcro.

Today via the Cantù and Santa Margherita roads correspond to the ancient cardo (the main north–south-oriented street) that continued up to Piazza della Scala where, those coming from the Northeast, met the gateway to the city. The cardo continued through what are known today as via Nerino and Via Torino, ending in Porta Ticiniensis, the current Carrobbio (see point 3).


6. The Herculean addition of Maximian

From Piazza della Scala to via Montenapoleone.

Where it is possible to trace the urban evolution of the Third Century.

In 293 AD, Maximilian wanted that the capital of the Empire showed all its power and to do so he established the expansion of the walls towards northeast, in an area between Via Manzoni and the current Piazza Fontana. The city no longer ended in Piazza della Scala, but the cardo continued along what is now Via Manzoni and the north eastern wall was advanced from the Agnello-Pattari streets to Via Montenapoleone, which runs along the old border of the Roman city.


7. The Herculean Spas: mens sana in corpore sano!

Largo Corsia dei Servi

Where a corner of the city that used to be “gymnasium” and is now a place of worship.

Inserted in the so-called Herculean addition area, the spa was built by Maximian where the current church of San Vito at Pasquirolo is today, and called Herculean after the emperor's name. The structure, with a rectangular shape, was divided into frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium and included a gym too. Nothing remains today of the large spas in the city, except for a piece of the wall in brick and stone at largo Corsia dei Servi. For the curious and enthusiast visitors we suggest a visit to the Archaeological Museum at the address Corso Magenta 15, where all the treasures of imperial Milan, including the spa’s mosaics, are kept.


8. Never seen before: the lost granary!

Via Bossi - via del Lauro

A basement with a magnificent archaeological… surprise!

In the basement of an elegant fifteenth century palazzo – we cannot tell you which one – located between Via Bossi and Via del Lauro, are the remains of a horreum dating back to the massimianea era. The structure, of considerable size, seems like a room with five naves, with vaulted ceilings and supported by pillars. Because in the imperial Milan there were also the horrea, deposits of grain that we would call warehouses today, their management and administration had a crucial importance for the welfare of the city. A very important archaeological discovery that, together with that of the Roman forum allows reassembling the fragmented puzzle of the urbis Mediolani shape.

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