<p>(by Anto bozzini, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)</p>
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Milan

A walk through the remains of the ancient Roman Empire

The Columns of San Lorenzo
View of the colonnade (by Parsifall, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
"Mediolanum" digital reconstruction (Cristiano64Vectorization, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

View of the colonnade (by Parsifall, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

From the Amphitheatre, following the ancient road that once led to the southern access of Mediolanum, we reach what looks like an old gate: Porta Ticinese.

This old medieval passage is one of only two surviving gates of the original Milanese walls dating to the 11th century CE. First, it consisted of only one or two entrances, and then it was transformed in the 19th century CE, assuming its present appearance with three openings.

Although this building dates back to medieval times, centuries after the Roman era, the passage corresponds to the ancient Roman road ‘Ticinesis’ as it provided a gateway to “Ticinum”, the Roman name of the city of Pavia, located a few kilometres in the south of Milan, in the direction to Rome. We can imagine travellers, merchants, pilgrims and even entire legions travelling along this path, reaching other places in the empire through the highly organised Roman road system. It’s noteworthy that Mediolanum was the biggest northernmost colony before the Alps crossing. Therefore, it was a vital transit centre linking the Italian peninsula to the Germanic regions over the Alpine range.

We may pass through this gate that still stands in memory of times gone by and reach out to something unmistakably Roman: the Columns of San Lorenzo. 

The columns, which belonged to a monumental building from the 2nd century CE, stand right in front of the homonymous Basilica of San Lorenzo, encouraging travellers to visit its interior. However, these Roman remains are thought to belong to an even earlier building located elsewhere in the city and later placed here in early Christian times.


The Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore still stands outside the ancient roman city perimeter and, unfortunately, is not so lucky in terms of preservation. The church has been partially destroyed, rebuilt and restored several times over the centuries. Specifically, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the cupola suffered frequent collapses, which affected the original conservation even more.

However, on the right side of the Basilica, there is still a chapel dedicated to St Aquilinus.

The chapel dates back to the 5th century CE, and although it also bears clear signs of deterioration, today, it offers an essential example of the original atmosphere of the ancient Roman basilica. Its early Christian style, carvings, and colours of the frescoes allow us to imagine the splendour of the original structure, probably a rare beauty for pilgrims of that time.

According to recent studies and literary sources, the basilica had a magnificent interior, with walls adorned with various precious marbles and colours following rich patterns, unfortunately, gone lost through the ages. 

Nowadays, the district is a popular meeting place for young people, and among bars and nightlife, the Basilica, together with the Roman colonnade, stand almost forgotten by its citizens. 

Especially these sixteen columns, adorned with Corinthian capitals, offer a beautiful contrast to the frenetic fashionable Milan, reminding us of a distant era when Romans gathered here with solemnity. 

Today, the columns still stand upright, perhaps as a reminder to its citizens of the historical greatness of Mediolanum. Despite the barbarian invasions, the destruction of the much-feared Frederick Barbarossa, one of the most dreadful emperors during Medieval times, and the bombings of the Great War, Milan still holds a past that cannot be erased. But, on the contrary, old remains like these columns are ready to narrate stories for all those who have passion for listening.


1. The mausoleum

2. Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

3. The Amphitheatre

4. The Columns of San Lorenzo

5. The Imperial Palace & the Circus

6. The theatre and the “forum”

7. Under the Duomo

8. "Erculee" thermal baths