Columns of San Lorenzo, the legacy of the Roman Empire
The Columns of San Lorenzo may not be the most popular monument in Milan. That said, the Colonne di San Lorenzo, as they’re known by the locals, are one of those places that are worth visiting, if not for their spectacular nature, then for their uniqueness. On any trip, there are points of interest that stand out for one reason or another, and these columns do so because they’re one of the few Roman ruins that remain in the city.
Its graceful outline is only comparable to the grandeur of the pieces that stand in all their splendour in front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, the oldest church in Milan. Sober and classically inspired, they give us an idea of the importance that the city had in the times of the Empire, which is reason enough to deserve the traveller’s attention… But there’s more!
Located just a few metres from the heart of the city, the columns of San Lorenzo also act as a meeting place, so you can experience the nightlife scene in Milan (link to going out in Milan). Bars, shops, and restaurants are dotted around the area, which is just a few minutes away from iconic places such as the Piazza del Duomo (link to Piazza del Duomo Milan), and the Royal Palace of Milan.
Colonne di San Lorenzo: a bit of history
Even at the risk of suffering from the Stendhal syndrome that threatens even the most experienced of travellers, to talk about Italy is to talk about history and art around every corner. While it’s true that cities such as Rome (internal link to Rome Guide) or Venice are at the top of the list of places that have extensive heritage, Milan has enough charm to captivate anybody.
The Columns of San Lorenzo are a good example of this and, with the exception of “must-see” sights such as the Duomo, the Castello Sforzesco (link to Castello Sforzesco in Milan), the Monumental Cemetery, or the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, they’re a key piece of local history. Their importance dates back to the times of the Empire, when they formed part of a Roman temple or bath dating from around the 2nd century.
Coinciding with the construction of the basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore, the row of 16 Corinthian columns were moved to their current location. It was then that they became part of an ancient architectural ensemble that linked the church itself to the Via Ticinensis, towards the neighbouring town of Pavia (internal link to what to see in Pavia).
Historical events, including a new town planning scheme and the effects of the Second World War, led to the removal of the old houses from around the basilica, up to the colonnade. Once this area was cleared, the central space in front of the church became home to a statue of the Emperor Constantine (a copy of the original Roman one), while the area around the columns of San Lorenzo became a large green area known today as the Basilicas Park or Parco Papa Giovanni Paolo II.
What to see near the Columns of San Lorenzo
The Navigli neighbourhood (link to Navigli neighbourhood) is home to this monument, but among its streets full of boutiques, bars, and nightlife, there’s also room for many other attractions. Taking the colonnade as a reference point, other sites worth a visit include the early Christian Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and the 19th-century triumphal arch in Piazza XXIV Maggio, as well as its museums, shop windows…and even canals!
Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore
The backdrop to the Colonne di San Lorenzo is one of the oldest churches in the city. At the time of its construction, it was considered one of the most important examples of western architecture, and not surprisingly, its interior is an impressive mixture of a mausoleum, church, and palace.
The remains of the ancient medieval walls are still present in Milan. A few metres from the columns, you can still see the Porta Ticinese (also known by the locals as Porta Cicca), whose origin dates back to the 12th century.
The canals of Milan
Nearly 300 kilometres separate Venice from Milan, yet Milan also has canals. Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese, the name of the Milanese canals, are other places that must be included in your itinerary when you visit the columns of San Lorenzo. Although they lost their original function almost a hundred years ago, today they offer a beautiful route with many leisure and gastronomic options, as well as boat trips.
Are you travelling to Milan with friends (link to travelling to Milan with friends)? Then you’re in luck. The Columns of San Lorenzo aren’t only a must-see stop on your tour of the city’s historical heritage. As a piece of the historical legacy of the Roman Empire, they have to feature in any traveller’s itinerary but, if you’re also looking for ways to party in Milan (internal link), they’re a must for your trip.
The area around the Colonne di San Lorenzo is a meeting point for many of the city’s young people, especially in the evening and at weekends. Beyond the monument, this youthful and pleasant atmosphere plays host to a large number of places ideal for an Italian aperitif, a coffee, and even a few drinks if you feel like it. This is something that you can adapt to your trip and your interests.
Admiring the imposing columns in the moonlight will give you a picture-perfect view of this area, where seeing the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore lit up at night time also makes it worth a visit. If you’re travelling to Milan in summer, you may even have the chance to enjoy one of the events or concerts that take place in the neighbouring Basilicas Park. What more could you ask for?