Love to discover a place’s history when you visit? Colonne di San Lorenzo (The Columns of San Lorenzo) needs to be on your Milan itinerary. The most famous remnants of the Roman Empire in the city, these striking columns date as far back as the 2nd century.
What’s in this guide?
- What to see at the Colonne di San Lorenzo
- Colonne di San Lorenzo history and facts
- Restaurants, bars and shopping nearby
Getting to Colonne di San Lorenzo
Near the Porta Ticinese district, the Colonne di San Lorenzo are popular with tourists and locals alike. If you’re using public transport to reach the landmark, we’d recommend going either by metro or tram. The Missori stop on the M3 line is just a 10-minute walk away, or if you’re near an M2 line, you’ll need to head to St Agostino. Alternatively, tram lines 15, 3 and 2 have nearby stops.
When visiting Milan, we’d always recommend taking advantage of the travel cards the city has on offer. These boast incredible savings on all modes of public transport, so it’s worth buying one as soon as you get there. The 48-hour travel card is a favourite among weekend visitors in Milan, letting you travel around the city as many times as you need for €8.25.
What to see at the Colonne di San Lorenzo
Towering marble columns
The columns are over seven metres tall, making them a striking feature of the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore. There are 16 marble columns in total, all of which are topped with a redbrick architrave.
The Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore
Behind Colonne Di San Lorenzo, you’ll find Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore, one of the oldest churches in Milan. Dedicated to San Lorenzo, the church follows the shape of a four-leaved flower, with an open central area surrounded by four round ambulatories.
Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore features Byzantine frescoes, the ruins of Saint Aquilino of Milan and the relics of an ark by Carlo Garavaglia, a Lombardian architect. The church also has a Baroque-style dome. The original was believed to be demolished as part of renovations, but no one is certain.
Colonne di San Lorenzo history and facts
Standing tall in front of Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore (Basilica of San Lorenzo), the Columns of San Lorenzo are an imposing sight. The columns are widely considered one of Milan's best examples of Roman architecture. But what’s the story behind these historical columns?
Building the columns
The origins of Colonne di San Lorenzo remain shrouded in mystery. Many believe that they were initially built for a pagan temple or public bath in the 2nd century, but nobody knows for sure. We know that the columns were moved to their new home in the 4th century, once the construction of Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore was complete.
Steeped in history, Colonne di San Lorenzo even feature a message by Lucius Verus, who was a Roman Emperor. Look out for it on one of the columns, carved on a marble tablet.
After the columns took their place in the square and the construction of Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore was complete, the space between both landmarks was filled to the brim with houses. Some of these new homes put pressure on the Basilica, which was a cause for worry among residents and officials. Something needed to be done.
In 1935, these houses would be demolished to help preserve and protect the Basilica and create an open square. During World War II, more homes behind the Basilica were also destroyed. Today, this area is home to Parco Giovanni Paolo II (Basilicas Park).
The Colonne di San Lorenzo today
Thanks to its impressive size and historical significance, it’s no surprise that the Colonne di San Lorenzo have become a tourist hotspot. Visitors flock here to admire one of the city's best examples of ancient Roman architecture. But by night, the landmark truly comes to life.
Once the tourist crowds have cleared, the landmark becomes a popular nightlife spot. Locals gather here on warm summer evenings to socialise, but everyone is welcome. If you want to experience life as a local, we recommend visiting the landmark at night.
Restaurants, bars and shops near the Colonne di San Lorenzo
Being so close to Porta Ticinese means all the amenities you need are within walking distance from Colonne Di San Lorenzo. In fact, Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio (Basilica of Saint’Ambrogio), Duomo di Milano (The Cathedral of Milan), Santa Maria presso San Satiro, San Maurizio Al Monastero Maggiore and Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle) are all just a short walk away.
Some of Milan’s best restaurants can be found near Colonne di San Lorenzo, so you really are spoilt for choice, whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Gastronomia Yamamoto – Less than a 10-minute walk from Colonne di San Lorenzo, Gastronomia Yamamoto is perfect if you’re looking for something a bit different. The menu comprises superb Japanese cuisine, ready to be enjoyed in a laid-back setting
- Trattoria Madonnina – A family-run restaurant that delivers excellent traditional Milanese food just 15 minutes from the columns. Trattoria Madonnina’s small menu boasts beautifully crafted dishes
- EXIT – Close to the Missori metro stop, we’d recommend grabbing lunch here before walking down to Colonne Di San Lorenzo, which is just 10 minutes away. Its kiosk setting may not look too impressive from the outside. But trust us, the food here is simple yet delicious, using only the best ingredients
- Langosteria – This Michelin-starred restaurant is only a 15-minute walk from the columns, one of the best seafood spots in the city. Langosteria is ideal for pushing the boat out at dinner. Favourite dishes include the king crab, oyster collection and raw fish platter
Close to some of the city’s best nightlife spots, Colonne di San Lorenzo is an ideal landmark to visit at the end of the day before heading off to a nearby bar.
- Wave – A cocktail bar that’s just five minutes from the columns, Wave might be a bit on the pricey side, but it’s one of the best bars in the entire city. The sofas, soft lighting and retro furniture make a cosy backdrop for drinks with friends
If you’re looking for more than just one drink, take a 15-minute walk down to the Navigli region. Here you’ll find a range of popular Milanese bars dotted around the canal.
- Backdoor 43 – One of the world’s smallest bars, this tiny cocktail bar only has a few barstools. Rather than ordering inside, most customers purchase takeaway drinks through the small hatch in the window, where you’ll only see the bartender’s hands
- Iter – This bar boasts a friendly, warm atmosphere. A quintessential Milanese spot, Iter is popular with locals and tourists alike
- Mag Café – Behind this quaint bar, you’ll find every bottle you could possibly imagine. A popular spot in Navigli, Mag Café features quirky interiors and an intimate atmosphere, perfect for a wine or cocktail
If you’re looking to spend your euros after visiting Colonne Di San Lorenzo, we’d suggest walking to Navigli. Not just boasting a great nightlife, Navigli has plenty of shops to choose from too. Unlike the Quadrilatero Della Moda (The fashion district), this area specialises in vintage and independent shops. Stroll the canals for small boutiques, which you’ll also find down the characterful side streets.
There’s also a monthly flea market, Mercato dell’Antiquariato (The Antiques Market), which takes place on the last Sunday of each month. Stalls are scattered across the canals and sell various hidden gems, from antique furniture to vintage leather.
Travelling by train to Milan?
If you're thinking of taking a trip to Milan, why not travel by train? Getting the train to Milan is easy thanks to the high-speed rail connections operated by Trenitalia and Italo. You can travel to Milan from some of the most popular cities in Italy, including from Venice to Milan (2h), Rome to Milan (2h 52m) and Florence to Milan (1h 40m).
Need more information about travelling to Milan by train? Check out our dedicated page to trains to Milan.