Recycling the Romans was big business in building Milan's first churches.
Head south from the duomo along the narrow via Torino, an up and coming shopping street, and you find yourself in one of the oldest areas of Milan, next to the Colonne di San Lorenzo (a row of 16 2nd- and 3rd-century Roman columns) that stand somewhat forlornly in the piazza in front of the complicated Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore, next to a statue of the Emperor Constantine. Once upon a time, they probably belonged to Emperor Maximian’s city baths. This area has become one of the liveliest café quarters in the city with plenty of good restaurants and clubs – and an interesting collection of graffiti. In a former incarnation, it was the place of public executions.
The Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore is the oldest church in Milan, dating back to the 4th century, but had major overhauls the 11th and 16th centuries and last restored in 1930. Elements of every generation still exist in its ancient stones, including some wonderful 4th-century mosaics in the octagonal Cappella di Sant’Aquilino. The sarcophagus in the chapel is said to be that of Galla Placidia, sister of Honorius, last emperor of Rome and wife of Ataulf, king of the Visigoths. However, her official mausoleum is in Ravenna (a mosaic masterwork) and she actually died in Rome and is probably buried there.
Stairs behind the altar lead down to the original foundations, the giant blocks recycled from a Roman amphitheatre.