Milan, The Roman Amphitheater

Via Edmondo de Amicis 17
Open from 9- 16:30 in the winter, from 9 to 18 in the summer. Saturdays from 9-14. Closed Sundays

There is really not much left of Milan’s Roman amphitheater at all and there is not much to see in the Antiquarium (not to be confused with the aquarium) either. But it’s a green area that offers some quiet and food for thought in a loud and bustling city. Plus, it’s free.

Milan was once called Mediolanum, some say because it was located geographically in the middle of a vast plain and politically between the Gauls and the Romans. Others say it got its name from its symbol at the time: a sow with medium-wooly fur. The outpost became a city in 49 B.C. and gradually grew in size and importance until it became the capital of the Western Roman Empire under the Emperor Maximian in about 300 AD. (See Cassandra’s Museo Civico Archeologico post)

Italy, dig and ye shall find

Every important city had to have an amphitheater outside its walls and Mediolanum was no exception. An amphitheater is by definition a round building used for shows. Popular spectacles in Roman times were munera, or gladiator fights, and venationes, fights against ferocious animals like lions. The world’s most famous amphitheater is the Coliseum in Rome, the world’s most famous venationes hold-over is bull fighting in Spain. 

IMG_0512
That’s all folks

Milan’s amphitheater was the third largest in Italy after the Coliseum and the one in what is today called Santa Maria Capua Vetere but was it dismantled piece by piece and reused for building materials over the centuries. Today, you really have to use your imagination to make any sense of the holes in the ground.

Alda Levi, the woman who the Antiquarium is named for, was the kind of person who could look at what you see in this small and rather miserable park and see the grandeur that was once there. Levi was born in Bologna in 1890. She got her degree from the University of Padua and immediately began a brilliant career, becoming head of archeology in all of Lombardy. She was forced out of her job in 1938 because she was Jewish and Italy at the time was fascist. She was later re-instated but died, discouraged and largely forgotten, in 1950. She was honored posthumously with the Antiquarium in 2004.

Suggested viewing: Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe


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