Frequently overlooked in favour of the Duomo, many residents say that the church of Sant’Ambrogio – dedicated to the city’s patron saint – is Milan’s most important religious monument. The red brick exterior may not be quite as eye-catching as the Duomo’s, but visiting the ancient interior is an illuminating experience.

The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is a building rich in history and spirituality, a casket of sacred art, and represents, with the Cathedral, the focal point of Milan’s religious life.

The Basilica is surrounded by the devotion of the people, and it has always been a destination for pilgrims and visitors.


The superb portico, a cloister that precedes the entrance into the church itself, comprises columns with sculpted capitals. It provides an introduction to the intensely meditative atmosphere of the Basilica.

The façade has the typical Lombard Romanesque triangular pediment, and it consists of two orders, the lower of which in continuous with the portico. The Basilica has two belltowers: the oldest is the one on the right, known as the “Torre dei Monaci” (Monks’ tower) or the “old tower”, dating back to the 9th century; the tower on the left is called the Torre dei Canonici (priests’ tower), and this is in Lombard style, dating to 1128.


The church is dedicated to Ambrose, bishop of Milan. It is a superb example of Lombard Romanesque architecture. First built from 379 to 386, it was then a typically Palaeochristian structure. At that time Ambrose had named it “Basilica Martyrum.”

The building was radically modified in the Middle Ages, and today it comprises three naves. The ceiling has a ribbed vault, with columns that transfer the weight of the roof to the foundations.

The lateral naves present a great deal of art and history, with chapels containing extensive decoration, both on the vaults and the walls.

To don’t miss

– the Ciborium, a decorative canopy with Byzantine Lombard stucco work, supported by four Ancient Roman columns

– the Golden Altar by Volvinio, a 9th-century masterpiece of Carolingian goldwork

– the Stilicone Sarcophagus, a late-Roman funeral receptacle, said to have been made for a Roman general

– in the crypt, the grisly remains of Sant’Ambrogio, housed in a bronze and crystal casket along with two other saints Protasio and Gervasio

– the extensive frescoes in the seventh chapel at the end of the right nave, which leads into the Chapel of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro

– in the apse, the large mosaic depicts the Savour between Saints Gervasio and Protasio.

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