Deemed the oldest church in Milan (in all likelihood, erected between 379 and 386), the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio was built by Saint Ambrose himself, after his arrival in Milan. This is, in fact, one of the four churches the saint had built in the 4th century in the ancient Mediolanum area, and its original name was Basilica Martyrum, in the honor of the Christians martyred before the legalization of this religion in the Roman Empire, and buried on the site of the present edifice. The context in which Saint Ambrose erected the four churches was highly decisive for the future trajectory of Christianity, and given the merits of the saint in solving the respective issues, the ancient Basilica Martyrum was later dedicated to him (parts of the mortal remains of the saint are contained in the basilica’s crypt).
The basilica remains one of the most exemplary embodiments of the Lombard Romanesque style in Italy, though most of its outline was delineated in the 12th century. The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is not necessarily one of the major tourist sights of Milan, given, despite its architectural virtues (the unity of the architectural composition, and the uniqueness of the style in the context of the overall architectural landscape of Lombardy), it features no blatant decorations to catch the eye. Yet, for tourists interested in the development of Christianity and for the way the church has influenced the growth of Milan itself, it is well worth a visit.
A less common architectural feature of the basilica (in fact, of the entire complex, which also contains a monastery) is it is flanked by two towers, reminding of the status conflicts between the priests of the church and the community of monks established at the monastery: the Monks’ Tower dates back to the 9th century, whereas the Canons’ Tower was built no sooner than the 12th century. In fact, plenty of the church’s sections were built in the 12th century, such as the nave and its vaults. One of the most notable 15th century additions refers to the so-called Portico dell Canonica, a work by Bramante, outstanding by the row of elegant columns carved with incredible finesse such as to seem like tree trunks. Tourists who look for the most original elements of the church should definitely pay attention to the oratory of San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro, highlighted by mosaics created in 470.
The Modern Art Gallery of Milan opened in 1921. It is located in Villa Reale, once home to Napoleon. It contains works by 19th and 20th century artists.
The Public Gardens of Milan stand as the largest public park of the city. They are home to Palazzo Dugnani and to the Civic Museum of Natural History.
The Brera Art Gallery in Milan is hosted by Palazzo Brera, and surrounded by the Brera Botanical Garden. It showcases important works by Italian artists.