It may not be easy to imagine it, but Milan, fashion capital and Italian economic engine, a more and more international and cosmopolitan city, hides another metropolis under its surface: the Underground Milan.
Not so deep under Milan’s streets, in fact, you will find roads, monuments, spaces and buildings from different ages that tell about the historic stages of the city. Going down the steps towards a territory where surreal silence reigns, far from the traffic noises or the movida sounds, you may explore mysterious places, usually ignored by the average touristic itineraries. So get in your comfy shoes and start walking: here’s a guide to discovering the charming Underground Milan.
San Giovanni alle Fonti Baptistery
Under Piazza Duomo – you can enter from the inside of the Cathedral – you’ll find the ruins of the Baptistery of San Giovanni alle Fonti, from the 4th century AD, the perfect starting point to visit the Underground Milan. The Baptistery lays about 4 metres under the Duomo’s floor and it sports an octagonal immersional font, maybe the first one of this kind in Christianity’s history. Discovered in the 60s during the works for Milan’s underground construction, it was in the baptismal font of St.Giovanni that St. Ambrogio baptised St. Agostino at Easter 387 AD.
Piazza Duomo, Milan
The Crypt of San Giovanni in Conca
Under the ruins of the paleochristian church of San Giovanni in Conca, in Piazza Missori, you may visit the only example of a Roman crypt in Milan. The building dates back to the 5th-6th century A.D. and it has been subject to some events that have changed its function. In fact, it became the Visconti family mausoleum at the end of 13th century; it was then turned into a warehouse for the French army in the 18th century until it was dismantled in 1949 to create via Albricci.
Piazza Giuseppe Missori, 22 Milan
The Crypt of San Sepolcro
A new stop in the Underground Milan journey, after 50 years the Crypt of San Sepolcro has recently reopened. Under the church of San Sepolcro, in the namesake square, the crypt has been built in 1030 in the place where once stood the Roman Forum, of which it has kept the original floor. Considered by Leonardo da Vinci as the centre of Milan, the crypt has been chosen by Saint Carlo Borromeo as a personal place of prayer, so that there is still today a statue portraying him on his knees while praying.
Piazza S. Sepolcro, Milan
It was the city centre of the old Mediolanum, the business, administration, justice and religion fulcrum. It extended in an area of 100 metres for 160 metres and its ruins are today under the Ambrose Bibliotheque. They include also pieces of the original Augustus floor.
Via dell’Ambrosiana, Milan
In an area of 450 square metres, in the basement of the Turati Building, headquarter of the Chamber of Commerce of Milan, you may visit the ruins of a Roman Theatre built during Augustus’ Empire. Since 2008 you may admire the Theatre in the context of the Museo Sensibile, a multimedia itinerary where you are overwhelmed by perfumes from that period, surrounded by plays of lights and shadows, all while listening to music and Latin verses from Plautus’ comedies.
Via S. Vittore Al Teatro, 14 Milan
San Bernardino Ossuary
It is the most peculiar place in the Underground Milan itinerary. The Ossuary of the primitive San Bernardino church, 1269 AD, shares its origins whit the Brolo hospital, having had the function of storage for the bones of dead patients. Strongly damaged in 1642 after the fall of the near S. Stefano Church bell tower, both the church facade and the ossuary have been restored and the ossuary walls have been decorated with human bones from the closed cemeteries. These bones have been placed creating decorations and figures in contrast to the black wall background.
Via Verziere, 2 Milan
Sforza Castle Undergrounds
The Sforza Castle Undergrounds are a very vast itinerary that dates back to 1400. From the fortress they twisted under Sempione Park towards Milan’s countryside, having the function of a defensive system. A real fifteenth-century engineering machine made of tunnels, passages and towers, they were once crossed by soldiers and noble people trying to escape their enemies.
Piazza Castello, Milan
Venezia Day Hotel (Albergo Diurno)
The underground Venezia Day Hotel (Albergo Diurno) has been for many years the go-to place for all the tourists arriving in Milan and looking for a wellness break. Built in the 20s, it is a space of 1200 square metres under Porta Venezia’s bastions. It is divided into two spaces: a thermal area with 6 luxury bathrooms and 30 more baths with showers and bathtubs, and the craftsmen hall offering manicure and pedicure, hairdressing and laundry services. During the years the Albergo Diurno became out of fashion and it was closed in the 90s. Since 2014 this Art Déco underground jewel has been restored and you may visit it in occasion of the FAI Days.
Piazza Oberdan, Milan
Cobianchi Day Hotel (Albergo Diurno Cobianchi)
Founded in 1924 by businessman Cleopatro Cobianchi, this Day Hotel was an area for tourists visiting Milan that included wellness and tourist services. A luxurious underground environment characterised by a liberty/déco style, it closed its doors in the 90s. Since 2017 the Cobianchi has reopened, trying to express its literal and cultural spirit, recreating the concept of Milan’s “parlours” from the 20s.
Piazza Duomo, 19A Milan
Built in 1940, the Shelter 87 was the 87th among the 135 air-raid shelters created by Milan’s administration during World War II. It is a real bunker placed in the basement of the primary school Giacomo Leopardi, in Viale Bodio, and it has reopened in 2011 after many years of closure. This horseshoe-shaped space is divided into two areas: the one that you may visit today was a public shelter, while the other one, that still needs to be restored, was a school. This means that, even in the darkest and most dangerous moments, the children could feel a sense of normality around them.
Via Bodio, 22 Milan
Piazza Grandi Air-raid Shelter
Created in 1936, this underground space of 250 square metres is made of 24 rooms and could welcome up to 400 people looking for repair during the air raid of World War II. Recently restored together with the fountain on the surface, the heart of Piazza Grandi, this place may now be visited upon reservation. On the walls of the shelter, you may still read the writings reporting the recommendations, the prohibitions and the rules, but also the feelings of fear and pain of all the people hiding there.
Piazza Grandi, Milan