Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio ☆☆

The Atrium, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milan, Italy (Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST)
The Atrium

From this 4C church, St. Ambrose—bishop of Milan when the city was briefly capital of the Western Roman Empire—had a profound effect on the development of the early church

From the basilica that he constructed on this site in the 4th century—when he was bishop of Milan and the city, in turn, was briefly capital of the Western Roman Empire—Saint Ambrose had a profound effect on the development of the early church.

Little remains of Ambrose's original 4C church, but the 11C structure built in its place—and renovated many times since—is still remarkable.

It has a striking atrium, lined with columned porticos and opening on the side to the brick facade, with two ranks of loggias and, on either side, a bell tower. Look carefully at the door on the left, where you'll see a relief of Saint Ambrose.

Note the overall effect of this architectural assemblage, because the church of Sant'Ambrogio set a standard for Lombard Romanesque architecture that you'll see imitated many times on your travels through Lombardy.

On your wanderings through the three-aisled nave, its round arches neatly outlined in brickwork, you'll come upon a gold altar from Charlemagne's days in Milan, and, in the right aisle, the all-too-scant remains of a Tiepolo fresco cycle, most of it blown into oblivion by World War II bombs.

The 11–12C pulpit of Sant'Ambrogio features embossed and gilded copper reliefs (possibly from Germany) of the symbols of evangelists John and Matthew. The pulpit squats over the gorgeously carved 4C so-called Sacophagus of Flavius Stilicho (though there is little chance that the famous half-Vandal Roman general, who was killed in Ravenna, is actually in there).

The little that remains of the original church is the Sacello di San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro, a little chapel in which the cupola glows with 5C mosaics of saints (enter from the right aisle).

The 4–8C mosaics in the apse of Christ the Redeemer between Sts. Gervasio and Protasio were restored in the 18C.

The skeletal remains of Ambrose himself (along with local martyrs Saints Gervase and Protase) are on view in the crypt.

One of the "later" additions as you leave the main church from the left aisle is another work of the great architect Bramante—his Portico dell Canonica, lined with elegant columns, some of which are sculpted to resemble tree trunks.

Photo gallery
  • The Atrium, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST)
  • The nave, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST)
  • The front side of the high altar (824–859), Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Dominik Matus)
  • The so-called Sacophagus of Flavius Stilicho (4C), Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Il Naufragio di San Satiro (The Shipwreck of St. Satiro) (1737) by Giambattista Tiepolo, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by  Lino M)
  • Detail from the dome of the shrine of San Vittore in Ciel d
  • The facade, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Novellón)
  • The Atrium, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Óðinn)
  • Pre-Romanesque relief of Saint Ambrose, on the facade, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • The pulpit of Sant
  • The so-called Sacophagus of Flavius Stilicho (4C), Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The sarcophagus of Saints Nabor and Felix (6–7C) in the right nave, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • The rear side of the high altar (824–859), Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Resurrected Christ by Bergognone, in the Baptistry chapel on the left nave, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • Descent from the Cross (1545) by Giovan Battista Della Cerva, in the Cappella della Deposizione chapel on the right nave, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • The apse mosaics of Christ the Redeemer between Sts. Gervasio and Protasio, 4–8C (restored in the 18C), Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Detail from the dome of the shrine of San Vittore in Ciel d
  • San Protasio, a 5C mosaic in the Chapel of San Vittorio, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • Jesus among the Doctors of the Temple by the workshop of Bergognone, now in the Treasury, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • Detached frescos formerly in the basilica (now in the Treasury): At the bottom, a 17C commemorative fresco for Bernard of Italy (Charlemagne
  • Madonna col Bambino with Sts. Ambrogio and Girolamo by Bernardino Aenale in the Treasury, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Detail of a gilded and embossed silver cross by a 15C Lombard artist, in the Treasury, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Giovanni Dall
  • The crypt, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by Emmanuel BRUNNER)
  • Crypt of Bishop St. Ambrose and two martyrs, Saints Gervase and Protase, Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Italy (Photo by BáthoryPéter)
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Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).