Travelers gravitate to the ancient sites of Rome, but don’t let Milan’s status as a modern international city obscure its important ancient past. Of course, celebrated sites like the gothic Duomo and Da Vinci’s Last Supper are must sees, but consider adding The Archaeological Museum of Milan to your short list.
The museum is located in the former Monastery of San Maurizio, which is near Santa Maria delle Grazie (home of the Last Supper), and is well worth a stop on your way to or from Da Vinci. You do not need a reservation and will most likely have the place all to yourself. The monastery itself is in the midst of Milan’s richest ancient archeological deposits and features some well preserved architectural structures as well, such as a Roman tower and walls dating from the 3rd – 4th century AD. The origins of present day Milan can be traced to the 5th century Celtic settlement of Mediolanum, which was a Roman city by the 2nd – 1st centuries, and this small museum does an excellent job of informing us of this early history. Notable pieces of the collection include glass (an incredibly ornate goblet among them) and kitchen objects from Roman times and a couple of interesting mosaics, all with some general descriptions in English as well as Italian. One really interesting part of the exhibit is the section of tombstones dedicated to informing us about the jobs and lives of the citizens of Mediolanum. There are a number of tombstones of individuals and couples with engravings and descriptions of their careers while living. My personal favorite: the stone of a teacher (maestra) featuring an engraved bust of her, with a description of her excellence and success as a great disciplinarian of students – further illustrated with an engraving of her whipping a child.
There are several tombstones on display, with translations only in modern Italian, so it would be useful to visit the museum with a professional guide.