A Walk Through the history in Milan’s M4 Stations

The medieval wall of the Cerchia dei Navigli has been repositioned at the De Amicis station in Milan

One step at a time, the M4, the new Milanese metro line, is being handed over to its city. Along with it, the treasures from the medieval era, discovered during the excavations and transformed into artifacts to be admired during the journey on the trains that cross Milan, from Linate airport to the opposite terminus at San Cristoforo, are returning to their former glory.

In April, some sections of the ancient inner wall circle of the Naviglio were repositioned at the De Amicis station, a part of the ancient San Girolamo Naviglio water system, now fully integrated into the station’s architecture. This was achieved through a parallel effort that began in 2017, alongside the construction of the metro by Webuild technicians (the Group carrying out the work), in collaboration with specialized companies and the archaeologists of the Soprintendenza Archeologica Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Milano. This multi-phase work reached its goal in recent weeks: returning one of its hidden treasures to the city, perfectly integrated with a strategic infrastructure that leads Milanese people from the past into the future.

The Medieval Walls of De Amicis: A Seven-Year Journey

The first discoveries of the ancient wall circle of the Naviglio during the excavations of the De Amicis station date back to 2017. Gradually, the entire wall, 19 meters long, about 3 meters high, and 2 meters thick, emerged.

“After the initial discoveries,” explains Riccardo Toselli, Quality, Environment and Safety Manager, and Coordinator of Archaeological Activities for Webuild, “excavation activities were halted because it was immediately understood that the wall had significant historical value, and collaboration with the Soprintendenza was initiated to manage the artifact.”

From that moment, a specialized archaeological excavation company, supported by Webuild staff, was called in to follow the procedures identified by the Soprintendenza before the metro construction began, in case of archaeological and cultural finds. The procedure requires that upon the discovery of a historical artifact, the excavation is handed over to archaeologists and carried out almost entirely by hand. For this reason, Webuild commissioned two of the most qualified archaeological excavation companies at the national level, assisted by the archaeologists and technicians of the Soprintendenza, responsible for verifying the correctness of the operations.

This collaboration continued over the years, and between 2020 and 2021, further wall traces emerged, also dismantled, transported, and now protected within Webuild’s Base Camp. While the first Naviglio wall was repositioned at the station in recent weeks, this additional wall section should be placed inside the Roman amphitheater on Via De Amicis by the end of 2024.

Sant’Ambrogio: The Tunnel That Becomes a Museum

Important discoveries were also made during the works at the SantAmbrogio station. Around autumn 2023, another 35-meter-long portion of the medieval wall, part of the water containment wall of the Naviglio circle, was discovered. This find is exceptional because the wall is located near the Pusterla di SantAmbrogio, one of the minor gates of medieval Milan. Thus, the Soprintendenza requested its recovery.

The wall was recovered, just like at the De Amicis station, and left in its original position. Travelers transferring from Line 2 to the new Line 4 at the two Sant’Ambrogio stops will walk on a glass walkway under which they can admire the ancient walls.

Largo Augusto: The Rediscovered Square with the Verziere Column

In the M4 works, protecting the city’s historical heritage often went hand in hand with urban redevelopment of significant city areas.

This is the case with Largo Augusto, historically a roundabout used by cars, transformed into a pedestrian square with benches, tree areas, and green zones. During the redevelopment works in Largo Augusto, the dismantling and repositioning of the Verziere Column, a Mannerist-Baroque monument dating back to 1580, took place. However, during the dismantling, a hidden smaller but equally precious column, the so-called “Ruvida Colonna,” which may date back to 1577, was discovered.

Thus, last March, the Verziere Column was repositioned in Largo Augusto, including the reinstallation of the Christ the Redeemer in its original position, while a special pedestrian area was created to host the “Ruvida Colonna.” Two plaques are planned next to the columns to reconstruct their history, so deeply intertwined with Milan’s history.

M4: The Metro That Will Change Milan

The dedication and excellence with which the works to recover the historical heritage discovered in Milan’s subsoil were conducted perfectly illustrate the characteristics of a highly ambitious project that, while providing Milan with strategic infrastructure, also aims to change its surface layout.

The line, which is already operational for the first six kilometers connecting Linate to San Babila, will reach a total length of 15 kilometers and 21 stations, crossing the entire city from the East to the West quadrant in just 30 minutes.

Today, the project, commissioned by the Municipality of Milan, is in its final stages, with station finishes and system and vehicle testing. According to plans, the entire route could be delivered to the public as early as September, when all the secrets of the new metro will be revealed.