Its business district hosts Italy's Stock Exchange and the headquarters of the largest national and international banks and companies.

In terms of GDP, it has the third largest economy among European cities and the wealthiest among European non-capital cities.

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Maximian built several gigantic monuments, the large circus (470 x 85 metres), the thermae or "Baths of Hercules", a large complex of imperial palaces and other services and buildings of which fewer visible traces remain.

Maximian increased the city area surrounded by a new, larger stone wall (about 4.5 km long) encompassing an area of 375 acres with many 24-sided towers.

However, some scholars believe that lanum comes from the Celtic root lan, meaning an enclosure or demarcated territory (source of the Welsh word llan, meaning "a sanctuary or church", ultimately cognate to English/German Land) in which Celtic communities used to build shrines.

Hence Mediolanum could signify the central town or sanctuary of a Celtic tribe.

According to the legend reported by Livy, the Gaulish king Ambicatus sent his nephew Bellovesus into northern Italy at the head of a party drawn from various Gaulish tribes; this Bellovesus was said to have founded Mediolanum (in the time of Tarquinius Priscus, according to this legend).

They eventually conquered the entirety of the region, calling the new province Cisalpine Gaul— "Gaul this side of the Alps"— and may have given the site its Latinized Celtic name of Mediolanum: in Gaulish *medio- meant "middle, center" and the name element -lanon is the Celtic equivalent of Latin -planum "plain", thus *Mediolanon (Latinized as Mediolānum) meant "(settlement) in the midst of the plain".

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Its continuously built-up urban area (that stretches beyond the boundaries of the Metropolitan City of Milan) has a population estimated to be about 5,270,000 over 1,891 square kilometres (730 square miles), ranking 4th in the European Union.

After the city was besieged by the Visigoths in 402, the imperial residence was moved to Ravenna.