Basilica of San Clemente in Rome: three layers of history

After visiting the Colosseum, nearby there’s another attraction not to miss: the basilica of San Clemente. It’s much more than the current church which goes back to the Middle Ages: below there are several levels of ancient constructions, oldest of which are of the first century AD.

San clemente undergroundThe site has experienced several phases of which different architectural levels have been conserved up to our days: in the 2nd century more building work took place, and a beautiful and spacious private residence was constructed. About 100 years later, a part of this building was transformed into a sanctuary of the divinity Mitra, whose cult was getting more and more popular in Rome at that time, especially amongst the army. During this phase an altar was built, and the sanctuary was transformed to look like the interior of a cave. The cult of Mitra was practised actively here at least until the beginning of the 4th century, and at some point after that the temple seems to have been intentionally destroyed in order to transform it into a Christian church towards the end of the 4th century. In the Middle Ages, in 1084, it was destroyed by the Normanssan Clemente Rome.

The current basilica, only slightly lower than the street level, was constructed in 1108 by the Pope Pasquale II on top of the earlier layers, which at that time remained covered. The medieval basilica, adorned by amazingly beautiful and sumptuous mosaics, was restored in the beginning of the 18th century. The ancient layers were uncovered only in the 1857, and can now be visited with a guide.

The basilica is located just a short walk from the Colosseum, in Via Labicana 95. You can book a guided visit to the underground layers either by e-mail or by phone: 0039 06 8530 1758. You can also attend without reservation, especially in low season. To get there for example from the Termini station, take the metro line B. To be able to move around the city easily, be sure to book a central hotel, such as the hotel Carlito’s Way or the Nice Hotel, located in the Termini neighbourhood.

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