Rome is certainly not a city to be missed when you are visiting the culturally rich country of Italy. The history of Rome can be traced back to more than 2,500 years ago. Besides being founded around 753 BC, there is evidence showing that this area has been occupied for much longer. This means that Rome is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It’s safe to say that this glorious site needs multiple visits, or an extended period of time, to see all the history this city has to offer. For those of you who are more interested, or who may have already seen the main touristic sites of Rome, allow me to introduce you to the underground the Basilica of Saint Clement (aka Basilica di San Clemente).
Arriving at the Basilica Of Saint Clement
Located extremely close to the Colosseum, if you take Metro B and get off at the Colosseo stop, take a left out of the metro and continue walking until you cross the street onto via di San Giovanni in Laterano. From here, keep walking for about 5 to 10 minutes, and you’ll come across the beautiful exterior of the Basilica Of Saint Clement on your left hand side. It may not look like it from the outside, but this intriguing structure dedicated to Pope Clement I is literally stacked with ancient history. There are also a few cafés nearby, such as Caffè San Clemente and Ristorante Naumachia. Feel free to grab an espresso before you enter, because this will not be a visit you want to rush through.
A three-tiered multi-historical complex
What’s extremely interesting about the Basilica Of Saint Clement is that it is actually a three-tiered complex, dating back to the first and second centuries. When you first walk into the upper church, completed in 1123, though restored during the 18th century, you will notice the ornate beauty of the religious artwork. Some of the frescoes, such as the Life of St. Catherine that was originally painted in 1228 by Masolino along with Masaccio, have recently been restored. You can view this masterpiece to the right of the entrance when you first walk in. You will also notice a beautiful choir enclosure (donated by Pope John II) made entirely of white marble and the Cosmatesque, or Cosmati, pavement. This upper structure is considered to be the “new” basilica, and was constructed to resemble the fourth-century formation that was destroyed by the Normans. It will be hard to tear yourself away from the jewel-toned colors and dazzling golds of the apse mosaic, however there are many other treasures to be discovered here.
Keep an eye out for this important fresco
After entering the ticket office, you will need to pay 5 EUR (5.52 USD) to venture underground into the fourth-century church, the “first basilica” that has been here since 392. Unfortunately, it was destroyed, being turned to the rubble remains you’ll see today, by the Normans in 1084. However, even before they arrived to ransack Rome, this first basilica was located about 5 meters (16.4 feet) below street level, and was not stably secure. Even though the lower church is incredibly preserved, and has undergone some restoration over the centuries, you will notice that a great many of the original frescoes are significantly worn. These frescoes that adorn the walls can be dated back to the sixth and eleventh centuries; depicting several saints along with many scenes from the New Testament. There is also one that is relatively important as it displays one of the earlier examples of Latin being translated into the Italian vernacular. The fresco above is showing the pagan Sisinnius along with a few of his servants who believe they caught and are dragging St. Clement, only to later realize it was, in fact, only a column.
A look into the dark arts in this Pagan temple
As you venture further underground, you will be entering into the Temple of Mithras (the Mithraeum). This Pagan temple was intentionally destroyed due to the onset of Christianity with the hopes of demolishing the Pagan beliefs, however the main room survived. The room is gated, not allowing entry merely for continued preservation, but it offers a striking symbolic visual of Mithras, a Pagan god, as he slays a bull. This act was extremely popular with the cult as the Mithraic priests would often sacrifice bulls, in which their followers would scoop out the blood that had drained into the troughs and bathe in it. It is believed that this Mithraeum is from the second and third centuries, yet was not discovered until 1867. This area was also said to have become a “Domus ecclesia”, literally meaning “House of the Church”, and is a term used to describe places of earlier Christian worship. In fact, it is here where the early Christians came to secretly pray.
As you continue on, you will see two rooms that have been beautifully withstanding the tests of time. These rooms were a part of the private home that once existed here during the first century; later transformed to be a part of the Mithraeum. You can still see the Roman brickwork, and the mosaic tiling on the floors. It is absolutely breathtaking as you ponder about all the lives that stood here before you. Fascinatingly enough, you can even hear the sounds of rushing water as it comes pouring in from one of the ancient aqueducts.
Be aware of the opening and closing times
This is a beautiful multi-historical complex that you can visit, if you have time, after seeing the Colosseum and the Forum in Rome, Italy. The Basilica Of Saint Clement is open daily from 9:00am until 12:00pm, and again from 3:30pm until 6:30pm. Entrance is free, except for the 5 EUR (5.52 USD) fee for those wishing to continue their tour underground. This basilica allows you to peer into three layers of history: the first being a twelfth-century church, sitting atop a fourth-century church that was built on top of an ancient Mithraic Temple. Talk about a journey into the dark-ages.
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