Layers of History: Off the Beaten Path-Basilica San Clemente Rome

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Basilica San Clemente Rome Italy

History is like a river.  It is not one event, one date, then another event and another date they way that we often learned it in grade school. It is an everflowing progression into the future, one time period, one moment forming the foundation for the next.

This progression was very obvious to me as we did the tourist dance in Rome.

Catacombs were abundant, tucked away under neighborhoods, houses, markets and parks.  We found pieces of ancient Roman aqueducts hidden in residential neighborhoods, far from the typical tourist beat.

This “layering” of history was easy to see when we visited the Basilica San Clemente Rome, not far from the Colosseum.  The Basilica that is here today was built on top of an 4th century church which is still intact and whole underneath the church of today which was built in the 12th century (the old church was used as the foundation for the new).

The Basilica got even more interesting as we delved further into its depths.  We continued down further still, into the musty damp recesses of the lower layers of the excavation (indeed, we were down so deep that at one point, we heard and saw running water which I can only assume was an underground river and that we were close to the level of the water table).

Deep below the hustle and bustle of today’s Rome lay hidden a Pagan temple built by those who worshiped the god Mithras, built in the 1st century.  The altar to Mithras is still there and on it, you can see depictions of Mithras slaying a bull.

The Temple of Mithras in Basilica San Clemente

Being that deep in the earth and seeing a temple that old felt like being in a secret world.  This was truly one of my favorite places we saw on this trip, and it ranked right up there for me with the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.

I felt like seeing these churches built layer upon layer on top of each other gave me huge insight into Rome, but also into the evolutionary processes of humanity in the way that our lives are built upon the lives and experiences of those who came before us.

The Basilica also has some incredible artwork and mosaics inside, although I have to admit that while I “oooh” and “ahhh” over church artwork a little bit as we pass through, I have never been the worlds biggest art afficianado, and after seeing many, many beautiful churches over the years, these details are never what seem to stick with me.

This is truly a great place to visit while in Rome that seemed little visited by the tourist masses and can give you an interesting perspective on how the Rome of yesterday came to become the Rome that we visit today.

Fast Facts:

  • Admission: 5.00 Euros adults, 3.50 Euros students under 26 with ID
  • Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:00am-12:30pm and 3:00pm-6:00pm (last entrance at 12:10pm and 5:40pm), Sundays and State Holidays: 12:00pm-6:00pm (last entrance 5:40pm)
  • Location: Within a 10 minute walk from the Colosseum, good directions on website
  • No photography allowed, but they do have postcards for sale in the gift shop.


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