Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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"San Clemente": Rome's "Lasagna Church"
One of Rome's most famous underground sites is under the church, San Clemente. San Clemente is about halfway between the Colosseum and the basilica called Saint John in Lateran. In 1857, the Domincan Friar Mullouly who lived in the monastery at San Clemente (or Saint Clement) followed a hunch and started excavating beneath the "modern" church, which dates to the 1200s. He was rewarded with one of the most interesting discoveries of his time: there was beneath the existing church an early Christian basilica dating to sometime around 350 A.D. Mullouly continued digging, inspired by his enormous successes, and discovered yet another, more ancient, layer which dates to the first century A.D.

This layer contains a Mithraeum, or a chamber outfitted for the adoration of the ancient Persian god of light and justice, Mithra, whose cult Roman soldiers had brought back home.

All three levels can be visited and each level has something special to offer. The lowest level, dating to the 1st century A.D., not only teaches us about Mithraeism, it is also a marvelous source of information on architecture and building laws in early Imperial Rome. The intermediate layer, which dates to the 4th century, boasts one of Rome's older Christian churches and is mentioned by Saint Jerome (d. 420 A.D.) in his letters. The church was also redecorated with fabulous frescoes in the 1100s thanks to a rich donor, Maria Macellaria or Mary the Butcher. Many of these frescoes can still be seen and appreciated. The top layer is fascinating, too. The lower church had to be rebuilt and in the 1200s this new church took its place and covered it over. Although heavily rebuilt over the centuries, bits and pieces of the late Medieval basilica can still be admired. Perhaps the apse, enriched with mosaics from that century is one of Rome's loveliest.

The two sites, San Clemente and the Domus Aurea can be visited together on the same day or be seen separately.


The ticket for the Domus Aurea is € 6.50 and must be booked in advance.
The ticket to the excavations of San Clemente is € 5 for adults; children are eligible for discounts.