Duration: 3 hours
Basilica of San Clemente and underground mythraeum, Santi Quattro Coronati, Santo Stefano Rotondo (optional: visit Santa Maria in Domnica or alla Navicella, in which case allow 4 hours total)
Rome is the capital of the world.
During this tour we will discover the ways in which the beacon of Christianity shone its light in Rome during the centuries commonly known as the Dark Ages. We will visit the most iconic Churches of medieval Rome: San Clemente, Santi Quattro Coronati and Santo Stefano Rotondo. For those willing to see more the tour will continue with a visit to Santa Maria in Domnica at the Caelian Hill.
Anyone who enters the basilica of San Clemente (named after the fourth pope) will find him or herself immersed in a unique experience of historical interest and spiritual potency. We will travel through time as represented by the three different levels of the basilica. In the oldest level (II century AD) are the remains of a private residence, where signs of the great fire of Rome were discovered (a fire initiated – according to the legend – by emperor Nero; 64 AD); this space was turned into a mythraeum in III century AD (I’ll be sure to explain what a mythraeum is!).
The second level has the archaeologically priceless remains of an Early Christian basilica from the xII century, with a rare series of frescoes from centuries IX to XII about the life of Saint Clement and Saint Alexius. Finally, the upper level is an interesting mingling of medieval art (with religious ornaments belonging to the lower basilica) and 18th-century art (paintings and stucco). The Chapel of Saint Catherine in the upper basilica features a series of frescoes on the life of the saint from Alexandria, ascribable to Masolino da Panicale and Masaccio. San Clemente is not far from another gem of medieval Rome, the even more ancient Basilica of Santi Quattro Coronati. I will tell you about the four soldiers of Diocletian who were martyrs at the emperor’s behest and how their church was first turned into a residence for cardinals and then a fortress (hence the towers overlooking the city). In the Hall of St Sylvester, a series of frescoes contains a depiction of the Donation of Constantine, a forged Roman decree exposed by humanist Lorenzo Valla in the 15th century.
The Caelian area has much more in store for the curious visitor, such as the Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round. Looking up in this church can truly make your head spin. In fact it is one of the very few churches in Rome with a circular plan. Similarly to other medieval churches, it recycles previous marbles and decorations from the Roman times. If you’re still not tired, you can join me in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica or Santa Maria “near the little ship” (alla navicella), nicknamed after a Roman ship sculpture that has stood in the square opposite the church since Roman times (it was then turned into a fountain). Inside this church too we will be able to appreciate the passage of time in the mixture between Roman elements and Baroque art.