Spread across several layers, the Basilica of San Clemente is one of the few Roman sites where one can actually travel through time to discover ruins from centuries apart.
That’s why it’s commonly referred to as the “lasagna church”, as there are three distinct levels still intact today.
Perfect for keen-eyed adults and curious children alike, the Basilica of San Clemente grants visitors the unique opportunity to see for themselves how Roman life has evolved throughout thousands of years.
Start at the foundations of San Clemente
Originally built as a mansion and apartments, the first tier of Basilica di San Clemente was erected in the late 1st Century AD. Almost 200 years later, the inner courtyard was transformed into a Temple of Mithras or ‘Mithraeum.’
Inspired by the Persian worship of the sun god Mithra, the religion of Mithraism had its central hub in Rome. San Clemente wasn’t the only site of a Mithraeum in Rome. There was another beneath the Baths of Caracalla, for example, and there are surely many more to be discovered.
Step through time into its ancient Mithraeum
The Mithraeum was the scene of a savage spectacle. Bulls chosen for sacrifice would be sacrificed above an initiate, their blood spilling down as their throat was cut. Standing on a platform beneath the act, the initiate would be covered in this blood which would spill down through the grating above.
Located in the subterranean of the Basilica di San Clemente, this ancient Mithraeum is one of the best preserved in all of the world. With plenty of Mithraic imagery throughout, visitors can enjoy various depictions of the Mithra, including the god being born from a rock, sacrificing a bull, and enjoying a feast.
Ascend to the church built atop the pagan temple
In 313 AD, when Christianity triumphed over Mithraism as the primary religion of the Roman Empire, a hall and later a church were built atop the Temple of Mithras. Fully transformed into a Basilica by the end of the 4th Century, it had an atrium, pillars, and an apse. Embellishments continued, with stunning frescoes and inscriptions added over the next few centuries.
Largely due to the Norman Sack of Rome, this mid-level church was severely damaged in 1084 AD. Eventually rebuilt, the top tier of the Basilica of San Clemente was completed during the 12th Century.
Step into the latest church to admire its resplendent mosaics
Filled with ornate mosaics, frescoes, and reliefs, perhaps the most stunning of décor can be found in the apse of the Basilica – a mosaic crucifix surrounded by vines, a throne, a baldacchino, a tomb, and a selection of ancient relics.
In addition to an extraordinary collection of art history, the Basilica also encompasses one of Rome’s original aqueducts, which one can still hear flowing through the Basilica to the nearby Colosseum. When visiting Rome, experiencing this mystical, culturally significant spot is a must.
Walks Inside Rome offers unique private tours of the Basilica di San Clemente, which can easily be combined with a tour of the Colosseum and Saint Peter in Chains. This underground submersion into Roman earth is especially suited to thrill and inspire kids.