Rome is a city of churches. The Lonely Planet city guide alone lists 38 ‘must-see’ churches and basilicas. We weren’t going to that many churches, not by a long shot. So we went to 5, including St Peter’s Basilica (see next post), during our week in Rome. And 2 of them we weren’t going to see for the churches, but what was underneath them.

But first, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno – Rome’s oldest basilica which was founded by Constatine himself in the 4th century. Constantine (who ruled from 306-37 AD) was Rome’s first Christian leader and responsible for the beginnings of the Holy Empire. Compared to the moody gothic churches of England, this was quite a stunner.

The entryway to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno

The nave’s ceiling was so golden and detailed compared to what we were used to seeing. So impressive and fine!

The ceiling in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno

The nave itself was flanked on either side by dramatic and expressive statues of apostles and saints (I think).

The Nave of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno

Borromini revamped the interior of the church in the 15th century and installed the fine Cosmati floor tiles.

15th century Cosmati floors at Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno

The doors are much older than the church itself – they’re bronze doors nicked from the Roman Forum. Good ole recycling.

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno - Bronze doors

Church number 1 was certainly a stunner. Onto church number 2.

We only briefly visited this church, Chisea di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, because unfortunately there was a funeral being held when we visited. The church stands upon a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva.

One of the reasons to visit it, though, is that it is the only gothic church in Rome, and its vaulted ceiling is electric blue! It also has various artworks and statues in the little chapels of the church, but they were inaccessible because of the funeral. Another time perhaps.

Chisea di Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Church number 3 didn’t have any photos, because you weren’t allowed to take any photos inside! The church was Basilica di San Clemente, a place Mum and my brother had been to last time we visited Rome. This unremarkable 12th century basilica was built on top of a 4th century church, which was built over a 1st century house and 2nd century pagan temple  dedicated to the Persian god Mithras. Sound pretty awesome? Well it was. And it was nice and cool being underground for a couple of hours. You can find out more about this church at their official website.

Church number 4 was similar to church 3, a church built on top of Roman ruins. The church above is Chisea di SS Giovanni e Paolo – a 4th century church of little note not far from the Colosseum.

Chisea di SS Giovanni e Paolo

The Roman remains were around the church, like these arches over the street, as well as beneath it.

Roman arches alongside Chisea di SS Giovanni e Paolo

Under the church is Case Romane – The Roman Houses. It’s a a series of 20 rooms from the 3rd through 12 centuries and a strip of Roman street. Some of the rooms still have their beautiful frescoes. It was pretty fascinating, and had a detailed information board in each room in English. Brilliant.

Frescoes in Case Romane

Now, you weren’t meant to take photos at this place either, but they were very very under staffed.

Frescoes in Case Romane

A wonderful place to visit.

Now church number 5 is the most famous in Rome – St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. But we’ll leave that for another post.

P.S. My eyes are great after the laser eye surgery – better than 20/20 vision! Rob’s new job is going really well and he’s cycled to work just about everyday. We don’t have any more trips planned until we go home for Christmas. Do give us an email if you want to have a chat and catchup!


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