Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere - Exploring Rome's Underground on Your Own

The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere shows off its Roman columns - both as part of the church, and free-standing.
Always intrigued by the Roman columns incorporated into this church's walls, we finally paid a visit. The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere - located on the broad, busy street between Bocca della Verità and Teatro di Marcello (in tourist landmark terms), one short block from the Lungotevere -  in fact is built over not one, but three ancient Roman temples. There's a nice model inside the church.
More columns, viewed from the south.
Model of the three Roman temples (by Igor)

And, one can explore below the church - for 2 or 3 Euros. The exploration immediately takes you into catacombs and bones.  How old?  Well, they did have green stuff growing on them.

The basilica can be overshadowed by the powerful Teatro di
Marcello, but it's there, down the street to the left.
The three temples are the temple to Janus (the northern one), build in 260 BC; the temple to Juno (middle), built in the 2nd century BC; and the third, the Temple of Spes or hope (southern), built during the First Punic war (264-41 BC).    A diagram overlaying the current structure is informative.

Giacomo della Porta's entrance, incorporating Roman columns.
This basilica is another fine example of the layers of Rome.  In addition to the BC temples, the basilica itself dates to at least the 1100s, and likely to the 6th century, with its interior decorated mostly in the 19th century.  Some frescoes are from the 15th century, and the facade is by Giacomo della Porta (1599).

One reason we can see so clearly the structure of the Roman temples is that Mussolini cleared away the surrounding buildings in driving through his wide road to the sea.  An engraving shows the cluster of buildings abutting and around the church before the Fascists cleared the landscape (and almost this church as well).
Basilica di San Nicola in Carcere, as it looked in the 18th century (Giuseppe Vasi engraving),
before Mussolini demolished the adjacent buildings, and the neighborhood.

You might need the flashlight app on your iPhone.

The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere is an example of DIY Rome tourism, with no lines, no crowds, right in the center of Rome. English pamphlets are also available there.
via del Teatro di Marcello, 46;

Here's another link with more explanatory material on the basilica.

Interior Roman column with 10th century
 Christian markings.


Bo Lundin said...

I've always (well, since the 1960's) enjoyed the "fact" that in the altar are the relics of San Nicola – that is Santa Claus/Father Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Explore the church´s undergroud like the poet:

"There is a dungeon, in whose dim drear light
⁠What do I gaze on? Nothing—Look again!
⁠Two forms are slowly shadowed on my sight—
⁠Two insulated phantoms of the brain:
⁠It is not so—I see them full and plain—
⁠An old man, and a female young and fair,
⁠Fresh as a nursing mother, in whose vein
⁠The blood is nectar:—but what doth she there,
With her unmantled neck, and bosom white and bare?

Full swells the deep pure fountain of young life,
⁠Where on the heart and from the heart we took
⁠Our first and sweetest nurture—when the wife,
⁠Blest into mother, in the innocent look,
⁠Or even the piping cry of lips that brook
⁠No pain and small suspense, a joy perceives
⁠Man knows not—when from out its cradled nook
⁠She sees her little bud put forth its leaves—
What may the fruit be yet?—I know not—Cain was Eve's.

But here Youth offers to Old Age the food,
⁠The milk of his own gift: it is her Sire
⁠To whom she renders back the debt of blood
⁠Born with her birth:—No—he shall not expire
⁠While in those warm and lovely veins the fire
⁠Of health and holy feeling can provide
⁠Great Nature's Nile, whose deep stream rises higher
⁠Than Egypt's river:—from that gentle side
Drink—drink, and live—Old Man! Heaven's realm holds no such tide..."