Basilica San Clemente
We’re about to talk about a lot of places that didn’t allow cameras, so bear with me.
A little way uphill from the Colosseum (ancient Rome was buried by silt from river flooding, so basically everything is uphill from the Colosseum) is a seemingly nondescript church called the Basilica of Saint Clements, or Basilica San Clemente. I didn’t know anything about St. Clements until then. I certainly didn’t know that St. Clements was martyred by tying him to an anchor and throwing him into the sea, so when I saw a fresco of that very scene, I thought “Damn, Doubting Thomas is really being thorough about Jesus walking on water.”
It’s a 12-century basilica, and impressive enough at that, but underneath is a multi-layered archaeological bonanza. The 12-century basilica is built on top of a 4th-century basilica, which was built on top of a 2nd-century pagan temple, which was built on top of a first-century neighbourhood, which was well enough constructed that it still has running water.
I mean… it doesn’t stop running, and I wouldn’t place bets on how safe to drink it is, but still.
You descend through time, starting with 1700 year old frescoes and altars, then down further, into a mithraic temple (with an intact altar/sculpture), then down further into… someone’s house, I guess? That’s always a weird part, for me, in visiting sites like this. Brushing the stone walls, seeing what seem to be benches, and thinking “someone lived here.” This was home. Real human people ate and slept and had thoughts and dreams just like mine here. Well, basically like mine. They probably had way fewer thoughts about Doctor Who and Mission: Impossible, but, you know, the basics.
It was a really cool experience, and it had better have been, because I ended up going there three times in two days.
Time #1 was the morning of my second day. Daniel and Jenn weren’t up and around when I got up, but Ruth, Hugh, and Noel were going to visit the Basilica and asked if I’d like to join. I did, I did want to join because I was awake and ready for adventure. So off we went to explore the Basilica and all beneath it.
Later, Daisy, Ian, Matthew, and Laura arrived, and they too needed to find things to do other than nap, and the thing about the Basilica, right, is that it was a ten minute walk away, and it’s mostly underground, providing a great respite from the 35+ degree heat outside. A respite some members of our party were very glad for.
So back down I went, because it was a cool site and I didn’t want to entertain myself for two hours. Sadly, my entry ticket from before noon was no longer valid, so I had to pay again. Whatever. It’s fine. Whichever bar I ended up in while waiting on the others would’ve cost money as well. And it was a neat place to be.
The next day we did a Crypts and Catacombs tour, visiting, well, it’s right there in the name. We hit a catacomb, saw an ossuary filled with creepy and almost certainly haunted installation pieces made out of human bone. Lots of human bones. The monks who made this ossuary often had the message of “Don’t worry, soon you’ll be dead too,” a statement I find very much less relaxing than they seemed to think it was.
And in between those stops? The Basilica San Clemente. Which, had we known we’d be seeing on this tour, we probably wouldn’t have visited the day before. But hey, this time we had a guide, that was new.
And, well, there are worse places to visit three times.
Afterwards, it was time for dinner, then back to our respective hotels. We had a Vatican tour bright and at least a little early the next day.
Next page: Random Rome thoughts