4 Churches on one site
One of the interesting parts of visiting Rome is to discover that much of the ruins had to be unearthed for us to see. Over time, the ancient inhabitants of Rome simply built on top of previous structures that were destroyed or otherwise fell into ruin.
One unique example of this is the Basilica of San Clemente, located in the medieval section of Rome. In fact, there are four distinct layers to this site.
The current church was built in the 12th century, dedicated to Saint Clement, who succeeded Peter as Pope in the first century. This level was built on top of the previous church on this site that was built in the 4th Century. That church was destroyed by Viking raiders in the 11th century.
Below this church was a secret church that was used by the original Saint Clement in the 1st Century. This was a secret church because at that time, Christianity was illegal in the city of Rome.
But the levels don’t stop there. The secret church of Saint Clement was actually built on top of other ancient Roman residences including a Pagan Roman temple that existed approximately 500 years BCE. This level is approximately 60 feet underground. This temple was known as the Temple of Mithras, dedicated to the Persian god Mithra. On the alter of this temple, bulls were sacrificed.
Getting there and Accessing the site
The Basilica is in the Ancient sections of Rome, just a 7 minute walk from the Colosseum. Entrance to the church is free, but accessing the lower levels requires an admission of 10 Euros per person. Tickets must be purchased in advance from the church official website. The lower levels are open Monday to Saturday mornings from 10:00 to 12:30, and afternoons from 3:00 to 5:30. On Sundays, it is open from noon until 5:30. Visitors are reminded that most churches in Italy have a dress code. Knees and shoulders should be covered and flip-flops are not allowed. Also, many churches do not allow photography inside the church.