Three for the price of one
The Basilica of San Clemente offers a captivating insight into the many layers of Rome's history. After admiring the present-day church, which is cared for by the Irish Dominican order, visitors are able to descend through two underground layers - the oldest of which dates back to the days of the Roman Republic in the 1st century AD.
The interior of the 12th century basilica we see today is lavishly decorated, and widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in Rome. It is famed for its stunning Byzantine apse mosaic, which depicts a crucified Christ among arabesque scrolls of acanthus tendrils. Another feature is the magnificent array of colours and patterns on the polychrome Cosmatesque floor. The intricately tessellated design is made from a huge range of coloured stones and marbles, including vivid purple porphyry.
Going down a level underground, visitors are transported to an older 4th century basilica where a number of early Christian wall paintings and mosaics can be admired. Particularly fascinating is the depiction of Pope Leo IV with an unusual square halo, which indicates that he was alive at the time it was painted.
Descending still further, the oldest and deepest level is the most enigmatic. Thought to have once been the imperial mint due to its incredibly thick walls, it also played host to the cult of Mithras, an underground and highly secretive group whose rituals and intentions remain shrouded in mystery to this day.