Basilica of San Clemente

This church is on three levels: medieval, early Christian and finally an ancient Roman cult sanctuary.

TravelCurious Tip

Look out for the chest to the right of the church entrance, which celebrates the invention of the Glagolitic alphabet by St. Cyril.

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.

Mithraic mysteries

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.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Rome
The Roman Empire’s largest amphitheatre, and one of the world’s most awe-inspiring ancient monuments.
Underground Colosseum
Exclusive access to the underground chambers and tunnels of this ancient amphitheatre - an unforgettable experience.
Domus Aurea
Emperor Nero's enormous private villa complex beside the Colosseum.
Arch of Titus
One of Rome's most iconic triumphal arches, and the model for the Parisian Arc de Triomphe.
Arch of Constantine
The largest and most magnificent of Rome's triumphal arches, with a curious history in its sculpture.
Monti District
Formerly Suburra - an ancient Roman neighborhood walled off from the Forum - the neighborhood is now one filled with locals, and the occasional lost tourist.

Related Tours

Underground Rome: Ancient Catacombs and Secret Temples
Fully explore the depth of the Eternal City with a fascinating tour of the subterranean labyrinths below its surface - the underworld of Rome.  You'll get private access through these ancient underground cemeteries and feel the magnitude of the catacombs as you quietly walk among the now empty graves.

  • Enter Basilica San Clemente and the Catacombs.
  • Discover subterranean tunnels, different kinds of tombs and the cult of Mithras.
  • Learn about the two millennia-old layers of history underneath the Eternal City.
  • Witness some of the most important early-day Christian frescoes in the world. 
  • See one of the earliest depictions of the Virgin Mary.
The quiet tunnels will come to life as your guide tells you the stories and legends of early Christianity during the days of Roman persecution. The catacombs were the underground burial places of the Christian and Jewish communities from the second century AD. Christians would gather in the Catacombs for funerals and celebrate the anniversaries of martyrs and the dead. During the time of Christian persecution, the catacombs served as the burial site for Christian martyrs and were also used to celebrate the mass in secret. Around the year 366 AD these underground cemeteries became shrines for the martyrs and popular sites for pilgrimages. 

Step into this mystical maze and see some of the most important Christian frescoes in the world - such as the earliest depiction of the Virgin Mary and the oldest image of the Magi kings. Learn how the catacombs were started, and listen to the stories of some of the important figures, including Saints Peter and Paul, who were once buried there. See how pagan artwork translated into Christian Rome.

Discover within these subterranean tunnels, the different kinds of tombs - arcosolium, the sarcophagus, the forma, the cubiculum and the crypt. Learn about the special guild of workers referred to as fossores - ' gravediggers' - who dug miles and miles of these galleries in the dim light of oil lamps. 

Don't miss out on the opportunity to see this awe-inspiring underworld beneath one of the most ancient cities in the world.


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