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.
Palatine Hill
This hill is where the Roman State began, and where Rome's Emperors used to live. Today it boasts many remains from their magnificent palaces.
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.
Temple of Caesar
Remains of the temple of Julius Caesar.
Curia Julia
The seat of the imperial Senate in the Roman Forum.

Related Tours

Underground Rome: Private Catacombs Half-Day Walking Tour
Discover the underground world of ancient Rome on this exciting, fascinating, and adventurous tour of the Catacombs and the excavated site of Basilica San Clemente

On your private half-day tour you will: 

  • Travel between sites in the comfort of an air-conditioned private vehicle;
  • Explore the hidden underground of ancient Roman burial sites, streets, houses, and temples with an expert private guide;
  • Feel like Indiana Jones or Lara croft as you explore the awe-inspiring subterranean burial chambers and miles of labyrinthine galleries at the Rome Catacombs;
  • Descend below the unique 12th-century basilica of San Clemente and see the archaeological lasagna that is Rome;
  • Walk around a 4th-century church with original 9th-century frescos offering us a glimpse into a long-lost world
  • Step down into a mysterious 2nd-century pagan temple to Mithras, and learn about this secretive warrior cult;
  • Walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans in a 1st-century subterranean Roman house... where one more surprise awaits!

Drive just beyond the ancient city walls to visit the labyrinth of underground ancient Christian burial chambers called the Catacombs, then discover the layers and layers of Rome, excavated below the Basilica San Clemente (near the Colosseum): walk through a pagan temple, an ancient roman house, and an early Christian church - all underground! 

You will often hear historians and locals alike refer to Rome as a lasagna! On this tour, you will literally walk your way through these layers of history, as you discover the different excavated street levels of Rome and the miles and miles of underground graves, dug for and by the ancient Christians two thousand years ago known as the Catacombs. 

Driving just beyond the Aurelian Wall, you’ll descend into an extensive and complex web of graves; the Christian catacombs. You’ll walk down galleries lined with rectangular empty niches – each one contained a body once. 

Your guide will explain the different styles of graves, the burial rituals, and funeral rites, decode the extraordinarily well-preserved frescos and symbolic carvings and talk you through the dramatic sacking of the tombs by Barbarians after the fall of Rome. 

One of the most evocative things about the catacombs is seeing the pick axe marks and scrapes of the fossari (the gravediggers) in the soft tufa rock and the tiny terracotta oil lamps that lit their way as they dug these dark tunnels. It is a truly fascinating, exciting, and humbling experience entering these unique places with your private guide. 

In the Basilica San Clemente, you’ll learn why Rome was built layer on layer, not in a day but over several hundred years. You’ll learn why so many Christian churches were built on top of pagan temples and hear the stories of the martyrs depicted in frescos in the Middle Ages. 

Your guide will talk you through a day in the life of an ancient Roman as you walk through a first-century apartment, and explain the initiation rites of the warrior-like cult of Mithras as you gaze into the inner sanctum and see the original altar of Mithras and the bull. 

This tour ends at the Basilica of San Clemente, located right next to the Roman Colosseum. 

Please note: the dress code for this tour must be observed (covered knees and shoulders). The catacombs and excavations are chilly and humid at 13 celsius, so please bring something warm to wear!
Also, due to local regulations, during the visit to the Catacombs you will be part of a larger group.  For the rest of the tour, you will be alone with your dedicated private guide. 


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