Rome’s Mysterious Underground Basilica Reopens

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 23:01
Detail of Basilica di Porta Maggiore in Rome

One of Rome’s most mysterious places, the underground Basilica of Porta Maggiore is being restored and partially reopened to the public. 

A place of worship deliberately built underground in the 1st century AD, the Basilica was, according to some, the seat of magical rituals; for others, it was the burial place of the wealthy family of the Statili, who ordered its construction; they are said to have been close to Emperor Augustus. Because of these alleged magical rites, which celebrated life after death, Agrippina, Nero's mother, ordered Tito Statilio Tauro be taken to trial; according to legend, he committed suicide in 53 AD to avoid facing such shame.

Located nine meters underground, with walls seven meters high, the Basilica was discovered by chance in 1917 during construction work for the train line Rome-Cassino. 

It features mosaic and stucco decorations in which mother-of-pearl was also mixed to achieve a luminescent white effect. There are several mysterious female figures, including Greek poet Sappho jumping into sea. 

At the moment, about 50% of the building has been restored, including the whole wall of the left nave. 

The restoration work, financed by Swiss foundation Evergete, also intends to recreate the same natural light that the Basilica originally had; the light of the sun filtered through a skylight in the vestibule. The Basilica is perfectly oriented east-west, so it followed the path of the sun.
While restoration work continues, visitors will be allowed to visit the Basilica on the second, third and fourth Sunday of the month by advance reservation. Access is allowed only by guided visit in small groups for safety and preservation reasons.

The entrance to the underground Basilica of Porta Maggiore is located on Piazzale Labicano (Via Prenestina 17). 

For more information and to book a visit, see this link.