The Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua, the oldest and most important Christian monument inside the Roman Forum, is scheduled to reopen on March 17, after a 30-year closure, and a long restoration process aimed at repairing its architectural structures and paintings (tours of the restoration site were given at times).
One of the earliest surviving Christian monuments in Rome, with its 250 wall paintings dating from the 6th to the 9th century, the Basilica represents a museum of art of the High Middle Ages, an outstanding example of medieval and Byzantine painting. The collection is especially important because a large number of sacred images from that period was destroyed during the Byzantine Iconoclasm of the 8th century, a period in the history of the Byzantine Empire when the use of religious images or icons was opposed by religious and imperial authorities, which subsequently ordered the destruction of existing ones.
The church is also a key element for the understanding of the cultural and urban development of the Forum in the first centuries of the Middle Ages. Santa Maria Antiqua is in fact one of the most significant examples of re-adaptation of a pre-existing pagan building dating from the reign of Domitian in the first century.
Built in the 6th century on the slopes of the Palatine Hill, the Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua was abandoned in the 9th century and, for more than 1,000 years, lay buried and forgotten under the ruins of a 847 AD earthquake. It was rediscovered in 1900.
The Basilica is reopening alongside an exhibition, “Santa Maria Antiqua. Between Rome and Byzantium,” which recounts the history of the church, its role in the Christianized Forum, and the phases of its restoration (exhibition open until September 11).
Visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria Antiqua is a way to experience the atmosphere and simplicity of a church in the early centuries of Christianity.