Santa Maria Antiqua –
Byzantine church in the Roman Forum
There is something new and wondrous waiting for you when visiting the Roman Forum until September 11, 206.
For a limited time Santa Maria Antiqua, one of the earliest surviving ancient Byzantine churches that is considered the “Sistine Chapel of the Medieval Era”, is open to the public and it’s something that you don’t want to miss!
(click PLAY to WATCH “Santa Maria Antiqua” Video)
At the foot of Palatine Hill behind the Temple of Castor and Pollux is the 6th century Roman Catholic Marian church that was built within a massive 1st century AD Roman structure built by Roman Emperor Domitian.
This ancient structure served as a winding imperial ramp that connected the Roman Forum below with Palatine Hill above where the imperial palaces overlooked ancient Rome.
You can also access a portion of what remains of these ancient ramps – see the Visit Tips below.
By mid 6th century, this massives structure was transformed into a guard house that served to protect this very important imperial access.
Brick pillars were assembled to support a roof to cover the atrium space, and the walls were frescoed with Christian themes.
A couple of decades later, the guard house itself was transformed into a church that served the needy in the community through charity. The previous brick pillars were replaced with granite columns, the porticos were converted into 2 sided isles, and a large apse was carved out of the existing brick wall.
For a duration of 3 centuries, the interior walls of this ancient Byzantine church were adorned with stunning mosaics, polychrome marble, and vibrant frescoes that were discovered superimposed over 7 layers as newer frescoes were painted over older frescos creating a palimpsest offering viewers a peek into the progression of early Medieval and Byzantine art.
Due to an earthquake in the 9th century, Santa Maria Antiqua buried by rubble and sealed from the world more than 1,000 years until it was rediscovered in early 20th century.
Thanks to centuries of being sealed off from man, Santa Maria Antiqua was saved from the 8-9th century Byzantine iconoclasm and modifications during the Baroque and Counter-Reformation eras when many churches were altered.
Even though heavily damaged as a result of the earthquake a thousand years of neglect, following decades of extensive work to restore this ancient sanctuary, we can now admire the amazing early Christian Byzantine frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary with infant Jesus, saints, angels and martyrs adorn the walls of the sanctuary.
Digital representations of the church in its original condition play on a wide screen inside the church near the mosaic display.
Inside the Chapel of Theodotus, Chapel of the Medical Saints, and presbytery, you can enjoy digital projections on the walls depicting how the original frescoes looked a thousand years ago bringing to life the glory of this “Sistine Chapel” of the Medieval era.
From 1980 to 2012, the Santa Maria Antiqua church was closed to the public and access was limited only to scholars who applied for a special visit to study this ancient monument and its remarkable frescoes. An extensive 2.7 million Euro conservation undertaking between the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome and the World Monuments Fund resulted in the phenomenal results that the public have the privilege to see for themselves for a limited time.
The sanctuary is open for public visitors from March 17 to September 11, 2016.
You can visit Santa Maria Antiqua inside the Roman Forum with a combination ticket valid for Roman Forum – Colosseum – Palatine Hill. Tickets are currently 12 Euros per person purchased on arrival, or 14 Euros if purchased in advance online (to avoid ticket lines on arrival).
If you wish to visit Santa Maria Antiqua church on our ROME IN A DAY TOUR, CHRISTIAN ROME TOUR, or VACANZE ROMANE TOUR, please let us know so we can assist you with a visit to the Roman Forum from where you can access the sanctuary.
Helpful Tips on visiting Santa Maria Antiqua
- When visiting the Roman Forum, please wear comfortable footwear suitable for uneven terrain. Sandals, long heels, and flipflops are not recommended when visiting the Roman Forum.
- To find Santa Maria Antiqua church, proceed to the Temple of Castor and Pollux towards the foot of Palatine Hill and look for posted signs directing you to the church.
- For an informative visit, watch the digital reconstruction of the church video that plays continuously on a large screen on the right side wall near the Mosaic exhibition.
- Don’t miss the spectacular digital projections on the walls of the Chapels of Theodotus and Medical Saints. Text in Italian and English appear with details and descriptions.
- Do not use flash when taking photos inside the church as flash photography is prohibited. Most importantly, camera flash damages the ancient and delicate frescoes on the walls. Prior to entering the church, adjust the settings on your cameras and turn off the automated flash.
- Follow the “Belvedere” sign at the front end of the long wall with the saints mural, and turn right at the entrance. This tall passageway will lead you upward along the ancient imperial ramps, and you will arrive at a terrace for a gorgeous view of the Roman Forum below.
- Avoid potential ticket lines by booking your Roman Forum / Palatine Hill / Colosseum combo ticket online in advance HERE: