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The ancient churches of Rome

le chiese antiche di Roma
les églises anciennes de Rome

 

Roma, caput mundi, world capital of history, art and christianity. The proud capital of the roman empire has been the centre of artistic development since antiquity and played a key role in the history of christian art. No other city preserves such an abundance of christian art; from the first paintings in the underground catacombs around the town, to the ancient basilicas and mosaic decorations, to the endless art collections of the town museums and the great baroque facades and copulas of the city centre. The big list of ancient churches from the early-christian and medieval periods, spanning 1000 years of history and scattered all over the city centre and beyond, is particularly stunning. The visitor will be surprised to find the oldest columned basilicas, colourful mosaics, ancient rotundas, romanesque campaniles and decorated cloisters in every quarter of the town. The exploration of the churches of Rome is a lengthy and wonderful journey, as well as a great asset in the understanding of art history in general.

 

Introduction
The Major Basilicas
The Ancient Rotundas
The Great Mosaics
More Basilicas
Romanesque Campaniles
Cloisters and the Cosmates
Other Churches
Museums

 

Introduction

The art treasures of Rome in general and the ancient churches in particular present a wide variety of constructions and decorations. Going back into time, christian art in Rome develops only very slowly during the first centuries after Christ, still dominated by the culture of the roman empire. The first christian paintings are found in the 2nd century A.C. in the catacombs, the underground burial chambers outside of the city used by the early christians. The big development starts after the Constantine edict (313) proclaiming religious toleration, with the first public churches being built on the places where the apostles and early martyrs had been murdered. The great early-christian basilicas, constructed in the classical hall-layout using roman columns and decorations, are a truly unique collection of early church architecture, starting from the 4th century A.C. and continued all the way throughout the middle ages. A couple of smaller rotundas on circular ground plan from this period present a mixed influence from the holy sanctuary of Christ in Jerusalem and the roman mausoleums. The mosaic decorations from the early medieval period found in several churches represent a side-chapter of the Byzantine art history (see also Ravenna). Many more roman churches conserve christian sarcophages and sculptures or are internally decorated by medieval frescos. Although the high middle ages mark a relatively poor and quiet time in Rome, the elevated campaniles mostly from the 12th century give the city a clear romanesque face. From the same period dates the remarkable artwork of the Cosmates, artists who decorated the cloisters, interiors and church floors of Rome with colourful marbles. Although after the middle ages most churches have been partially or entirely altered, especially during the prosperous Renaissance and Baroque periods, a great deal is still preserved from the ancient times. On this page an overview is presented of the over 70 ancient churches of Rome, spanning 1000 years of history (roughly from the 3rd to the 13th centuries), categorized in several groups and ranked by stars (up to two). For each church, the ancient parts are listed (with the century of construction between brackets). Finally some interesting museums are mentioned.

The city of Rome

 

 

The Major Basilicas

S.MARIA-MAGGIORE **
Basilica (5th), campanile (14th), mosaics (5th and 13th), floor (12th).

S.PAOLO-FUORI-LE-MURA **
Parts of basilica (4th), mosaics (4th/5th and 13th), frescos (12th), easter candle (12th), ciborium (13th), cloisters (13th).

S.LORENZO-FUORI-LE-MURA **
Basilica (6th and 8th), campanile (13th), atrium (12th/13th), mosaic (6th), ambon, cathedra, ciborium and floor (12th/13th), cloisters (13th), sarcophages.

S.AGNESE-FUORI-LE-MURA **
Basilica (7th), mosaics (7th), catacombs.

S.SABINA **
Basilica (5th), atrium, doors (5th), mosaics (5th), ambon (9th), cloisters (13th).

S.MARIA-IN-TRASTEVERE **
Basilica (12th), campanile (12th), mosaics (12th and 13th), floor, sculptures.

S.CLEMENTE **
Basilica (12th), lower church (4th), atrium, mosaics (7th and 12th), frescos (5th to 11th), ambon, floor, candle and ciborium (12th).

SS.QUATTRO-CORONATI **
Basilica (9th and 12th), crypt, campanile (9th), floor, courtyards, cloisters (13th), S.Barbara chapel (9th), S.Sylvestro chapel (13th), frescos (9th to 13th).

 

 

The Ancient Rotundas

S.GIOVANNI-IN-FONTE **
Rotunda (5th), chapels, mosaics (5th and 7th).

S.STEFANO-ROTONDO **
Rotunda (5th), arch (9th and 12th), mosaic (7th), cathedra (6th/7th).

S.CONSTANZA **
Rotunda (4th), mosaics (4th).

 

 

The Great Mosaics

S.PRASSEDE **
Basilica (9th), crypt, S.Zeno chapel (9th), campanile (11th), portal, mosaics (9th), frescos (12th).

S.PUDENZIANA *
Campanile (12th/13th), portal (4th and 11th/12th), mosaic (4th), fresco (11th).

SS.COSMAS-E-DAMIANO *
Apse (6th), mosaic (6th), lower church.

S.MARIA-IN-DOMNICA (-DELLA-NAVICELLA) *
Basilica (9th), mosaics (9th).

S.MARCO *
Basilica, campanile (12th), mosaics (9th), floor.

S.CECILIA-IN-TRASTEVERE *
Campanile (12th), atrium (12th), mosaic (9th), frescos (13th), ciborium (13th), fragments lower church.

S.GIOVANNI-IN-LATERANO *
Mosaics (13th), floor, cloisters (13th), sculptures. Capella Sancta Sanctorum (13th). Parts of the triclinium mosaic (9th).

S.FRANCESCA-ROMANA (S.MARIA-NOVA) *
Campanile (12th/13th), mosaic (12th).

S.PIETRO-IN-VINCOLI
Basilica (5th), mosaic (7th).

S.TEODORO
Apse, mosaic (6th).

For more great mosaics see also all the churches above (the Major Basilicas and the Ancient Rotundas).

 

More Basilicas

S.MARIA-IN-COSMEDIN **
Basilica (8th), campanile (12th), atrium, portal (11th), mosaic (8th), pulpits, cathedra (13th), ciborium (13th) and floor.

S.GIORGIO-IN-VELABRO **
Basilica (7th), campanile (12th), atrium, fresco (13th), ciborium (13th), altar (11th).

S.GIOVANNI-A-PORTA-LATINA **
Basilica (5th and 8th), campanile (14th), atrium, frescos (12th).

S.SABA *
Basilica (12th), portal (13th), frescos (7th to 12th), scola cantorum.

S.BALBINA *
Basilica (4th/5th), frescos (9th to 12th), cathedra (13th), grave.

S.MARIA-IN-ARACOELI *
Basilica (6th), pulpits (12th/13th), graves (13th), altar, floor.

S.BARTOLOMEO-ALL’ISOLA *
Basilica, campanile, lions, relief.

S.CRISOGONO *
Basilica (12th), campanile (12th), floor (13th), frescos lower church (8th to 11th).

S.MARTINO-AI-MONTI *
Basilica (9th), remnants (4th/5th).

S.MARIA-ANTIQUA *
Basilica (6th), atrium, chapel, frescos (6th to 9th).

S.NICOLA-IN-CACERE
Basilica (8th and 12th).

S.BIBIANA
Basilica (5th).

S.AGATA-DEI-GOTI
Basilica (5th), ciborium (12th).

S.SALVATORE-IN-ONDA
Basilica (11th/12th).

S.STEFANO-DEL-CACCO
Basilica (9th), campanile (12th).

S.STEFANO-DEGLI-ABISSINI
Basilica, portal.

S.MARIA-IN-MONTERONE
Basilica (12th).

S.SEBASTIANO-FUORI-LE-MURA
Parts of basilica (4th), sarcophages (4th), catacombs (3rd).

S.PANCRAZIO-FUORI-LE-MURA
Parts of basilica (6th).

SS.NEREO-E-ACHILLEO (CATACOMBE DI DOMITILLA)
Parts of basilica (4th), catacombs (2nd to 4th), frescos.

 

Romanesque Campaniles

SS.GIOVANNI-E-PAOLO *
Campanile (12th), facade (5th), atrium (12th), portal, apse (12th), mosaics (5th), floor, lower church, frescos (4th to 12th).

S.CROCE-IN-GERUSALEMME
Campanile (12th), floor.

S.LORENZO-IN-LUCINA
Campanile (12th), atrium (12th).

S.MARIA-IN-MONTICELLI
Campanile (12th), mosaic.

S.SILVESTRO-IN-CAPITE
Campanile, fragments.

S.GREGORIO-NAZIANZENO (S.MARIA-IN-CAMPOMARZIO)
Campanile.

MADONNA-DEL-DIVINO-AMORE (S.CECILIA-IN- CAMPOMARZIO)
Campanile.

S.SALVATORE-DELLA-CORTE (S.MARIA-DELLA-LUCE)
Campanile (12th), apse (12th).

S.SALVATORE-ALLE-COPPELLE
Campanile (12th).

S.EUSTACHIO
Campanile (11th/12th).

S.EUSEBIO
Campanile.

SS.QUIRICO-E-GIULIITTA
Campanile (12th), lower church, frescos.

S.SISTO-VECCHIO
Campanile (13th), apse.

S.MICHELE-E-MAGNO
Campanile (12th).

S.LORENZO-IN-PISCIBUS
Parts of basilica, campanile.

S.BENEDETTO-PISCINULA
Basilica, campanile (12th).

S.MARIA-IN-CAPELLA
Campanile (11th).

S.RUFINA-E-SECONDA
Campanile.

S.BIAGIO-DEL-MERCATO
Parts of campanile (11th).

For more romanesque campaniles see also: S.Lorenzo-fl-M, S.Maria-in-Trastevere, S.Prassede, S.Pudenziana, S.Marco, S.Cecilia, S.Francesca-R, S.Maria-in-Cosmedin, S.Giorgio-in-Velabro, S.Giovanni-a-PL, S.Bartolomeo, S.Crisogono, S.Stefano-del-C (above) and S.Alessio, S.Cosimato (below).

 

Cloisters and the Cosmates

S.ALESSIO *
Crypt, campanile (13th), portal, frescos (13th), floor (13th), cloisters.

S.COSIMATO *
Campanile, atrium (12th), cloisters (12th /13th).

SS.NEREO-E-ACHILLEO *
Apse, mosaics (8th/9th), floor (13th), altar (13th), chancel (13th), cathedra (13th).

SS.VINCENZO-E-ANASTASIO (ABBAZIA TRE FONTANE) *
Nave and choir (13th), atrium, porch, oratorium (8th), frescos (9th), cloisters.

SS.GREGORIO-MAGNO
Floor, cathedra.

S.CESARIO-IN-PALATIO (-DE-APPIA)
Cathedra.

For more cloisters see also: S.Paolo-fl-M, S.Lorenzo-fl-M, S.Sabina, SS.Quattro-Coronati (under the Major Basilicas above) and S.Giovanni-in-Laterano (above).
For more floors and artwork of the cosmates see additionally: S.Maria-Maggiore, S.Clemente, S.Marco, S.Maria-in-Cosmedin, S.Giorgio-in-Velabro, S.Saba, S.Maria-in-Aracoeli, S.Balbina, S.Crisogono, SS.Giovanni-e-Paolo, S.Croce, S.Agata (above).


Other Churches

S.PIETRO
Scavi (4th), mosaic (3rd), frescos, sarcophages.

SS.APOSTOLI
Chapel columns (4th), atrium lions.

S.VITALE
Atrium (5th), apse (5th).

S.SEBASTIANO-AL-PALATINO
Apse, fresco (11h).

S.PASSERA
Apse (13th), lower church (5th), frescos.

S.URBANO
Chapel (11th), frescos.


Museums

MUSEI VATICANI
Huge collection of christian art, note the early sarcophages and statues in the Pio Cristiano museum wing.

MUSEO BARRACCO
Medieval mosaics and sculptures.

PALAZZO MASSIMO ALLE TERME
Sculptures and statues.

MUSEO NAZIONALE DELL'ALTO MEDIOEVO
Sculptures and objects.

CRYPTA BALBI
Sculptures and reliefs.

MUSEO PALAZZO VENEZIA
Medieval sculptures.

 

 

Links

Website of the Vatican with virtual tours of the basilicas of S.Maria-Maggiore, S.Paolo and S.Giovanni.

 

 

Pictures: Eduard, 2007-2008. For any comments or additions feel free to contact me.

 

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