Discover three layers of history in one structure.
St Clement Basilica is just a stone’s throw away from the Colosseum, but many tourists don’t even know it exists. This hidden gem may look ordinary from the outside, but it’s hiding artistic and archeological treasures within.
- Admire the gold mosaics of the apse in the current basilica.
- Marvel at the collection of Medieval frescoes in the original 4th-century basilica.
- Wander underground through Roman ruins in search of an ancient Mithraic temple.
Tickets & Prices
Although entrance to the current ground-floor basilica is free, no visit would be complete without exploring the underground levels, which require a pre-booked ticket. Find out which ticket you’re eligible for below.
All tickets grant access to the excavations, which include:
- The Lower Basilica (4th century)
- The Archeological Site (1st century)
- The Temple of Mithras
- The Roman Houses
Simply book your tickets by choosing your preferred date and timeslot, pay online, and receive instant ticket delivery to your inbox. Each visit lasts 30 minutes. You must arrive at the entrance 10 minutes early.
Full Price ticket
This ticket is for adults over the age of 18.
- For students up to 26 years old (with valid ID)
- For school groups of students up to 26 years old (with valid ID)
- For disabled people and one companion.
- For children up to 16 years old (only valid when purchased with a minimum of 1 adult full-price ticket)
- Due to the structure of the complex, the excavations cannot be accessed by wheelchair.
- Photography and filming are not allowed.
- Bulky objects, as well as food and drinks, are forbidden.
- Smoking is prohibited.
What to See and Do
Though unassuming on the outside, St. Clement Basilica is a treasure trove for both beautiful works of art and impressive archeological excavations. Here are some of the things you can see – both above ground and below.
Level 1 – The Current Basilica
Even without knowing what’s hidden beneath, a visit to the current basilica is a wonderful addition to your Roman itinerary. Originally constructed in the Romanesque style and then renovated in the Baroque style, a visitor today will see examples of both.
The floor, consisting of colorful geometric patterns in marble, is a beautiful example of the Cosmatesque style, made popular in the 12th century. Looking up, one will see a ceiling made of wood and gold and decorated with geometric patterns and symbols. It was designed by Carlo Stefano Fontana in the 18th century.
Two points of interest are: the apse, depicting characters and symbols in shimmering gold mosaics; and the schola cantorum, the choir area delineated by a beautiful set of marble panels covered in carvings of Christian symbology. See if you can spot the monograms of Pope John II, the very first pope who changed his name when elected.
Level 2 – The First Basilica
When you’ve finished admiring the beauty of the current basilica, head underground to explore the remains of the first basilica, built back in the 4th century.
Here you’ll find the second-largest collection of early Medieval frescoes in Rome, sponsored by a wealthy family in the 11th century. Most of them illustrate the life and miracles of Saint Clement, but there are other frescoes as well, some dating as far back as the 6th century.
If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the frescoes have dialogues. One of them contains the first inscription in the early Italian vernacular. Back then, Latin was still the official language of the empire, and the Italian language was called ‘Volgare’, meaning ‘belonging to the common people’.
Level 3 – The Mithraeum
Descend one level more, and you’ll find the ruins of an ancient temple from the 3rd century, set in the labyrinthine set of rooms belonging to a house from the 2nd century.
Mithras was a deity originating in Persia who had gained a following amongst Roman men during this period. The main room of the temple contains a marble altar in the shape of a sarcophagus depicting a scene of Mithras slaying a bull. The altar is surrounded by stone benches where the worshippers would have sat during the ceremonies.
St Clement Basilica is located in the city center, just a few meters away from the Colosseum. It’s easily accessible by public transport or on foot from nearby sites.
Address: Via Labicana 95, 00184
Metro: Line B – Colosseo
Tram: Line 3 – Labicana
Bus: 75, 85, 117, 186, 810, and 850 all pass nearby.
Did You Know That: (3 Interesting Facts)
- Irish Dominicans have owned the church since Pope Urban VIII gave them refuge there in 1667. They initiated the excavations in the 1950s after hearing a legend that the basilica was built on the house of St. Clement himself.
- Saint Clement was sentenced to death for trying to convert his fellow prisoners. He was tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea, which is why the anchor is one of his symbols.
- In one of the rooms of the domus, there is an exposed pipe that still has water flowing through it. The pipe is part of the Cloaca Maxima, the main sewer system of ancient Rome.
- Archeological findings have discovered the remains of a Roman Republic-era building, possibly destroyed in the fire of 64 CE. This is the oldest known structure at the site.
- During the Flavian period (69-96 CE) the site became the home of an industrial building, thought to have been the imperial mint of Rome.
- Shortly afterward, a domus (Roman private home) was built next door to the mint. It was used as a house of worship for early Christians who had to practice their rites in secret as they were under persecution.
- About a century later (c. 200 CE), the domus was converted into a Mithraeum – a cave-like temple for a newly arrived religion, the Mithraic cult.
- Sometime during the 4th century, the temple was buried, and a proper basilica was built on top of it. It was dedicated to the mysterious figure of St. Clement, allegedly one of the early popes. He was sentenced to hard labor and later put to death because of his faith.
- The first basilica was in use for over seven centuries until the Normans attacked Rome in 1084. They sacked the city and consequently damaged the church. It was then abandoned and buried below street level.
- A few years later, Pope Paschal II commissioned a new basilica to be erected on the site of the first one. It was completed in 1108 and still stands today.
- In the early 18th century, architect Carlo Fontana was commissioned by Pope Clement XI to renovate the church. He’s responsible for its current Baroque appearance.
- Today, St. Clement Basilica is considered somewhat of a hidden gem in Rome, visited by tourists and locals in the know.
Address: Basilica of San Clemente, Via Labicana 95, 00184 Roma, Italy · view larger map