Santa Maria Antiqua
The Roman Forum is not only a field of nearly – undecipherable – pieces of marble; it is also a bowl surrounded by buildings from a later period of the history of Rome.
One of these buildings is the Church of Santa Maria Antiqua located the base of the North-West Cliff of the Palatine Hill.
The church is the oldest Christian monument in the Roman Forum and includes the earliest Roman depiction of Santa Maria Regina depicting the Virgin Mary as a Queen from the 6th century. The church is housed in the remnants of a antique building consisting of a square atrium and a few other rooms. To the east was a rampart, which ran up to the imperial palaces. It is believed that the building originally was a large vestibule to front the imperial palaces set up by the emperor Domitian (81 – 96); later it may have been used as an Athenaeum or library. By the 6th century the building had been reduced to a guards-room. Not long after (565-578) it was turned into a church. From that period onwards began an extensive programme of redecoration, beginning with Pope John VIII (705 – 707) and ending in 795 by Hadrian I (just before the coronation of Charlemagne in Rome in 800).
The decoration consists of remarkable cycles of frescoes inspired by Byzantium art at that time. Maybe the frescoes were even painted by Byzantine artists who fled the Eastern Roman Empire due to its iconoclastic politics at that time.
In 847 the church was badly damaged by a landslide due to an earthquake, and as a result Leo IV had a new church built – Santa Maria Nova – opposite the old one. This church was probably abandoned after the Normans sacked Rome in 1084, while later an oratory or small church was built in the Atrium of the Antiqua.
Meanwhile the old Santa Maria was left as a ruin. Not until 1900 it began to be excavated from the debris of the 9th century; thus the Byzantine frescoes were preserved in a time-warp, showing the cultural and artistic art predominant in Rome around the time of the Carolingian renaissance.
Since WW2 the church has been effectively closed off for visitors, while conservators have worked to excavate and restore the remarkable building.
The church is supposed to open to the public in late 2013. However, during the European National Heritage Days, it was suddenly possible for a few lucky to get a glimpse of what is in store for the magnitudes. This has been followed up by a series of guided tours in October.
We can hardly wait…
The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome: A Comprehensive Guide
Sussex Academic Press 2001
BOOK A TOUR
Interested may call + 06 39967700 and book a tour from 01.10.2012 – 04.11.2012