Few places better exemplify the nature of Rome as a city of layers than the beautiful
Basilica di San Clemente. Under the present 12th century basilica there is a 4th century basilica, beneath which are the remains of a building that dates back to the 1st century. And at an even lower level there is a fourth stratum of buildings, which were destroyed in the great fire of 64 CE, during the time of the emperor Nero (r. 54-68).
To make sense of all the layers, it is important to understand that the level of the valley in which San Clemente lies was about sixty feet lower in the first century than it is today.
San Clemente was built during the reign of Pope Paschal II (r. 1099-1118), but for centuries it was thought to date back to the 4th century. The existence of another church, at a lower level, went completely unsuspected until 1857 when a Dominican priest and amateur archaeologist, Father Joseph Mullooly O.P., made the discovery of his life.
Father Mullooly and his team dug through more than 20 feet of rubble to reach an earlier church, sitting almost directly beneath the present one. This was not an end to his discoveries, for below the newly excavated church, he later came across part of an insula (an ancient Roman apartment block) from the Republican era.
Subsequent excavations by other archaeologists revealed a house and a mithraeum, both from the Imperial era.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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