My Favorite Medieval Places in Rome

Written by Katie Parla on March 25, 2009


I am tremendous dork. I readily admit that. Sometimes my friend Ann and I walk around Rome toting around Krautheimer and drooling over medieval ruins, churches, fortresses, and marketplaces. It is really quite ridiculous. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Santa Prassede has early Christian mosiacs in the chapel of S. Zeno where pilgims flock to what is touted as the column of the flagellation of Christ. There are later mosaics in the apse.

  • SS. Cosma and Damiano was first adapted from the so-called temple of Romulus on the Forum (it was more likely the audience hall of the city prefect), then expanded. As ground level rose, the Forum entrance level was abandoned and the church floor was raised, giving us an up-close and personal look at the apse mosaics. A Baroque rennovation damaged many of the mosaics (thanks Pope Urban VIII), but those that are still visible are some of the best examples in the city of pre-Byzantine art, still steeped in the Classical visual tradition.

  • San Clemente‘s apse mosaics were laid in the 12th century utilizing (mostly) 5th century early Christian iconography (minus the crucifixion and bearded Christ which postdate the 5th century in Roman artwork). The theory is that when an earlier church (excavated below) was abandoned, the apse ancient apse mosaic was copied in the upper church. The lower church has some interesting 11th century frescoes, one of which features a rare (and vulgar) inscription in the local vernacular rather than ecclesiastical Latin.

  • Santa Maria in Trastevere is a gem. Cavallini’s works in the apse are Rome’s first hint at a rebirth of the arts Renaissance. The cosmatesque floor is one of the city’s most elaborate.

  • Santa Cecilia, also in trastevere, has 9th century mosaics in the apse (note the square nimbus around the pope’s head-I think its Paschal-implying he is still alive). Ask at the sacristy to see the underground archaeologial site below the main church. You must absolutely ring at the convent next door to the porch where Cavallini’s Last Judgement was discovered.

  • And a few more…

  • Crypta Balbi
  • Santa Maria Antiqua (special permission required)

  • Santa Maria Maggiore

  • Santo Stefano Rotondo

  • SS Quattro Coronati

  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin

  • Santa Sabina

  • NB: Most of these places are closed mid-day (from 12.30-3.30) and it never hurts to check the links for precise opening times.

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