The Basilica of Maxentius (Basilica di Massenzio) is one of the largest monuments in the Roman Forum in Rome. This former courthouse was the model for the construction of the first churches in Rome, which thus came to be called basilica‘s.
Basilica of Maxentius Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
The Basilica di Massenzio is located along the Clivo di Venere Felice inside the Foro Romano. The official address is that of the Forum Romanum itself. The opening hours and the entrance fee are those of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine. Unfortunately, the basilica itself can only be visited from the outside.
The Emperor Maxentius started construction of the basilica between 306 and 312. Emperor Constantine would eventually complete the construction, which is why it is often called the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius.
A fragment of a 2nd century map and excavations show that there used to be a number of buildings here. These were called the Horri Piperataria, where pepper and other spices were stored.
Although the building was part of the Roman Forum, its entrance was on the side of the current Via dei Fori Imperiali.
The Basilica of Maxentius served as the public court of Rome. When churches began to be built, its architecture was used as an example, which is why the first churches were called “basilica”. It was not until later that the word acquired its current meaning.
The ground plan of the Basilica of Maxentius differs from that of older basilicas like the Basilica Ulpia. These had a central ship with round extensions at the ends.
Originally, the basilica consisted of an enormous auditorium. This was divided into three naves by marble columns. It could be accessed from the atrium on the west side via five large corridors. The dimensions were 100 by 65 meters. The central nave had a length of 80 meters and was 35 meters tall. The side wings consisted of three rooms connected to the atrium and to each other.
Only the north side of the basilica is still standing. The central part of the basilica ended in an apse. In front of this apse there were two columns and there were niches containing statues.
The south side used to have a large entrance, which was built by Constantine. It consisted of a portico with four enormous columns. This portico was preceded by a staircase that connected the Via Sacra with the Velia (a hill that was largely excavated by Mussolini during construction of the Via dei Fori Imperiali).
Only one of the eight columns supporting the central nave remains. It was removed in 1613 by order of Pope Paul V and placed in front of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, where it can still be seen. It is known as the Colonna della Pace (“Column of Peace”)
Colossus of Constantine
Emperor Constantine had a huge, seated statue of himself placed in the eastern apse of the central nave. The arms, legs and head were made of white marble, while the torso was made of wood with a gilded bronze layer. The remains of this Colossus of Constantine, the head and one of the feet, are on display in the Capitoline Museums in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori. It was more than 12 meters tall and the head alone measured 2.60 meters.