Santa Maria Antiqua Church Rome

The Santa Maria Antiqua Church is located in the Roman Forum in Rome. After a restoration that took 36 years, the church, the first Christian building in the Forum, reopened in 2016. The main attraction of this church consists of the layers upon layers of frescoes.


Santa Maria Antiqua Church Rome

Address, opening hours and entrance fee

Santa Maria Antiqua Church Rome
Santa Maria Antiqua Church

The Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua is located within the Forum Romanum. For opening hours and admission price, see the opening hours of the Colosseum.

History and Description

The Santa Maria Antiqua Church is part of a complex that was probably intended as a kind of elaborate reception hall for people who wanted to visit the imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill.

An alternative theory holds that it was partly a kind of barracks for the Praetorian Guard, whose task was to guard the imperial palaces.

The structure consisted of a portico on the side of the Forum, which opened onto two rooms. The space on the right was probably an open atrium, while the one on the left consisted of a central area surrounded by a quadriportico with three rooms in the back. From this space, a ramp led up to the Palatine Hill.

Inside the church it is very easy to see how, over the centuries, different frescoes were painted on top of each other.

Underneath the atrium, an older room was found. It contained a quadrangular vessel, probably an impluvium, used to collect rainwater.

In the 6th century, the central room was transformed into the Santa Maria Church. After an earthquake in 847 had buried the church underneath the ruins of the Domus Tiberiana, this became the Santa Maria Antica and a new church, the Santa Maria Nova Church, was built. (The latter is the present Santa Francesca Romana Church).

It was quite easy to convert the space into a church. The quadriportoco was transformed into 2 naves and the apse was created by carving it into the thick back wall.

On the walls of the church there are several layers of paintings, painted between the 6th and 9th centuries.

Rome - Santa Maria Antiqua Church - fresco
Fresco in the Santa Maria Antiqua Church

Despite being largely destroyed in the 9th century, the church continued to be used, as evidenced by some support works and especially by references to San Biagio, a saint who only gained cult status in the 10th century.

In the 13th century, a new church, the Santa Maria Liberatrice, was built on the ruins of the Santa Maria Antiqua Church. After multiple restorations, this church was rebuilt in 1617 by Onorio Longhi on behalf of Cardinal Marcello Lante. It was demolished in 1902 to allow for the excavation of the Santa Maria Antiqua Church.

The Santa Maria Liberatrice Church was then reopened in the Testaccio district. A 16th century “Madonna and Child” moved with it, while other works of art were brought to the Tor de’ Specchi Monastery.

Oratorium of the Forty Martyrs

Next to the entrance of the Santa Maria Antiqua Church is a space dating from the time of Trajan, to which an apse was added. This is now the Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri. The “forty martyrs” were Christian soldiers who had drowned in an ice-cold pond during the persecution by Diocletian. This event is depicted on an 8th century painting on the back wall.

Santa Maria Antiqua church frescoes

Santa Maria Antiqua Church, Forum Romanum, Rome

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