Rome’s lesser-known ruins
31 January 2020
The first emperor, Augustus, famously found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble. Over two millennia later, his prized capital is still punctuated with splendid architectural remains. Whilst the best-known landmarks, such as the Colosseum, are prominent and well-known, there are many lesser-known, but no less fascinating, remains to be seen. Hotel de la Ville’s Les Clefs d’Or Head Concierge, Alexandra Sardo, has been a resident of Rome for 19 years and is passionate about its past; she suggests several must-visit sites for lovers of history and architecture.
“It’s a saying amongst Romans that the city has seven layers,” Alexandra begins, “and the Basilica di San Clemente is one of the few places you can clearly see three of them.” This unassuming building, just moments from the Colosseum, hides a palimpsest of Roman religious history. Within the 12th century Catholic church, replete with gold mosaics and ancient frescoes, is the entrance to a subterranean archaeological site. Visitors can descend to encounter a 4th century church, home to some of the earliest Christian murals in Italy. Beneath that, the remains of a 3rd century pagan temple, a 1st century residence and the erstwhile Empire’s sophisticated plumbing system can be admired.
“Then there’s the Temples of the Forum Boarium,” she continues. She refers to two of Rome’s most beautifully preserved temples, the Temple of Hercules Victor and the Temple of Portunus, located at the former cattle market. “The Temple of Hercules was the first temple in Rome built in marble and has always been a point of reference for Roman architecture,” she explains of the colonnaded rondavel, which sports some of the earliest known Corinthian capitals. Of the neighbouring Temple of Portunus, with its fluted columns and Ionic capitals, she adds: “This temple was a church for about 1,000 years. It was in use from the 900s until 1916, when it was deconsecrated. Inside, you can still see Catholic frescos.”
However, as she explains, there are also many structures, which, despite not surviving in their original forms, were dismantled, re-used, and can still be spied when one knows where to look. We ask for an example, and she explains: “The Arcus Novus was a grand arch built in the 3rd century and felled in the 15th century. Today, it’s a beautiful example of the re-use of Roman marble.” The extraordinary relief carvings from this arch were saved and transferred to other walls across the city and as far as Florence. In fact, the most complete assemblage of the Arcus Novus’ majestic designs is found right next to Hotel de la Ville, adorning the 16th century Villa Medici. “At the time, it was very common to use marble from ruins to decorate ‘new’ palaces. There are lots of high-profile examples: the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican was actually built using a lot of marble initially used in the building of the Colosseum.”
Our Head Concierge and Concierge Team are always delighted to help curate or suggest an itinerary for those seeking to explore Rome’s past. Book your stay at Hotel de la Ville and discover the capital’s lesser-known ruins by emailing email@example.com or calling +39 06 32 888 880.