One of our favorite sites to visit in the Roman Forum is the church of Santa Maria Antiqua, which up until this week had been closed to public viewing. Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest church in the Roman Forum and a key monument in the transformation of the Forum from pagan to Christian space: constructed in the 6th century inside a 1st-century structure with courtyard attached to the Imperial palace on the Palatine hill above. Santa Maria Antiqua was abruptly abandoned in the 9th century after a devastating earthquake and resulting landslide. The church was rediscovered at the turn of the 20th century, partly restored, and made accessible to visitors until 1980, when it was permanently closed due to damage caused by rising damp. Since 2006, Santa Maria Antiqua has been a World Monuments Fund project, led by mural conservators Werner Schmid and Giuseppe Morganti, who have been working with the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome to restore the frescoes and permanently resolve the damp problem.
Thanks to centuries of sealing off, Santa Maria Antiqua can be considered a veritable Pompeii-like site- somewhat untouched postcards of an era that was written over. Its walls showcase a cycle of beautiful frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, popes, saints, and martyrs, thus forming one of the largest and most important collections of pre-Iconoclastic Roman and Byzantine art in the world. These frescoes date to a period of iconoclasm when in East figures in churches were destroyed. The AIRC has a special connection with Santa Maria Antiqua. In years past, we have excavated in front of the site and we have also done our best to help WMF, Schmid, Morganti and team. Over these past six years, we’ve had given special entry and behind-the-scenes access to Santa Maria Antiqua thanks to professors Morganti and Schmid, who’ve also taken the time to speak with our students.
From now through November 4, Santa Maria Antiqua is available for public visits. A maximum of 25 persons can visit the site for approximately 45 minutes. Reserve via coopculture.it , 06 39967700. Cost: €12+ €9 (Foro romano entrance ticket + guided visit)