Underground Fun: European Edition


16 Responses to “Underground Fun: European Edition”

  1. dculberson says:

    It’s hard for me to imagine a situation where a building is unsafe for occupancy but is safe for a new building to go on top… but then I’m not from the fourth century.

  2. T. Nielsen Hayden says:

    The other reason to keep an eye on the stone floors is that some of the decorative stone is highly figured because it’s full of fossils. (For example, there’s a pair of really good stone slabs on the front porch of St. John Lateran that have white fossils on a jasper-red background.) This may or may not help explain why the RCs have a long history of being relatively sensible about evolution.

  3. Marilyn Terrell says:

    What’s fun about this story is that it’s in blog form so that in order to read what’s beneath the first church you have to scroll down, and to read what’s under the second church you have to scroll down some more, like descending in the church itself. Thanks for this post.

  4. insomma says:

    As strange as it seems, this was common practice for a couple of reasons. Property was costly. It was cheaper for the architects and churchmen to fill in and build on top of the old church than it was to buy a new plot of lans and build from scratch. The site was also a sacred location. The land had already been consecrated, and St. Clement’s relics were located there, making it important to rebuild the church in the same place.

  5. tiamat_the_red says:

    Oh rats! If only you’d posted this a week ago! I’m leaving Rome in about 12 hours. Next time…

  6. Anonymous says:

    my favorite thing in rome is the capuchini bone crypt:


  7. Robotech_Master says:

    Reminds me of the bits from the Discworld novels that talk about how what Ankh-Morpork is built on is, mostly, Ankh-Morpork.

  8. Teller says:

    Visited San Clemente last year. Thanks for the pleasant reminder.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Double-check your San Clemente underground photo…that must be from another church. The Lower Basilica remains are undecorated brick and dimly lit. See more at http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-san-clemente.htm.

  10. T. Nielsen Hayden says:

    I was in San Clemente last month. It’s way cool. Top level’s a nice old church that unfortunately got baroqued-up in the 17th C. Next level down is the Romanesque basilica, with some interesting old wall paintings, and a nifty shrine with relics of SS. Cyril and Methodius. Under that are the 1st C. house that got used as a church and the Mithraeum, and underneath that is a hollow place with a spring in it.

    DCulberson, street levels rise in part because when there’s a lot of destruction, people tend to level out the rubble and build on top of it. At San Clemente, the original street level is sixty feet below the current one. When Bob Dylan sings about the streets of Rome being filled with rubble, he’s telling the literal truth.

  11. colonel gentleman says:

    Nice story. Could someone clear something up for me? I really enjoys all of these stories about buildings being built on top of other buildings you hear about in older cities, but how does this happen? Does no one own a broom? “Oh, the basilica is nearly covered, time to build on top of it.” Why don’t they just knock it down?

  12. Takuan says:

    how do such things happen? Rather easily:

  13. Anonymous says:

    They fill it in when the building becomes unsafe, and the old building becomes the foundation of the new one. At least, that’s what it said at the official website.

    This church must be the real-life model for the one in a mystery by Ngaio Marsh called “When in Rome.” I’m sure there must be some details that are added for dramatic effect, but she describes a church layered like a cake, with a Mithraic temple below the oldest layers. The big scene takes place in this crypt. Although it’s not Marsh’s best novel (it’s a later one), it’s still worth a read.

  14. T. Nielsen Hayden says:

    Also: when in Rome, keep an eye on the paved floors of old churches. When you get geometric patchwork patterns of decorative stone, there’s an excellent chance that some or all of the stone you’re looking at was scavenged from classical Roman buildings — for instance, the Domus Aurea, as noted above.

  15. Takuan says:

    so THAT’S how the Illuminati encoded their messages!

  16. Anonymous says:

    You had me at subways, but you’re into catacombs too? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez don’t go!

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