I was in Rome last month and discovered a Christian church built in the Middle Ages over not one – but THREE pagan temples! San Nicola Carcere is a medieval church at ground level but go into the crypt and you’re confronted by three pagan temples.
What I love in Rome is where you can see how buildings were constructed one on top of another. Some people hate this. They want to strip away the later structures. But that’s a mistake. You de-historicise a place. At the church of San Nicola in Carcere you witness how a medieval church was slapped on top of three early Roman temples.
San Nicola Carcere – built on top of a Roman fruit and vegetables market
You could easily walk past this church but don’t – go in and ask permission to visit the crypt. It’s a bit smelly but down below the church of San Nicola in Carcere (Saint Nicholas in prison) you’ll see that this medieval place of Christian worship was constructed on top of the foundations of three temples.
Hard to explain how this was done but basically the nave completely swallowed up one temple while the outer walls incorporated a row of columns from the temples to each side. The rest of those temples have long disappeared.
The first church was built in the 6th century but the current building was dedicated ten years after the foundation of the Knights Templar in 1128. Down below, you can see evidence of shops that were once above ground – part of the vegetable market that existed around the pagan temples during Roman times.
In the Byzantine period, the submerged market was re-versioned as a prison. Hence the name of the church.