The building was accidentally found in 1917 under the Rome-Naples railway. There are various hypotheses on its use. It was interpreted as a neo-Pythagorean sanctuary destroyed under the emperor Claudius or, more likely, as a funeral basilica datable in the late Augustan or Tiberian era.
The Basilica is about 9 meters below the level of the current Via Prenestina, and is divided into three different environments:
- the Dromos, which constituted the access from the ancient Via Praenestina: a long sloping corridor that from the surface led underground to the rooms of the Basilica;
- the Vestibule, an entrance of 3.60 x 3.60 meters which leads to the main hall, and is surmounted by a pavilion vault with a particular skylight in the center;
- the Basilica Hall, 12 x 9 meters for a total of 108 square meters, is divided into three naves and covered with barrel vaults. Wider than the side aisles, the central nave has a semicircular apse on the bottom.
Inside the complex, there is a precious floor decoration with a white mosaic texture with black bands. On the walls, and on the vaults, there are alternating frescoes in the Vestibule and figured stuccos especially in the Basilica hall.
The frescoes portray scenes from classical mythology, like the ones depicting Sappho in the act of launching herself from the cliff of Lefkada, Ganymede kidnapped by a winged genius and the abduction of one of Leucippus’ the daughters.
The decorations display many female figures, and images of objects such as vases, candelabras, and musical instruments. On the walls, you can admire the large panels with stylized landscape representations.
The vestibule is characterized by a polychrome vault divided into figured squares, while on the walls the landscape themes with birds and floral wreaths are repeated.
The basilica has been interpreted as a place of worship or funerary building. It is connected to the vast properties of the Gens Statilia to which also the columbarium belongs. It is still visible today about 200 meters away.
Beyond the hypotheses on its function, the elegant decorations make this basilica a work of art dating back to the beginning of the I century AD. The same subjects and style can also be found in its contemporary columbarium of the Statilii, cryptoporticus on the Palatine Hill, and in the Golden Vaulted room of the Domus Aurea.
Photo Credits: Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma - Archeologia Belle Arti Paesaggio
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