The medieval church of San Nicola in Carcere stands in the area of the ancient Forum Olitorium, where, in the period of republican Rome, were three temples, transformed into a prison during the Middle Ages (hence the name "in carcere", "in prison").
Built in 1128 (as the inscription on the facade reminds), it was dedicated to St. Nicholas, since the Greek community, devoted to the saint, lived in the area.
The small square of the Forum Olitorium, with the three temples of Janus, Spes (Hope) and Juno Sospita in the centre, was used as a herbs and vegetables market. The church was built before the 11th century by Pope Pasquale II and was almost entirely rebuilt and enriched in 1599, by the architect Giacomo della Porta.
Further restored and decorated during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX in 1865, it was freed in 1932 from the buildings that were attached to it, to highlight the remains of the ancient temples.
The basilica respects the architectural canons used for the construction of the ancient Roman churches. The three naves are divided by fourteen columns, different in material and size, all from ancient temples, which express an incredible harmony. Inside, it is possible to admire the artworks by Guercino ("Trinità ed Angeli"), Antonio Romano ("Madonna con il Bambino") and Lorenzo Costa ("Ascensione").
The three temples are still partially visible, having been incorporated into the church.
The southern Doric temple, probably dedicated to Spes (Hope), was the smallest one. Built during the First Punic War, it was restored and rebuilt several times: in 212 BC, at the beginning of the 1st century BC, in the Augustan and Hadrianic periods. The cell for worship was surrounded by columns, of which six on the facade, in plastered travertine. Some of the side columns are still visible today, inserted on the left wall of the church.
In the centre between two temples, beneath the church, there is probably the most recent and the largest of the three (30 x 15 m), inserted lastly. It was hexastyle, peripteral, of the Ionic order, with a triple row of columns at the front, double at the back. The remains are visible in the basement of the church, near the apse, beyond a few columns in the front area. Most likely the temple was dedicated to Juno Sospita, protectress of births. Built in the early 2nd century BC by C. Cornelio Cetego, it was remade at the beginning of the 1st century BC and still restored in the Augustan and Hadrianic periods.
The Ionian temple is the northernmost of the three and also the best preserved. It is currently on the right side of the church. It was hexastyle, peripteral, without rear colonnade. Some columns are still clearly visible, seven on one side and two on the other. The temple was of moderate proportions (m. 26 x 15) and stood on a medium-height podium preceded by steps; the columns, the bases and capitals are in peperino, the architrave and the frieze are in travertine.
It was probably dedicated to Janus. Built during the republican age by C. Duilio, it was rebuilt at the beginning of the 1st century BC, restored in the Augustan, Tiberian and Hadrianic ages.
Photo credits: Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali
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