Saturday, February 16, 2013

Termini Part 1 - Santa Maria Maggiore

View Termini in a larger map

Termini Part 2 - Basilica Santa Prassede

The area around Termini station in Rome has a mostly undeserved reputation as a depressing, dangerous haven for bums, drunks, and druggies that's best avoided or, if necessary transited as quickly as possible. In fact, the area around Termini has some really interesting ruins, some of the best kebab joints in town, and what may be the source of the best version of Ma Po Tofu I've had outside San Francisco.

So let's say you've just arrived at Stazione Termini and your hotel room won't be available until 14:00. Leave your bags with the bell desk and head out - there's stuff to see!

Santa Maria Maggiore

Head out the south side of the station and continue south west four blocks on Via Vincenzo Gioberti. You can't miss the church. It's big, it's a basilica, it's full of awesome art like this all seeing eye:

Absolutely not an Illuminati Symbol
But the really cool part of Santa Maria Maggiore is the little museum and the underground ruins! To get there, turn left at the all seeing eye, pass through the gift shop and walk out the door to a little courtyard where there's an old well head, the entrance to the museum, and, on your left, the public restrooms. 

Not the Restroom
The museum has a large assortment of religious artifacts including this neat 13th C. presepe or nativity scene

All kinds of relics:

Not Masonic At All
And of course these things that are absolutely not Masonic ceremonial instruments. No, really. They're for opening (and subsequently closing) the holy door.

The Underground

Like so many other churches, Santa Maria Maggiore is built on top of some Roman buildings. Excavations in 1966 uncovered a complex of Roman buildings that are sometimes dated to the Augustan period. However, their last phase is certainly much later, likely the 4th century based on the style and content of the heavily damaged calendar paintings:

And of course there are paleo-Christian remains as well, such as this set of niches:

It's a bit tricky to score the tour of the underground. It appears to be at 11:00 (at least it was on the day we were there) and it's only in Italian. However, the gentleman who leads it is very patient and knows enough English to make clear what you're looking at. Unless there happens to be a tour group, it's very possible you'll be getting a private tour as we did. Of course always carry your trusty copy of Rome and Environs and refer to page 194 as necessary.

Coming Next: The Arch of Gallienus and the amazing Basilica Santa Prassede, both just a couple blocks away!

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