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SAN NICOLA IN CARCERE – From Roman to Christian temple

admin / November 14, 2020


The church of San Nicola in Carcere (“carcere” means prison), was built on an area where there were temples transformed into prisons during medieval times. Some remains of these buildings are still visible in the church and in the area. Indeed this is a quite peculiar area of Rome, the one that connects to very important places like Piazza Venezia and the Circus Maximus.

Some historical information about the church:  “The church of S. Nicola in Carcere, one of the most ancient deaconies, was built before the 11th century by Pope Paschal II, to which the paschal candle, the ‘schola cantorum’ and the episcopal chair date back. Renovated for the first time by Alexander VI and Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini in 1599, by Giacomo Della Porta, it was restored again in 1865, at the behest of Pius IX and in 1932. During the ‘renovation’ of the area, the buildings that surrounded it were destroyed, leaving it isolated from the surrounding context. The church also preserves an ancient inscription from 1088, with the list of gifts made to the church at the time of Urban II. The façade, with a single order, is animated by an attic, tympanum and rose window (the latter surmounted by the inscription that recalls Cardinal Aldobrandini) and flanked by two bas-reliefs depicting ‘S. Nicola’ and ‘Saints Marco and Marcellino.’ The massive bell tower that flanks the church was obtained from a pre-existing tower belonging to the fortifications of the Pierleoni: the bells that play inside are the bells that Guidotto Pisano cast in 1286” (

The scholar Gianluca Pica, in an article on, make us aware of the many surprises that are contained within this church: “from the column with an inscription from the 11th century which indicates the gifts given by a nobleman to help the Holy Church during the first crusade to the beautiful apse fresco, representing the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, within plain sight, not only the Emperor Constantine who wanted that council so much, but also that of Pope Pius IX who, in the 19th century, commissioned the restoration of the church. Well, the real and biggest surprise of the Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere is found below the current floor, in its basement. They can be visited upon reservation. Descending below the basilica literally and physically means taking a journey through time and space. The Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere, in fact, rises above the ruins of three Roman and Republican temples, built between the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. Already the dating, consequently, gives us an idea of the peculiarity of the archaeological area: in fact, we are faced with the remains of very ancient Templar buildings, more than many others found in Rome.”

It is well understood that this Basilica, as many others in Rome, really is worth a visit. (Photo: