Welcome to Rome Across Europe!
Over the past week we’ve journeyed to Armenia to see the Temple of Augustus in Pula, explored the Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzona in the Ukraine, and then witnessed the Domus Aurea: Rome’s Golden House. Since we finished in Roma, let’s stay a while.
Today we are going to check out Rome’s one-stop-shop for all your needs, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine!
Construction began on the northern side of the Forum under the Emperor Maxentius in AD 308. It wasn’t until AD 312, after Constantine the Great defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, that construction was completed.
The building rose close to the Templum Pacis and the Templum Veneris et Romae, whose reconstruction was part of Maxentius’ interventions. The building consisted of a central nave covered by 3 groin vaults suspended 128 ft above the floor on 4 large piers, ending in an apse at the western end containing the Colossus of Constantine (remnants of which are now in a courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini).
The lateral forces of the groin vaults were held by flanking aisles measuring 75 x 56 ft. The aisles were spanned by 3 semi-circular barrel vaults perpendicular to the nave, and narrow arcades ran parallel to the nave beneath the barrel vaults. The nave itself measured 83 x 265 feet creating a floor roughly 21,528 square ft. The basilica made use of vast interior space with its emotional effect, just like the thermae did.
Similar to many basilicas at the time such as the Basilica Ulpia, the Basilica Nova featured a huge open space in the central nave.
Instead of having columns support the ceiling the entire building, like other basilicas, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was built using arches. This was a much more common appearance in therma than in basilicas.
Another difference from traditional basilicas is the roof of the structure. While traditional basilicas were built with a flat roof, the Basilica Maxentius was built with a folded roof, decreasing the overall weight of the structure and decreasing the horizontal forces exerted on the outer arches.
The innovative and eye pleasing design of the Basilica Nova could not resist the forces of nature, however, as the south and central sections were destroyed by an earthquake in AD 847. The vault of the nave collapsed in AD 1349 from yet another earthquake.
The color of the building during its prime was white. On the outside wall of the basilica, facing onto the Via dei Fori Imperiali, are contemporary maps showing the various stages of the rise of the Roman Empire which were added during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. A map depicting Mussolini’s “New Roman Empire” was removed from the wall after the war.
The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine is a marvel of Roman engineering work. It used the most advanced engineering techniques known including innovations taken from the Mercatus Traiani and the Thermae Diocletiani.
At the time of construction, it was the largest structure to be built. That in itself makes the Basilica Nova a unique building taking both aspects from Roman baths as well as typical Roman basilicas.
All that remains of the basilica today is the north aisle with its 3 concrete barrel vaults. The ceilings of the barrel vaults show advanced weight-saving structural skill with octagonal ceiling coffers.
In Ancient Rome a basilica was a rectangular building with a large central open space, and often a raised apse at the far end from the entrance. Basilicas served a variety of functions, including a combination of a court-house, council chamber and meeting hall.
However, there might be numerous statues of the gods displayed in niches set into the walls. Under Constantine and his successors this type of building was chosen as the basis for the design of the larger places of Christian worship.
The likelihood of this theory was that the basilica form had fewer pagan associations than those of the designs of traditional Greco-Roman temples, and allowed large congregations. As a result of the building programs of the Christian Roman Emperors the term basilica later became largely synonymous with a large church or cathedral.
A typical basilica in Ancient Rome would also have 2 rows of shops, along the walls facing each other. This allowed for a Roman Citizen to take care of his shopping, civic needs and worship altogether (no bathing here).
The wrestling events were held here during the 1960 Summer Olympic Games (countries under Communist control did really well). No longer the fabulous building it once was, the basilica now serves only to remind tourists of Rome’s majesty.
We hope you enjoyed today’s discovery and look forward to having you back again for future travels. Stop back again to see where, or what, we’ll be up to.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Giavarini, Carlo. The Basilica of Maxentius: the Monument, its Materials , Construction, and Stability. Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2005.
Seindal, René. “Basilica of Maxentius – the last and largest basilica in the Roman Forum”. 2003-08-06.