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Outside the City Walls

Churches, mausoleums, and the tombs of the rich and famous beyond the walls of Rome.

Outside the City Walls

Say "fuori le mura" (outside the city walls) to a modern-day Roman, and one of the first things he'll think of is the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura.

San Paolo Fuori le Mura

The Basilica is situated in the Eur zone of Rome, just steps away from the incredibly long Via Ostense, and is one of the city's four patriarchal basilicas (the other three being those of San Pietro or St. Peter's, Santa Maria Maggiore, and San Giovanni in Laterano).
The basilica is a 19th century reconstruction, more or less faithful to the 4th century edifice which previously occupied the site of St Paul's martydom.

The shimmering gold mosaic of Christ amidst the apostles which embellishes the façade, gives an indication of the richness the visitor can expect to find inside the church

The Basilica's cloisters, undamaged by the fire of 1823 which destroyed much of the church, are composed of some 150 magnificent carved columns.

Agnese Fuori le Mura

The Church of Sant Agnese Fuori le Mura looks onto Via Nomentana and is almost joined to another place of worship, the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza. Both edifices have ancient origins and stunning byzantine mosaics and yet neither receive the number of visitors they deserve.

The story of St Agnese, over whose tomb the church was built, is a hair raising one - quite literally! Legend has it that, under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the 12 year old Agnese, having refused to marry the son of the Prefect Sempronius, was condemned to death.
Given that, by law, virgins could not be executed, Agense was stripped naked and dragged through the streets to a brothel. At this stage in the gruesome proceedings, the young girl's hair began to grow so rapidly as to cover her entire body and all those who attempted to rape her turned blind.

Agnese was eventually beheaded, a virgin martyr. The church dedicated to the saint was built in the 4th century by Costanza, daughter of the emperor Constantine, apparently cured of leprosy after having prayed on the saint's tomb

San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura

The Church of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura is the best known of the churches outside the city walls, often by default, in that it shares its name with one of the most fashionable areas of Rome.

In the evenings, the piazzas of the San Lorenzo district are filled with university students whilst, during the day, the streets brim with tourists, many of whom are headed to the house of worship dedicated to one of Christianity's most venerated martyrs, burnt to death on a gridiron in 258 A.D.

The first basilica was erected by Constantine in the early 4th century, as funerary hall in proximity to the catacombs and St Lawrence's grave. In 576 the church was rebuilt in Byzantine style and in the 13th century it was significantly altered to its present appearance.

Verano and Testaccio

The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura is situated close to one of the entrances to the monumental cemetery of Verano, an immense garden dotted with tomb stones and funeral chapels, some of which are the work of important Roman and Italian architects and sculptures.

Take a peek inside the cemetery to see the tombs of famous Italian actors such as Vittorio Gassman and Marcello Mastroianni; directors of the caliber of Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti; and writers including Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Alberto Moravia

Thenon-catholic cemetery of Testaccio might be less monumental than Verano, but is no less of a crowd-puller. Here, again, we are just steps away from one of the most vibrant parts of Rome, but the silence that envelops the small graveyard where such greats as John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley rest in eternal peace, is suitably unearthly.

Almost adjoining the cemetery, the Pyramid of Cestius was built as burial chamber for Gaius Cestius Epulo, who made sure he had a duly magnificent final resting place before he died and was buried in it, in 12 B.C.


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