We all know Rome as one of the most spectacular cities in the world. Its combination of modern and ancient sights is unlike anything else on the planet. For millennia, Rome has been at the center of arts, culture, architecture, politics and religion in the region. So, it certainly makes sense as a tourist destination.
If you want to find interesting religious sites in Rome, you’ll certainly have your hands full. Rome has a plethora of well-known attractions that draw people from around the globe. The Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums are all torusit hotspots, but Rome has a number of other religious sites that you might not find on your own.
Ancient Temples: A Link to the Past
Before Christianity took a hold of Europe, religious practices throughout the continent often involved some kind of mythology. Roman and Greek mythology were the “muses” for many architectural masterpieces, and some of those buildings are still standing today.
You can find remnants of ancient religious temples in the Roman Forum. This collection of ruins from ancient Rome includes the Temple of Saturn and Temple of Vesta. The Temple of Saturn is said to have been built around 500 BC, and the Temple of Vesta was constructed around 700 BC, but scholars are unsure of the exact dates. Both structures are a testament to Roman architecture in the pre-modern era, and it’s truly a wonder that they have survived this long. That being said, the Roman Forum is just a short walk or drive from the well-preserved ruins of the Colosseum, a common tourist attraction.
The Temple of Portunus sits in the Forum Boarium near the Tiber River and provides you with a way to get out of the hustle and bustle of tourist traffic. The temple was built in the Ionic order in the first century BC, and it was said that Portunus, the god of livestock, watched the cattle barges come in on the Tiber. The building in 872 was converted into a church.
Other ancient temples throughout the city of Rome include:
- The Temple of Hercules Victor
- The Temple of Castor and Pollux
- Nymphaeum (erroneously referred to as the Temple of Minerva Medica)
Many of these structures can be found in groups (like the Roman Forum or the Forum Boarium). For instance, the Temple of Hercules Victor can be found in the same area as the Temple of Portunus.
Christian Sites in Rome
Obviously, when you think of Rome, you often think of the Catholic Church. With the Vatican situated near the city center, it’s common for people to take pilgrimages or just engage in some Christian-themed sightseeing around the city.
One location that might fly under the radar is the Mamertine Prison. It holds a special significance to Christians as it has been used as a church since medieval times. There is currently a church (San Giuseppe dei Falegnami) that stands atop the old prison. The Mamertine Prison is also thought to have housed St. Paul during one of his imprisonments. It was there that he wrote one of his epistles to Timothy.
Another unique site in Rome is Santa Sabina, a Catholic basilica constructed between 422 and 432 AD. The structure was built in honor of Sabina, a Roman matron who was beheaded upon converting to Christianity. It is the oldest extant Roman basilica in Rome and is said to be a symbol of the shift in religion and architecture in the region. The church is not particularly ornate on the outside. It has a basic rectangular shape that has survived centuries of wear and tear. Inside, the majestic art and architectural design inspires awe.
The Basilica of San Clemente has a much bolder exterior than Santa Sabina, despite its humble beginnings. Indeed, the basilica may have originally started out as a small and reclusive meeting house for Christian worship in the 1st century AD. By the 6th century, the structure had become a sprawling basilica and campus for all to enjoy. You can still enjoy the ornate architecture, monuments and art at the basilica in the 21st century.
Other Religious Sites
Although Christianity might be the most common religious institution in Rome, that doesn’t mean that other religions are entirely absent. Indeed, there attractions for virtually all religions in the city (although most of them don’t come from antiquity).
The following sites are a testament to Rome’s religious tolerance and growing immigrant communities:
- Mosque of Rome (Islam)
- Great Synagogue of Rome (Judaism)
- Hua Yi Si Temple (Buddhism)
The Mosque of Rome is the largest in Europe and one of the most substantial Islamic cultural centers outside of the Middle East. The mosque was envisioned in 1974 and finally completed in 1994. It combines a mix of Roman and traditional Islamic architecture that is truly a sight to behold.
The Great Synagogue of Rome is a testament to the Jewish community in Italy. There has almost always been a Jewish community present in the city of Rome, and the Great Synagogue is a manifestation of that. Although there may have been synagogues in ancient Rome, this particular structure was built from 1870 to 1904. The synagogue was built near the Tiber River and also overlooks the former ghetto that Jews lived in prior to 1870.
The Hua Yi Si Temple is one of the newest religious sites in Rome. Indeed, construction was finished and the building inaugurated on March 31, 2013. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Europe and was built by the Chinese immigrant community in a traditional pagoda style.
If you have an interest in religion, Rome won’t disappoint. Whether you want to explore bygone civilizations or the fabric of modern Europe, Rome has something for you.