3 Unusual Monuments of Ancient Rome

Pyramid of Cestius

One of the more unusual of Rome’s ancient monuments, the Pyramid of Cestius seems remarkably out of place next to the austere fortifications of the nearby Porta San Paolo. Gaius Cestius was a rich Roman magistrate who clearly wanted to be remembered. Breaking with the traditional tombs and mausoleums, Cestius ordered a sharp Nubian-style pyramid as his gravestone. Scholars have suggested that this odd style might reflect that Cestius had served in Nubia at the fringes of the Empire. When the pyramid was built in 18-12 BC it stood beyond the city walls in open countryside. However, city expansions soon overtook it and it became a silent sentinel on the main road to the great port of Ostia.

Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is a much later addition to the cityscape. Erected by the Roman Senate in 315 AD it commemorated Constantine I’s victory over Emperor Maxientus in 312. Built straddling the Via Triumphalis, the victory route of the returning emperor, it was clearly designed to impress and appease a conqueror. Reusing reliefs from earler edifices, the arch has a striking blend of different architectural styles. Central images depict his victorius battles while early decorations are taken from the classical ‘golden age’, perhaps associating Constantine with an earlier, more glorious age at a time when Rome’s power was waning.

Basilica of San Clemente

All though this exquisite church dates from the 12th century, its ancient secrets are hidden beneath it. A set of steps take you down to the 4th century basilica that was the original, built when Christianity was first adopted by Rome. This ruin still retains frescoes of San Clemente that escaped the Norman invasion in 1084. However, the real find is further below; more stairs lead to a 1st century house and a 2nd century cave-like temple. This was a temple to Mithras, the god of a popular cult in ancient Rome who was popular in the military. The young god is depicted on the altar slaying a bull on the orders of the sun. This dark, hidden space is all the more atmospheric because of the rumbles of a forgotten underground river.

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