Curiosities about Rome: Underground, beneath Porta Maggiore, stands a beautiful Neopythagorean Basilica

Hidden beneath the modern urban fabric of Rome lies an archaeological treasure of immeasurable value: the Neopythagorean Basilica of Porta Maggiore. This extraordinary underground structure, unique in its kind, represents a fascinating blend of mystery, art, and history. Discovered almost by chance in 1917, the basilica stands as a silent witness to ancient cults and beliefs, linked to the philosopher Pythagoras and the mysteries of his teachings. In this article, we will delve into the history, structure, and cultural significance of this exceptional monument, offering an in-depth look at one of the most intriguing enigmas of ancient Rome.

History and Discovery
The basilica was built in the 1st century AD and was used to celebrate mystery cults, particularly those related to reincarnation. Its discovery occurred during railway construction works when a ground collapse revealed the presence of an underground structure. Subsequent excavations uncovered a subterranean hall, requiring the construction of an access and staircase to reach the basilica's vestibule.
The basilica's proximity to the tomb of the slaves and freedmen of the Statilius family on the Prenestina-Casilina road suggests it may have belonged to the Gens Statilia, the area's owner from the time of Augustus to Nero. Among the members of the Gens Statilia stands out Titus Statilius Taurus, consul in 44 AD, mentioned by Tacitus in the Annals as accused of magical practices by Agrippina the Younger, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero. This event may have been the reason for the basilica's closure, with Tacitus and Suetonius associating Christian rites with malignant superstition, similar to the accusations against Statilius Taurus.
Archaeologists have shown that the basilica remained in use for only a short period, likely before being closed and forgotten, perhaps due to a ban imposed by imperial authorities, reflecting the demonization climate that Pythagoreanism also suffered at the time of the Porta Maggiore temple, centuries after Pythagoras' death.


Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism
Pythagoreanism, based on the ideas of the philosopher Pythagoras, flourished in ancient Magna Graecia, with his school founded in Croton around 530 BC, exclusively reserved for his disciples. According to this doctrine, souls incarnated into human or animal bodies as atonement for original sin, until achieving final purification. Moreover, it was believed that scientific knowledge could serve as a means of purification, asserting that ignorance was a fault overcome through knowledge.
A central element of Pythagorean thought was the conception of mathematics as a tool to understand both the macrocosm and the microcosm. Numbers were not only considered symbols of the universe but also key elements for inner growth. Pythagoras attributed great importance to the harmony derived from numerical ratios and musical chords, identifying this harmony as the primordial substance of the universe (archè). This conception also influenced the use of numerous musical instruments within his school and during the sacred banquet, the agape, which he shared with his disciples and which, as suggested by the found stuccos, may have also found resonance in the basilica.

Structure, Function, and Decorations
The basilica is oriented from West to East and built by excavating into tuff. Its load-bearing walls and large pillars are made of concrete with flakes of flint. Internal decorations include the most extensive set of stucco bas-reliefs from Roman times surviving to this day, with themes inspired by Greek mythology and mysterious and mythological scenes. The presence of these depictions and the resemblance to a Mithraeum confirm that magical rites were practiced in this place.
After its discovery, the basilica underwent various restoration attempts due to damages caused by water infiltrations and train vibrations. The last significant restorations date back to the 1950s and 2015, with interventions to consolidate the building and protect it from infiltrations. A small museum has been set up in the void created by the reinforced concrete slab.
The Underground Basilica of Rome is now open to the public, but only on the first and fourth Sunday of each month. Visits can be booked by calling the number indicated on the website.

An Inestimable Heritage
The Neopythagorean Basilica of Porta Maggiore is not only an archaeological monument of rare beauty but also a bridge connecting the present with a remote and mysterious past. Its walls tell stories of ancient cults and philosophies, offering scholars and visitors a direct immersion into the depths of Roman history and the complexity of Pythagorean thought. The conservation and study of this site are essential not only for better understanding the historical and cultural context in which it emerged but also for preserving a heritage that belongs to all humanity. The Neopythagorean Basilica remains a symbol of our ceaseless quest for knowledge and understanding of the past, a place where time seems to stand still, and where every stone has a story to tell.

DO YOU WANT TO STAY IN ROME?

For this location we recommend The Inn at the Spanish Steps, ideal for discovering Rome thanks to its strategic location.

19/02/2024
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