Fifth-century church in Roman Forum to reopen to public

Restoration of S. Maria Antiqua church nears completion

A 12-year restoration programme at the fifth-century church of S. Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum is almost complete.

Rome's superintendent for archaeology Mariarosaria Barbera said that once the final works had been carried out on the floors, preparations would begin in January to cater for visits on a limited basis in the spring. Barbera said the church would then open to the public for at least three days a week, "allowing adequate breaks to ensure the microclimate."

Located on the north-western slopes of the Palatine hill, the church is one of Rome's earliest surviving Christian monuments. Its richly decorated walls contain 250-sqm of frescoes from the sixth to the late eighth century which have led it to become known as the "Mediaeval Sistine Chapel".

Adapted from a first-century Roman building, the church was buried during an earthquake in 847. Italian archaeologist Giacomo Boni rediscovered it in 1900 and it was subsequently restored but it has been closed to the general public since 1980.

The renovation project was funded with €1.6 million from the capital's archaeological authorities, and over €700,000 from the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based non-profit organisation.

The church formed the basis of a conference at the British School at Rome in early December.