BASILICA OF SAINT PAUL OUTSIDE THE WALLS
With its imposing Byzantine structure, the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura is one of the four papal basilicas of Rome, the second largest after that of San Pietro. The church stands on the site where, according to tradition, the apostle Paul was buried.
Here, the first Christians erected a sepulchral chapel, later transformed into a basilica by Constantine and consecrated, again according to tradition, by Pope Sylvester I in 324.
In 385, the reconstruction of the temple in larger forms was started, ending in 395 under the emperor Honorius. Having become one of the most important stages of the pilgrimage to Rome, the current form of the basilica is due to Pasquale Belli who, in collaboration with other architects, rebuilt it between 1825 and 1854, after the devastating fire that occurred in 1823.
The facade, decorated in the upper band with nineteenth- century mosaics , is the work of Luigi Poletti - who also designed the bell tower and the pronaos on the northern side, the latter created by reusing twelve columns already in the nave of the previous church - and is preceded by a large quadriportico , designed at the end of the nineteenth century by Virginio Vespignani, in the center of which stands the statue of Saint Paul by Giuseppe Obici.
The interior is divided into five naves by eighty monolithic granite columns (the six in the entrance wall donated by the Viceroy of Egypt to Gregory XVI are noteworthy). The central nave, which is wider, has mosaics on the walls with portraits of popes, which also continue in the side naves, and frescoes with stories from the life of Saint Paul.
The central altar, below which is the confession and the tomb of the apostle , is surmounted by the famous Gothic ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio (1285). To the right of the altar, the large candelabrum for the paschal candle , made in marble by Nicola D'Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto in 1170.
The apse is dominated by the majestic mosaic , commissioned by Innocent III (1198-1216) and completed in the time of Honorius III. Numerous architectural fragments from the ancient basilica and archaeological finds from the nearby Ostiense burial ground are conserved in the cloister.
The cloister of the basilica, the work of Jacopo and Pietro Vassalletto, from which it takes its name, is one of the wonders of thirteenth-century Rome. It has marble columns in pairs, of different types and shapes, decorated with mosaics and colored marbles that support the arches on which stands the epistyle adorned with magnificent mosaics and limited at the top by a white marble frame with lions' heads, oxen , goats and other animals, from whose mouths rainwater flows.
The Benedictine monks of the Abbey of San Paolo who have been the custodians of the tomb of the Apostle Paul for centuries, created the monastic garden in which they grow herbs and trees mentioned in the Bible.
A splendid oasis that ideally reproduces the biblical Eden , a timeless place in which to meditate and reflect on the Christian and monastic vision of nature, immersed in an eternal spring. A botanical-scientific path but also theological, philosophical and literary . Among the different environments you can admire the Garden of Simples (hortus simplicium ) where, according to the millenary Benedictine tradition, the medicinal plants used in the creation of the phytotherapeutic remedies available at the Monastic Spezieria are grown.
In 2007, some excavations in the garden led to the identification of ancient structures, including the base of a small bell tower - the oldest example of this type of construction preserved in Rome - of the buildings relating to the "poor houses" dating back to late 5th century, and the remains of a colonnaded portico.
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