Secret pagan basilica in Rome emerges from the shadows after 2,000 years
An underground chamber that was a place of worship for a mysterious cult 2,000 years ago has opened to the public for the first time
By Nick Squires, Rome
Photo: Chris Warde-Jones/The Telegraph
A mysterious Roman basilica built for the worship of an esoteric pagan cult and now lying hidden more than 40ft below street level has opened to the public for the first time.
The basilica, the only one of its kind in the world, was excavated from solid tufa volcanic rock on the outskirts of the imperial capital in the first century AD.
Lavishly decorated with stucco reliefs of gods, goddesses, panthers, winged cherubs and pygmies, it was discovered by accident in 1917 during the construction of a railway line from Rome to Cassino, a town to the south. An underground passageway caved in, revealing the entrance to the hidden chamber.
A painstaking restoration that has been going on for years has now reached the point where the 40ft-long basilica can be opened to visitors.
The subterranean basilica, which predates Christianity, was built by a rich Roman family who were devotees of a little-known cult called Neopythagoreanism.
Originating in the first century BC, it was a school of mystical Hellenistic philosophy that preached asceticism and was based on the writings of Pythagoras and Plato.