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Basilica di Pianabella

A few hundred meters to the south-east of the Porta Laurentina is a Christian basilica, now known as the Basilica di Pianabella (Pianabella is the modern name of the land to the south of Ostia). It was discovered in 1976. The presence of one or more churches near the Porta Laurentina is recorded in ancient literature, but the reports are confusing.

The building is quite large: 43.30 x 16.20 m. It was erected at the end of the fourth century. The area was cleared by destroying tombs, and sometimes walls of mausolea were reused. The masonry is opus vittatum. All tufa blocks and the bricks were taken from other buildings. A road with basalt pavement running along the building could not be used properly at the time of the construction; some of the basalt blocks had been removed and there was debris on the road.

Plan of the basilica, with the road and tombs on the other side of the road.
North is up. Brenk 2001, fig. 11.

The basilica consisted of a single hall, without naves. Inside the church, in front of the apse, a special enclosure was built, with 100 formae (4 layers of 25 graves). Most likely a martyr was buried in the church, possibly in the single forma between the apse and the enclosure, at straight angles to the other graves.

Reconstruction drawing of the basilica. Paroli 1993, fig. 3.

The building was modified at the end of the fifth century by a bishop of Ostia called Bellator, at the end of the sixth or in the early seventh century, and in the first half of the ninth century. Throughout this period people were buried in the church.


The basilica seen from the west. Photograph: Milton Torres.

The funerary enclosure inside the basilica, seen from the east. Photograph: Milton Torres.

[jthb - 29-Mar-2009]