This church was built at the site of the tomb of the martyr Hippolytus, who died in Portus. Tradition says that he was drowned in a well in front of the city wall. The excavations began in 1970, when the exact location of the church was established by Testini.
Before the basilica was built, the area was occupied by baths, and later by tombs. An inscription mentions the construction of the basilica at the end of the fourth century, by bishop Heraclida of Portus:
HERACLIDA EPISC(opus) SERVVS
DEI BASILICAM YPPOLITO
[---] (beatissimo martyri fecit?)
In 455 AD it was set on fire by the Vandals, who destroyed Portus. An inscription (now lost) provides the information:
VANDALICA RABIES HANC VSSIT MARTYRIS AVLAM
QVAM PETRVS ANTISTES CVLTV MELIORE NOVATA(m)
("The rage of the Vandals burned down the hall of the martyr, that was restored with great care by bishop Petrus"). It was rebuilt again at an unknown date, and received donations from bishop Stephanus and pope Leo III, c. 800 AD, and from pope Leo IV half a century later. It became now for some time the seat of the bishop of Portus. Below the altar a sarcophagus was found with the bones of several individuals, and the inscription Hic requiescit Ypolitus mar(tyr). It belongs to the ninth century. Already in the fifteenth century the church was in ruins, and it was never rebuilt.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
Plan of the basilica. From Pani Ermini. The building has three naves.
A: pre-existing structures
B: place of discovery of sarcophagus of Hippolytus
D: remains of baths
E: mediaeval baptistery
G: older apse