St. Nicholas Basilica in Carcere (Basilica San Nicola)
Combining elements of Republican and medieval Rome, the Basilica di San Nicola in Carcere is a fascinating attraction for archaeology and architecture enthusiasts alike. Constructed on the site of the ancient Forum Holitorium (fruit and vegetable market) between the sixth and 12th centuries, the church features columns from the Temple of Spes (250 BC), a temple dedicated to Juno in the 2nd century BC and rebuilt in 90 BC, and the Temple of Janus (AD 17). Though many churches in Rome incorporate elements pilfered from ancient sites, San Nicola in Carcere is unique in that its repurposed columns stand in their original location and the foundations of the pre-existing temples can still be viewed via the crypt beneath the church.
Because of its complex history and architecture, the best way to visit the Basilica di San Nicola in Carcere is by joining a guided tour that explores this and other important historic churches in Rome. Many crypt and catacomb tours stop at San Nicola in Carcere, or you can combine your visit with a tour of the Eternal City’s highlights, including skip-the-line tickets to the nearby Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Things to know before you go
- Modest attire covering knees and shoulders is required to enter the church.
- Photography without flash is allowed inside the church.
- The basilica and crypt are not accessible to wheelchairs.
- The crypt can be cool even in the summer months, so bring a light jacket or sweater when visiting the underground ruins.
How to get there
The Basilica di San Nicola in Carcere is located in the heart of one of the oldest areas of Rome, near the ancient Teatro Marcello and not far from the Colosseum and Roman Forum. The nearest metro stop is Colosseo.
When to get there
The church is a popular wedding venue on the weekends, during which time the interior and crypt may not be accessible. Visit on weekdays to avoid unexpected closures, keeping in mind that the church closes for a few hours at midday.
The Mystery of San Nicola’s Jail
The name San Nicola “in Carcere” indicates that the church was built on a former jail (or carcere), and local lore for centuries held that the infamous Carcere Tulliano was once located here. Later discoveries, however, place that Roman prison beneath the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami adjacent to the Roman Forum; San Nicola in Carcere instead stands on the Byzantine Carcer ad Elephantum prison.
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- Theater of Marcellus (Teatro di Marcello)
- Portico of Octavia (Portico di Ottavia)
- Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina)
- Great Synagogue of Rome (Tempio Maggiore di Roma)
- Capitoline Hill and Museums (Campidoglio e Musei Capitolini)
- Forum Boarium (Foro Boario)
- Jewish Museum of Rome (Museo Ebraico di Roma)
- Piazza del Campidoglio
- Turtle Fountain (Fontana delle Tartarughe)
- Piazza della Bocca della Verità
- Rome Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto Ebraico di Roma)
- Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin (Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin)
- Catacombs of Rome (Catacombe di Roma)
- Vittoriano Museum Complex (Complesso del Museo Vittoriano)
- Temple of Caesar (Tempio di Cesare)