Basilica Maxentius

Basilica Maxentius
Basilica Maxentius

Without a doubt, the traditional Roman basilica was the construction of the Roman era that has had the greatest impact on Western art, becoming the model of the primitive Paleo-Christian basilicas that would give rise to the most widespread prototype of the Christian temple. However, in Rome the basilicas were not places of worship for the ancient gods, but constructions intended to impart justice or used to carry out commercial transactions that were often found in the city forum.

36.- Plan of the basilica of Maxentius

At the time of the Late Roman Empire, around 306 AD. Emperor Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius decided to build a new basilica in the Roman Forum, next to the Via Sacra. The work was built in just six years, in 312 AD. and was inaugurated under the leadership of Emperor Constantine. The temple designed by Maxentius moved away from the traditional architectural forms that had governed the construction of basilicas throughout the empire. In the traditional typology, the basilicas were buildings with a rectangular floor plan divided into one, three or even five naves in which the central nave was larger and higher than the lateral ones; access to the building was by foot and on the opposite side was the apse, also known as the exedra, in which the magistrate dispensed justice.

In principle, the basilica built by Maxentius followed thesame scheme, however the innovation was found in the covering system: in a building with three naves –with the central one higher and wider than the lateral ones- it was decided to cover the three panels that formed the main nave with groin vault supported by thick buttresses; It is precisely the space between these buttresses that has been used as lateral naves, covering it with middle vaults. On the other hand, the thick buttresses that made up the lateral naves were perforated so that these naves could be used independently without interrupting the acts of the main nave. In this sense, the wall facing became the main supporting element of the entire building and the thick columns made of marble acquired a mere decorative meaning throughout the construction.

The building stands out for the great stylistic contrast between its interior and exterior appearance; while on the outside the building was made of exposed brick, the interior was a majestic space decorated with colored marble, coffered vaults and elaborate columns that adorned its appearance.

In the year 312 after the battle of Puente Milvio Maxentius was defeated by Constantine so that he came to control the entire empire in a personal way; the basilica was slightly modified by the new president who ordered the erection of a new exedra in the north area and the installation of an imposing marble statue of the emperor at the main apse of the building. TheThe access area at the foot was also modified, raising a hexastyle porphyry porch. At present, only a few ruins corresponding to the northern area are preserved.

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