San Paolo Fuori le Mura stands on the assumed site of the burial of St Paul. Near the ancient Via Ostiense, the saint’s remains were reputedly taken there by a first century Roman lady, Lucina. Constantine later ordered the building of the first basilica early in which was consecrated in 324 AD. That was later enlarged by Theodosius in the early 5th Century, lasting to the 19th Century when a fire destroyed much of the early structure. A monastery had also been on site since those early days.
Today’s basilica, which was consecrated in 1855, covers much of the same area, and gives a nod to the ancient with its porticoed frontage and beautiful Byzantine style mosaics.
Inside and out, this is a building on a cavernous scale so it was surprising to note that it apparently covers the same area as that fourth century spot for pilgrims.
The triumphal arch, dedicated to her father Theodosius by Galla Placidia is one of the remains of the ancient basilica, and a reminder of the splendour of her mausoleum in Ravenna.
Like San Pietro in Vincoli, the chains that held St Paul are also visible and many pilgrims flock to his tomb, which is located below the altar.
There’s lots more to explore outside the basilica, including a dedicated archaeological area and parts of the monastery.
Definitely worth a little detour from the beaten track, San Paolo Fuori le Mura is easily accessed via a short four-stop metro ride (via Metro line B) from the Colosseum.