Ancient Churches | Ancient Church List

Many of the most fascinating historic sites on the planet are sacred and religious sites – among them are the ancient churches of the world which have survived to this day.

While many of the historical places we associate with Christianity are grand Cathedrals and inspiring churches, these historic sites tend to be medieval in their origin or of a more modern construction. To find ancient churches you have to look back to antiquity and explore those examples of ancient Roman or Greek era churches which have managed to survive intact.

This list of ancient churches can throw up examples which are quite different from the churches we are used to today. Rather than taking on the more standard church architecture which we recognise, many are in fact converted pagan temples or churches built from scratch by Roman engineers. And while some of these ancient churches have survived intact, others are simply the ruins of these intriguing early Christian places of worship.

Check out our ancient church list to explore more.

Ancient Churches | Ancient Church List: Editor's Picks

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1. Church of the Nativity

Among the earliest Byzantine churches still consisting of its ancient structure, the Church of the Nativity is thought to have first been built by Roman Emperor Constantine in 326 AD. Whilst some of the flooring of this original church survives, the present site dates to 530 AD and was built by the Emperor Justinian.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest Christian churches in existence and is believed to be located on the site where Jesus Christ was born.

The first church on this site is thought to have been built by Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena in 326 AD. Whilst some of the flooring of this original church survives, the present structure of the Church of the Nativity dates to 530 AD and was built by the Emperor Justinian.

Christian pilgrims flock to the Church of the Nativity to see the silver star that marks the site on which Christ is believed to have been born. This site features as one of our recommended key places to see in Israel.

Photo by kevingessner (cc)

2. San Clemente

A beautifully frescoed twelfth century basilica in Rome, San Clemente sits atop a wealth of history including the remains of a fourth century church and a third century Temple of Mithras, both of which can be seen underneath the current incarnation.

DID YOU KNOW?

San Clemente is a beautifully frescoed twelfth century historic basilica in Rome. However, whilst interesting in its own right, it is what lies underneath San Clemente which is a highlight to historians.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when San Clemente was excavated, it was discovered to have been built over both a fourth century church and a third century Temple of Mithras.

The former site is extremely well preserved and lined with faded frescos, whilst only one of the rooms of the Ancient Roman Temple of Mithras remains. There are also ruins of some Roman houses.

Visitors can descend under San Clemente to view these sites.

Photo by David Spender (cc)

3. Hagia Sophia

One of the most famous religious buildings in the world, the current incarnation of the Hagia Sophia dates back to between 532 and 537 AD, when it was built under the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The building was converted to a mosque in 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Hagia Sophia, or ‘Ayasofya’ in Turkish, is a world famous sixth century church turned mosque in Istanbul, which now operates as a museum.

Whilst the original Hagia Sofia was built in the fourth century AD by Constantine the Great, very little remains of this structure nor the one built after it in the fifth century. The current building dates back to between 532 and 537 AD, during which time it was constructed under the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

The architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles designed the Hagia Sophia in the Byzantine style, with typical features such as its impressive dome, and Hagia Sophia served as a central religious home for the Eastern Orthodox Church. The building was converted to a mosque in 1453 under the orders of Sultan Mehmed II when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and thus it remained until 1935, when it became a museum.

However, it was during its time as a mosque that several dominant architectural features were added, such as the minarets at each of its four corners and the mihrab. Visitors to Hagia Sophia can view remnants of the first two Hagias Sophias as well as touring the current building with its stunning mosaics and ornate Muslim altars and chapels.

Outside, cannonballs used by Mehmet the Conqueror during his invasion of the city line the paths and there is an eighteenth century fountain for ritual ablutions. Hagia Sophia is a beautiful mixture of Muslim and Christian influences and architecture, including the Byzantine mosaics, which can only really be seen in the higher galleries for a further fee. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.

Ancient Churches | Ancient Church List: Site Index

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Avdat

The ancient Nabatean ruins at Avdat contain the remains of a number of fourth century churches. Within one of these sites you can still see the cross-shaped baptistery, while Christian carvings can be seen in several other places among the ruins.

DID YOU KNOW?

Avdat or “Ovdat” is an archaeological site in Israel which houses the pretty remains of an ancient Nabatean city later inhabited by the Romans, the Byzantines and the Arabs. It initially formed part of the trading route known as the Incense Route which ran from the Mediterranean to south Arabia and which peaked from the 3rd to the 2nd centuries BC. The main commodities along this route were frankincense, myrrh and spices.

Avdat prospered under the Nabateans from 30 BC to 9 BC, during the reign of King Aretas IV, but needed to be rebuilt after it was destroyed by Arab tribes in the late first century BC. This was carried out under Nabatean King Rabbel. However, in 106 AD, during Rabbel’s reign, Avdat was captured by the Romans. In the seventh century it was taken by the Arabs.

In addition to well-preserved fortifications, the ruins at Avdat include a caravanserai, homes, a Roman military camp, fourth century churches, a street and a bathhouse. Many of the ruins are Roman, but the Nabatean influence can still be seen, including the ruin of a temple.

Today, Avdat is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as one of four Desert Cities of the Incense Route.

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Axum

Though today’s structure is of 17th century construction, the Church of St Mary of Zion in Axum is believed to have been founded in the 4th century AD. It is most famous for being one of the supposed sites of the Ark of the Covenant.

DID YOU KNOW?

Axum (Aksum) is a city in the North of Ethiopia. Once the capital of the region, it is still a comparatively large city, with a population of around 50,000 people.

Axum is most famous for being one of the supposed sites of the Ark of the Covenant, in the care of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Supposed to have been brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba, it is currently in the care of the patriarch of the Ethiopian Church in a vault at the church of. St Mary of Zion. It is occasionally brought out for ritual processions. Most of the time, however, it is under guard in the church.

Other important sites within the city are the Stelae Park. Much excavated, the stelae are thought to mark graves. The site is considered important enough for it to have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Other sites of interest include the Queen of Sheba’s bath, (She is thought to have lived in Axum.) and two Royal Palaces, on from the fourth century and one from the sixth century CE.

Photo by isawnyu (cc)

Baalbek

Baalbek is home to a range of magnificent ancient structures. Included in the ruins is the Roman Temple of Venus which was later incorporated into a Byzantine church. This and other sites date from the reign of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, who destroyed many of the Roman temples in favour of churches and basilicas.

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Baalbek is a hugely impressive Roman site in Lebanon which is home to the largest Roman temple ever built, as well as a range of other magnificent ancient structures.

Initially a Phoenician settlement dedicated to the worship of the deity of the sun, Baal, the city was known as Heliopolis (City of the Sun) by the Greeks in the 4th century BC.

However, it was during Roman times that Baalbek reached its peak, becoming a Roman colony in 47BC under Julius Caesar. Over the next two centuries, the Romans would imbue Baalbek with the empire’s largest holy temples. By 150AD, it would be home to the vast temples of Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus.

Today, visitors to Baalbek can see the impressive ruins of these incredible structures including standing in the shadow of six of the original 54 columns of the Temple of Jupiter - the largest temple ever built by the Empire. Baalbek is also the place to see the extremely well-preserved Temple of Bacchus, the stairs of the Temple of Mercury and a ceremonial entryway known as the propylaea.

There is also evidence of Baalbek’s time beyond the Romans. For example, the ruins of the Roman Temple of Venus show how it was incorporated into a Byzantine church. This and other sites tell of the time of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, who destroyed many of the Roman holy sites in favour of churches and basilicas. Visitors can also see the remnants of a large 8th century mosque from the Arab conquest.

Baalbek is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Basilica of Constantine - Trier

The Basilica of Constantine in Trier was the Roman Emperor’s audience hall and the biggest surviving single room from Ancient Rome.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Basilica of Constantine or “Konstantin Basilika” in Trier in Germany is a remnant of this city’s prominent Ancient Roman history.

Once the place where Emperor Constantine the Great would meet and greet audiences, the Basilica of Constantine was part of the development of Trier undertaken by the emperor from 306 AD. At the time, Trier, then Augusta Treverorum, was the capital of Rome’s Western Empire and the home of Constantine the Great.

In the fifth century, the Basilica of Constantine was destroyed by invading Germanic forces, but now stands restored. This is partially due to the fact that it was incorporated into a seventeenth century palace and then served as an army barracks. In 1944, the Basilica of Constantine was renovated and it is now used as a church.

The Basilica of Constantine is one of this city’s many Ancient Roman sites and part of its UNESCO World Heritage listing. It is apparently the largest single Ancient Rome room to stand intact.

Be sure to look out for the optical illusion created by the window sizes of the Basilica of Constantine, which make it look even bigger than it actually is.

Photo by Bob McCaffrey (cc)

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Said to be the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the sites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan include many ancient baptism pools, churches, caves and wells, mostly dating to the fifth and sixth centuries AD.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bethany Beyond the Jordan (al-Maghtas) is considered one of the holiest of Christian sites, it being the officially recognised site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It is also where Elijah is believed to have ascended to heaven and where Mary the Egyptian is believed to have lived as well as the place through which the Israelites are thought to have crossed into the Holy Land for the first time.

Archaeologists began to properly excavate Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 1994 after a peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. Through studies of locations mentioned in the Bible, medieval travellers’ descriptions, and local knowledge about the place of dipping, archaeologists unearthed this sacred spot.

The sites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan include many ancient baptism pools, churches, caves and wells, mostly dating to the fifth and sixth centuries AD and the remains of which can be toured today. Visitors can enter the baptism waters of the River Jordan, see Elijah’s Hill and explore the Visitor Centre.

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Canterbury Cathedral

One of England’s most famous cathedrals, Canterbury Cathedral has a prominent history dating back to the sixth century AD. The remains of this original incarnation of Canterbury Cathedral lie underneath the current nave of the cathedral.

DID YOU KNOW?

Canterbury Cathedral is one of England’s most famous cathedrals, both because of its prominent history dating back to the sixth century AD and due to the famous murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett which took place there.

Origins of Canterbury Cathedral
In 597AD, a missionary called St Augustine travelled to Kent from Rome, having been sent by the Pope to convert the Angles to Christianity. Settling in Canterbury, he soon established a seat or “cathedra” there within the Roman Walls. This marked the beginning of Canterbury Cathedral.

The remains of this original incarnation of Canterbury Cathedral lie underneath the current nave of the cathedral.

Norman Times
In Norman times, the community of Canterbury Cathedral became a Benedictine monastery. Canterbury Cathedral itself also underwent a change at this time as, in 1070, it was completely rebuilt following a fire.

Murder of Thomas Beckett
In 1170, Canterbury Cathedral became the site of an infamous crime; the murder and martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Beckett.

Beckett, who had been made archbishop in 1162 by King Henry II, soon began to clash with the monarch, particularly as to whether his loyalty lay with the King or the Church.

Frustrated at Beckett’s refusal to bow to his will, the King famously said "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Having overheard the King, four of his knights took his outburst quite literally and murdered Beckett at Canterbury Cathedral’s north-east transept. Beckett was later canonized.

Sixteenth Century Onwards
Canterbury Cathedral continued to operate as a monastery until 1540, when Henry VIII disbanded it as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. He also destroyed the shrine to Thomas Beckett, a place of pilgrimage now symbolised by a lone candle.

Over the next few centuries, Canterbury Cathedral was renovated, rebuilt in parts and underwent many changes. Some of these were due to damage, such as that caused to the building during the English Civil War. Some of the oldest parts of the Cathedral –such as its crypt – date back to the twelfth century.

General tours and audio guides available. Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Photo by hoyasmeg (cc)

Church of the Annunciation - Nazareth

While the structure of the Church of the Annunciation is a 20th century construct, two previous churches – one Byzantine, one Crusader – have been excavated there, with the earlier one probably dating back to the fourth century AD.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of the Annunciation, often called the Basilica of the Annunciation, is located in Nazareth on the site where it is believed that the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to miraculously conceive the son of G-d. This holy Christian event is known as the Annunciation.

While the structure of the Church of the Annunciation is a twentieth century one, two previous churches – one Byzantine, one Crusader – have been excavated there, with the earlier one probably dating back to the fourth century AD. Inside the current church, visitors can see the Cave of the Annunciation, the site in which this event is thought to have occurred.

It is worth mentioning that the site of the Annunciation is a matter of some dispute, with some believing that it occurred elsewhere within Nazareth. The Greek Orthodox faith has its own Church of the Annunciation.

Photo by See The Holy Land (cc)

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

One of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on what many Christians believe to be the location of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Built in 325/6AD by Emperor Constantine I, though now mostly dating to the 12th century, it is one of the most important ancient churches in existence.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is holiest site in Christianity due the fact that it encompasses what are thought to be the last five stations travelled through by Christ, ending in his crucifixion.

Built in 325/6AD by Roman Emperor Constantine I (the first such emperor to convert to Christianity), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on what many Christians believe to be Golgotha/The Hill of Cavalry, where Christ is said to have been crucified and later resurrected. It derives its name - Sepulchre, meaning the tomb- from the belief that it is the site of Jesus' burial.

It was Constantine’s mother, Helena, who went to Jerusalem and identified the site. Prior to the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the land on which it stands had been a temple to the deity Aphrodite, built by the Emperor Hadrian.

The sepulchre, the burial place of Jesus, is at the core of the church whilst the other four stations are clustered in The Hill of Cavalry. The décor of this section of the church is noticeably more opulent is believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout the centuries, it now mostly dating to the twelfth century following the First Crusade. At present the building itself is controlled by six Christian churches - the division of the site can be traced from the 11th century, and was solidified by the Ottomans in 1767. This division has not been tranquil and there continue to be violent clashes between members of different Christian churches; in 2008 a particularly hostile brawl between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches had to be broken up by Israeli police.

Since 1981, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls. This site features as one of our recommended key places to visit in Israel.

Photo by See The Holy Land (cc)

Church of the Primacy of St. Peter

The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter is the site where Jesus is believed to have reinstated Peter as the head of the Apostles Though built in 1933, parts of the current structure derive from a 4th century church that once stood there.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter is a Franciscan Chapel in Tabgha in Israel built in 1933 on the site where Jesus is believed to have reinstated Peter as the head of the Apostles. This was the third time that Jesus had appeared to his disciples.

Parts of the current structure of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter derive from a fourth century church that once stood there.

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Derinkuyu Underground City

Derinkuyu was built by early Christians to escape religious persecution and consists of an astounding network of subterranean houses and communal facilities among which is an ancient church.

DID YOU KNOW?

Derinkuyu Underground City is the largest and most popular of the Cappadocia underground cities in Nevsehir, Turkey.

As with the other underground cities in this region, Derinkuyu was built by early Christians to escape religious persecution. The result is an astounding network of subterranean houses and communal facilities, including food and drink preparation areas, mass storage rooms, stables, wine presses and a church all spread over eight levels.

Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Derinkuyu Underground City is incredibly well preserved and offers an in-depth insight into the lives of these troglodyte or ‘cave dwelling’ people. For those who are not too claustrophobic or frail, this is one of the most interesting sites in Turkey.

Photo by David Holt London (cc)

Dura Europos

Dura Europos was a thriving ancient city in Eastern Syria. As well as a myriad of Greco-Roman ruins the site contains one of the world’s oldest known synagogues and what has been described as the earliest known church yet discovered.

DID YOU KNOW?

Dura Europos was a thriving ancient city in Eastern Syria occupied by a series of civilisations, now represented by well preserved ruins.

It was one of the successor states that emerged after the death of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid Greeks, who founded Dura Europos in 300BC, locating it at the mid-point between their two capitals and overlooking the Euphrates River.

Over the centuries, Dura Europos developed from a caravan settlement into more of a commercial hub. In addition, time would also see this city taken over by a succession of peoples, first the Arsacid Parthians, then the Romans in around 160AD. Dura Europos was finally destroyed in 256AD, attacked by the Sasanid Persian Empire. In a remarkable discovery during the excavations the remains of Roman soldiers were found inside the underground siege tunnels which had been dug by Persian forces intent on undermining the walls.

Part of what made the archaeological discoveries at Dura Europos so impressive was not just their good state of preservation, but their intricate and ornate decorations including frescos and wall paintings. In fact, the site was so well conserved, some have taken to calling it the Syrian Desert’s answer to Pompeii. The majority of these fascinating finds are now on show in museums including the Louvre and the National Museum of Damascus.

Today, the impressive remains of Dura Europos illustrate its cultural and historical diversity. In addition to Greco-Roman ruins including temples, the site is home to the ruins of one of the world’s oldest known synagogues and what has been described as the earliest known church.

Visitors can explore the towering defensive walls and fortifications as well as evidence of the seigeworks which brought down the city. There are also great views to be had from the high cliffs above the Euphrates.

Photo by Rita Willaert (cc)

Garni Temple

Reconstructed from the original building materials, the Garni Temple started life as a pagan Roman temple. Around the 9th century it was transformed into a Christian church and was used as such until its destruction in an earthquake in 1679.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Garni Temple is an impressive looking Greco-Roman temple complex probably built in the 1st century AD by King Tiridates I of Armenia with the support of the Roman Emperor Nero.

Likely dedicated to the ancient deity Mithras, today the Garni Temple lies about 30km to the East of Yerevan and the complex hosts a number of buildings including a royal palace, Roman baths, and a 9th Century church.

Destroyed by an earthquake in 1679, the Garni Temple was partially reconstructed in the 1970s and is now made up of both original and replacement masonry.

Gemiler Island

A tiny island located just off the Turkish mainland, Gemiler Island is packed with Byzantine remains including a number of ancient churches.

DID YOU KNOW?

Beautifully situated in a mountain-girt bay, Gemiler Island is packed with c.1,500 year old Byzantine remains. The island, just 1km long, has been surveyed by Japanese archaeologists who have revealed the existence of a thriving small town clinging to the northern shore. Unlike the classical cities of the region, there are none of the typical public buildings, no theatre, no baths, no gymnasium, no colonnaded streets, no agora, just a dense collection of houses, cisterns and four main churches.

Described on Italian medieval maritime charts as St. Nicholas Island, Gemiler seems to have thrived as a key stop on the Christian pilgrimage route to the Holy Land. Pilgrims sailing to Jerusalem would put in at this safe harbour, replenish water and supplies and pray for their safe journey. Today, one can explore the remains of these early churches, decorated with mosaics and frescoes, discover a huge public cistern and walk in a unique processional passageway up to the cathedral church and the island’s summit with its stunning 360-degree views.

Contributed by Peter Sommer. Peter is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, travel writer and one time archaeologist who now heads a specialist tour operator, Peter Sommer Travels, offering expert-led gulet cruises and archaeological tours in Turkey, Greece and Italy.

Haidra

An ancient Roman city, the ruins of Haidra include the sixth century AD Church of Melleus, which is in a reasonable state of preservation, as well as a Vandal Chapel - dating to the reigns of King Thrasamund and King Hilderic.

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One of the earliest Roman settlements in North Africa, Haidra in Tunisia contains the remains of the Roman city of Ammaedara. Well off the beaten track, Haidra – also called Hydrah – attracts few tourists and even the archaeological excavations have been few and far between.

Founded in the first century AD, Ammaedara was originally a legionary outpost, used by the Third Legion Augusta during their campaign against the rebellious Numidian leader Tacfarinas – a deserter from the Roman auxiliaries who led his people in an uprising against Rome during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

After the defeat of the rebellion, Ammaedara was settled by veterans from the campaign and grew into a thriving Roman city. Indeed, remains of the cemetery of the 3rd legion have been identified on outskirts of the site.

It is unclear as to whether a pre-Roman settlement existed at Haidra. Though the foundations of a Punic temple to Ba'al-Hamon were found near the site, there is little additional evidence of a major settlement.

The Romans ruled the region until the Vandal invasions of the 5th century AD and the ruins of Haidra contain evidence of the period of Vandal rule as well as the subsequent Byzantine period which followed after Justinian’s successful re-conquest.

Today Haïdra contains a number of interesting ruins dating from the various periods in the city’s history. Perhaps the most impressive is the imposing Byzantine fortress - built around 550 AD on the orders of Justinian, it acted as a defensive stronghold for the newly conquered Byzantine lands.

Dating to around the same period is the Church of Melleus which is in a reasonable state of preservation with a number of surviving columns and interesting inscriptions from the 6th and 7th centuries on the paving stones. Evidence of the Vandal period survives in the form of the Vandal Chapel - dating to the reigns of King Thrasamund and King Hilderic in the early 6th century AD.

Of the other ruins at Haïdra, the most prominent is the Arch of Septimius Severus. Built in 195 AD it remains very well preserved with decorative markings still intact. However, one of the best places to actually explore is the underground bath complex, a series of reasonably intact bath chambers and corridors which you can still wander around freely.

Scant remains of the original market and theatre can also be seen as well as just one surviving column from the ancient temple that stood on the capitol. Other elements to explore at Haïdra include the Roman cemetery and the three mausoleum towers – impressive structures that have survived the ages in pretty good condition.

Photo by Historvius

Kourion

Kourion is an impressive archaeological site in Cyprus, which was a thriving Roman city. The site possesses evidence of early Christianity, both at the complex of Eustolios and by way of its fifth century AD early Christian basilica.

DID YOU KNOW?

Kourion, also known as Curium, is an impressive archaeological site near Limassol in Cyprus containing mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins.

In fact, it is believed that the site of Kourion was first inhabited during Neolithic times, with the earliest evidence dating back to 4500-3900 BC, but that the town itself was founded in the thirteenth century BC by the Argives.

Over the centuries, Kourion has played important roles in many regional conflicts. During the Cypriot uprising against Persia (fifth century BC), its king – Stasanor – betrayed his country, lending his support and troops to the Persians. However, Kourion later supported Alexander the Great’s fight against the Persians (fourth century BC).

Kourion continued to be inhabited throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods, with the establishment of buildings, monuments and other structures from these times still visible today. Perhaps the most memorable site to be seen today at Kourion is its ancient theatre. Still intact and able to seat up to 3,500 spectators, the theatre at Kourion dates back to the second or third century AD, although there would have been a theatre here from the second century BC.

However, the theatre is definitely not the only thing to see at Kourion. The site includes the remains of a third century AD Roman market which includes some public baths and a Nymphaeum.

Several additional ancient buildings remain, including part of the fourth century AD House of Achilles - thought to have been a reception centre - with its mosaic floors and the third century AD House of the Gladiators, so named because some of its mosaics depict gladiatorial battles. The complex of Eustolios is another fascinating site, this having been an affluent fourth to fifth century private residence in Kourion and including a bathing complex.

Kourion also possesses evidence of early Christianity, both at the complex of Eustolios and by way of its early Christian basilica, a fifth century AD church at the site. Other sites of Kourion include the remains of a stadium and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. However, it is worth noting that these latter two sites are slightly separate from the rest of the archaeological park.

Photo by bani 31 (cc)

La Maison Carrée

During the late antiquity, many pagan temples were converted to churches rather than being destroyed. One of the best examples of this is the Maison Carree, which due to this transformation is among the best-preserved Roman buildings anywhere in the world.

DID YOU KNOW?

La Maison Carrée, or Square House, in Nîmes is a staggeringly well preserved Roman temple, and one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman building anywhere in the world – for fans of Ancient Rome, La Maison Carrée is simply a must-see site.

Originally built in 16BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa – the close friend and confidant of Emperor Augustus – the building was dedicated to Agrippa’s sons Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar. During this period, as Augustus consolidated his hold on power and confirmed his status as the first true Roman Emperor, he undertook many building programmes across the Empire and La Maison Carrée is a great example of this. During this period Agrippa was also responsible for the construction of the original Pantheon in Rome.

La Maison Carrée was lucky to survive the fall of the Empire. This is mostly due to the fact that the building became a church in the fourth century. Through the ages La Maison Carrée has been used as a consul's house, stables and the town’s archive. It has been partly renovated and restored over the years, but remains true to its Roman origins and is certainly not a recreation. Nowadays La Maison Carrée is one of several well-preserved Roman sites in Nîmes, which also boasts a Roman Amphitheatre and a grand tower built by Augustus, the Magne Tower.

Visitors to La Maison Carrée can view this stunning structure in all its glory as well as watching a multimedia presentation inside the building which brings Roman Nîmes back to life.

Leukaspis

Leukaspis was a thriving Roman port city founded in the 2nd century BC. One of the most interesting sites to see here is a ruined ancient basilica, which was originally a public hall and then became a church following the rise of Christianity.

DID YOU KNOW?

Leukaspis (Locassis) was a thriving Greco-Roman port and city founded in the second century BC and which grew to a population of 15,000 residents at its peak. Also known as Antiphrae, Leukaspis was a commercial hub of the Mediterranean olive, wine and wheat industries, conducting trade both inland and overseas.

In 365AD, Leukaspis was utterly devastated by a tsunami, an after effect of an earthquake in Crete.

Unfortunately, extensive development of the area around Leukaspis has meant that much of the former port has been lost. However, parts of Leukaspis have been carefully excavated and form the Marina el-Alamein Archaeological Site. 

Amongst the ruins at the Marina el-Alamein Archaeological Site are the remains of villas, baths, a theatre, a necropolis (burial site) and an agora (town square/marketplace). One of the main buildings to be seen is a basilica, which began as a public hall and then became a church following the rise of Christianity.

Photo by roger4336 (cc)

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is an early fifth century AD ancient Christian chapel which is thought to have been commissioned by Roman Empress Galla Placidia and, until recently, was also believed to house her tomb.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is an early 5th century Christian chapel in Ravenna that is thought to have been commissioned by Roman Empress Galla Placidia and, until recently, was believed to house her tomb.

Galla Placidia was the daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I and a major player in the politics of the Western Roman Empire in the first half of the fifth century AD. She was also one-time regent of the Western Empire.

Known for its stunning early- Byzantine style mosaics, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a hidden gem which delights and surprises visitors with its remarkable artistry. The eye-catching mosaics adorn the floors, ceilings and walls and include the ‘cupola’, a striking mosaic of the night sky. All this in a tiny building which, from the outside, is rather unassuming.

Inside the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia are three tombs which folklore stated contained the remains of Galla Placidia herself, Emperor Constantius III and either Emperor Valentinian III or Emperor Honorius. However, modern historians doubt these claims and they are not generally accepted.

Along with other early Christian sites in Ravenna, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

Photo by Biker Jun (cc)

Pantheon

One of the most famous ancient buildings in the world, the Pantheon was originally built as a temple to the many gods of Rome. In 609AD it was converted to a church and this helped to preserve the building from the destruction of later times.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Pantheon in Rome is one of the most famous and well-preserved ancient buildings in the world.

Originally built by Marcus Agrippa in 25BC, the Pantheon served as a temple to the many gods of Rome. The original Pantheon was destroyed by the great fire of 80AD and the structure which stands today was completed around 125AD during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.

In 609AD the Pantheon was converted to a Church and this helped preserve the building from the destruction of later times. In the middle ages the Pantheon was also used as a burial chamber for notable figures and even Italian kings.

Today, the Pantheon stands as a magnificent site in central Rome, and one of the most popular destinations for tourists. The Pantheon’s vast structure is topped by the spectacular original domed roof which contains a circular opening (oculus) at the peak. Made of cast concrete, it is a monumental engineering feat that is a testament to the technical expertise of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the roof of the Pantheon remained the largest dome in the world until the 15th century.

The Pantheon is free to visit and is a must-see for both the general tourist and the history enthusiast.

San Saturnino Basilica

One of Sardinia’s oldest churches, San Saturnino Basilica was definitely in existence by the sixth century AD and perhaps even as early as the fourth. The current structure dates back to the twelfth century and contains a Roman necropolis, dating back to the early Christian era.

DID YOU KNOW?

San Saturnino Basilica (Basilica di San Saturnino) is one of Sardinia’s oldest churches. San Saturnino Basilica was definitely in existence by the sixth century AD and perhaps even as early as the fourth.

In fact, the namesake of San Saturnino Basilica is said to have been executed here during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian and may also be buried within the church.

Built in the shape of a cross, the current structure of San Saturnino Basilica was consecrated in the twelfth century and has a Roman necropolis, dating back to the early Christian era.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere is thought to have been the first Christian church in Rome. Whilst most of the building dates back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, elements of the church itself may date back as far as the third century, when it is thought to have been founded by Pope Callixtus.

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Santa Maria in Trastevere is thought to have been one of the first – if not actually the first – of the Christian churches in Rome.

Whilst most of the building and works contained in Santa Maria in Trastevere date back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the church itself may date back as far as the third century, when it is thought to have been founded by Pope Callixtus. Others believe it was established in mid-fourth century by Pope Julius I.

Legend has it that an oil fountain miraculously appeared on the site of Santa Maria in Trastevere on the date of the birth of Christ.

Today, Santa Maria in Trastevere houses a series of colourful medieval frescos.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Initially constructed in 141 AD, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was built by Emperor Antoninus Pius in honour of his wife, Faustina. It is one of the best preserved structures in the Roman Forum. This is largely because it was incorporated in the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda sometime between 600 AD and 800 AD.

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Initially constructed in 141 AD, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was built by Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius in honour of his wife, Faustina. It is one of the best preserved structures in the Roman Forum.

Faustina was deified following her death and the temple – then just the Temple of Faustina – was the place of worship of the cult of Faustina.

When the emperor died in 161 AD, he too was deified and Faustina’s temple became the joint Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.

The primary reason that the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina has survived in such a good state of preservation is that it was incorporated in the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda sometime between 600 AD and 800 AD.

A flight of stairs leads up to the ten standing columns of the original temple, which is now part of the church.

Photo by maarjaara (cc)

Temple of Augustus and Livia

A very well preserved Roman temple in Vienne, France, the Temple of Augustus and Livia was incorporated into an ancient church perhaps as early as the fifth century AD and was used as a Christian place of worship for centuries.

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The Temple of Augustus and Livia (Temple d'Auguste et de Livie) is a very well preserved Roman temple in Vienne.

Whilst probably first built sometime between 20BC and 10BC, several aspects of the Temple of Augustus and Livia date to the first century AD. Yet, the main reason for the great state of preservation of the Temple of Augustus and Livia is that it was incorporated into a church perhaps as early as the fifth century and restored in the nineteenth century.

Trier Cathedral

Though mostly dating to medieval times, the site of Trier Cathedral dates back to at least 270 AD and what was probably the first church to have existed at this location. Few remnants of the original ancient Roman church are viewable; however there are extensive underground excavations which can be seen as part of a guided tour.

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Trier Cathedral, called Trierer Dom in German, is the main church of the city of Trier. The site of Trier Cathedral has a rich Christian history dating back to at least 270 AD, when worshippers attended what was probably the first church to have existed at this location – a house church.

In the fourth century the then ongoing persecution against Christians began to decline. With this increase in religious freedom came the opportunity to worship more openly. Thus, from 340 AD, the site of Trier Cathedral became home to a construction known as “The Square”. Some remains of this structure are still visible today, its outer walls now forming part of Trier Cathedral.

This predecessor of Trier Cathedral was destroyed in the fifth and ninth centuries, respectively by Germanic and Viking tribes. Most of the current Trier Cathedral dates back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when a Romanesque church was built. It has also been remodelled and altered at various stages, including in a Baroque style in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Few remnants of the original Ancient Roman church are viewable today in the church itself, however there are extensive underground excavations which can be seen as part of a guided tour (book in advance on the official site).  Along with these underground remains, a section of the original Roman walls surives in the main structure, rising to a height of almost 30 metres. A few additional Roman elements and columns are visible and the rest of Trier Cathedral – which appears seemingly more like a citadel than a house of worship – beautifully preserves the medieval history of this site.

Trier Cathedral is also the home of the Holy Tunic, a robe which is said to have been worn by Jesus when he died, however this is rarely exhibited.

Trier Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site.