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History From the Excavations Until Today

The water-colour documenting the chance discovery of the apse in 1702 Excluding the chance disclosure of the apse area in 1702, documented in a watercolour and a diary entry, the history of Santa Maria Antiqua starts again in 1900, when the church was brought to light as a result of systematic, archaeological excavations in this part of the Roman Forum.


The demolition of the baroque church of S. Maria Liberatrice marked the beginning of archaeological excavations in the area The excavations, which involved moving an enormous amount of earth, were accomplished in less than two years. Reconstructing walls and vaults was also completed by 1902. The roofing over the central nave was built only in 1910, to offer a higher standard of protection to the decaying paintings.


During excavation between the central nave and the presbytery

The discovery of the paintings had enormous consequences in the history of art and in archaeology, and many theories of the development of early medieval art had to be completely rewritten. The paintings were documented both photographically and by a series of water-coloured photographs which were published by the German archaeologist Joseph Wilpert. Many other studies and publications followed.


As measures of preservation, the painting fragments were coated with a wax-based material and secured along the edges with cement fillets and brass pins.


The church in 1902 before the construction of the roof over the central naveHowever, after this first intervention in 1900-02, the progressive decay of the paintings remained a major concern. First in 1912 and then in 1945, 1947, 1954 and 1956-57, the alerting condition of the paintings influenced the decision to detach some panels from the wall, transferring them onto new supports. However the percentage of detached wall paintings is low, about 12% of the total surface. The most recent in-situ conservationIntervention that preserves the wall painting in its material integrity and in its original location; in opposition to what happens if the painting is detached (i.e. physically separated) from the wall treatments were carried out in the 1980s.

Since 1980 the monument has been closed to the general public and access is limited to scholars who apply for a special visit.

In this moment (2011), the church is totally interdicted due to ongoing restoration works of the wall paintings. These restorations should end in 2012.

Building maintenance in 1999

The Santa Maria Antiqua Project is managed together with the World Monuments Fund which is pursuing the objective of a full restoration of all decorated surfaces and the future re-opening of the monument to the general public.