15: The New Basilica
Construction of the New Basilica began under the emperor Maxentius in the year 308 but was completed by emperor Constantine in 312 after his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Indeed, the change in ruler during its building means that this is sometimes referred the Basilica of Maxentius or the Basilica of Constantine. The term Basilica in modern usage suggests a large church or cathedral but in ancient Rome it was more associated with a large civic chamber or meeting hall. It would have contained statues of gods but was not likely a place of worship. The Basilica's 3 large bays that dominate the north side of the Via Sacra faced onto a large central nave and were mirrored by another set of 3 matching bays on the South side. These bays had large windows to help light the halls and the ends each bay’s dividing support wall originally had a massive marble column 14.5 meters high and roughly 1 meter wide. All but one of these 8 columns were destroyed – the last remaining was removed by Pope Paul V in the early 1600s and placed in La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore where it still stands.