San Nicola a Galeria Antica is a ruined church in the equally ruined ancient walled town of Galeria Antica. It is in a rural location south-west of the village of Osteria Nuova, which replaced it, and is not easy to find.
The church is in the municipality of Rome, but in the territory of the diocese of Porto Santa Rufina. The dedication is to St Nicholas of Myra.
The site is on a steep-sided tufa outcrop, next to a gorge formed by the river Arrone, and is perfectly suited to a defensive position. Although the origins of the settlement are obscure, it is thought that it was founded by the Etruscans about 400 BC and was called Careia; it was certainly in existence in ancient Roman times, as Roman masonry is to be found there. Rock-cut tombs in the gorge look Etruscan.
In the Dark Ages, Pope Hadrian I (772-95) is recorded as establishing a so-callled Domus Cullate, which seems to have been a villa of which he was especially fond. Pope Gregory IV (827-44) had a fortified farmstead here, which was destroyed in Muslim raids.
The location became a town in the Middle Ages, perhaps in the late 12th or early 13th century. It was already functioning as such when the Osini family inherited it in 1276, and the churches there would have been established by then.
San Nicola was the castle church. The main parish church was Sant'Andrea a Galeria Antica, which was on the main piazza. There was also an "old hospital" church called Santa Maria della Valle, which may have been on the flat ground next to the river north of the town. Further, there was a church of San Sebastiano somewhere in the town, perhaps near the south gate, which was struck by lightning and destroyed in 1600.
The town seems to have been failing already by this time, and by the end of the 17th century was in serious decline. There were 246 people in 1701. However, the Manciforte family bought it, and invested in the reconstruction of much of the fabric starting in 1715. The campanile dates from this period, but their money was wasted in the long run. From a low of 42 in 1736, the population increased to 177 in 1769, but then began an inexorable decline to 110 in 1782 and 35 in 1800.
The population was seriously affected by malaria, and were using this church as a burial place towards the end of the 18th century which indicates that it had ceased to function liturgically. The only industry, a brickworks, closed in 1800 and a flood destroyed the flour mills in 1805. The place was no better than a farmstead when the final inhabitants fled in 1809; it seems that their exodus was sudden and in a panic, and the reason for this is mysterious. They left behind many of their household goods, and also apparently some bodies of dead people which were only properly buried fifty years later.
The survivors settled at the present Santa Maria di Galeria, which contains the old church of Santa Maria in Celsano. However, this place in turn is now just a farmstead and the local settlement is now Osteria Nuova to the north.
For the rest of the 19th century, the ruins were pillaged for usable stone and timber. No sheep were allowed to graze there because of the danger of open cellars, hence the site was established as a self-sown wooded area by the 20th century.
The site has been designated by the municipality as a nature and archaeology reserve from the start of the 21st century, but with little or no active management. Until recently the main access route was targeted by fly-tippers, and the ruins themselves were being used for rave parties and role-playing wargames as well as picnickers. There are now gates at both access routes, which prevent any close vehicular access.
The church of San Giovanni Battista a Cesano has a painting of The Preaching of St John the Baptist which is said to come from this church. The other church in Cesano, San Nicola di Bari a Cesano, also had a painting depicting The Apparition of Christ and Our Lady to St Nicholas but this was stolen in 1975. It might have been the main altarpiece of the ruined church.
AppearanceEditThe site of the church is in the north-west corner of the town, overlooking the river gorge. The church had an unaisled nave with a rectangular apse, and survives mostly as shapeless ruined walls intruded upon by mature trees. Apart from an arched niche in the east wall, which looks as if it was for a tomb, the campanile is the major surviving architectural feature. It is the only structure in the town which protrudes above the canopy, and serves as a landmark.
This 18th century campanile survives intact, perched on the wall by the former triumphal arch of the church. It has a blank clock-face below the bell stage; by rumour, the clock was taken to Santa Maria in Celsano, but this cannot now be proved. The sound holes are single arches, one on each side, above the clockface. There is a brick pyramid, now truncated, on top.
Getting here is difficult.
The site is not near any public road, and recently the driveway to the nearby farm was gated in order to prevent illegal dumping of rubbish. The following describes the only two ways in; they are not waymarked, and even the "Geocache" people have had difficulty finding out how to get there.
The first, and only recommended, way in is from the Via di Santa Maria di Galeria which runs from west of Boccea to Osteria Nuovo. The entrance is on the west side, and is about 300 metres south of the farmstead of Santa Maria di Galeria. It is the first driveway of any kind going south on that side. There is a security gate which prevents vehicular access, but it is possible to park a small car next to this. There is a cemetery bus service, the C26, and if you use this then get off at Monte del Nibbio and walk in the Boccea direction to the first bend in the road. If you want to use a more regular bus, take the 030 from La Storta train station and get off at the Via Braccianense /Via Santa Maria di Galeria stop just east of Osteria Nuova village. Then walk down the latter road. It's some distance.
After passing the roadside gate, follow the farm drive until it bends sharp left to enter the farmyard. At this point, carry on straight ahead through some concrete blocking posts there to stop motorcycles, and follow the path across a field. You will see an impressive bastion on your left, part of the former town walls. The path then climbs along the side of the hill to reach the city gate. Once through this, the former piazza is to the left and the church of San Nicola is to the right.
The other way in is tricky. Find the first farm driveway west of the junction between the Via Braccianense and the Via Quero, west of Osteria Nuova. There is a gate here, but you can park. Alternatively, take the 030 bus to Quero stop. Go up the farm drive, and just before you reach the buildings a track leads off to the left. This goes through an olive grove, does a hairpin bend and ends at a security gate. Beyond that, it peters out in a meadow on the north side of the river. You can see the campanile of the church from here.
Your problem now is crossing the river. Except in winter, it should be possible to ford it at a meander straight ahead, and in the meadow on the other side there is a track which heads off to the main route already described by the north town gate. You may read that there are derelict bridges in the gorge. This is true, but don't be tempted to try and find them on a casual visit. There are no paths, and it is really dangerous as well as overgrown in there.
There is some confusion in the online sources as to which ruined church is which.
The area of the gorge is genuinely dangerous, with steep slopes covered with loose earth, sheer drops and also open shafts.