This minor Roman basilica is located on the Caelian Hill in Rome, half way from the Colosseum and the San Giovanni Basilica.
Originally built in C. IV, the church owes its name (“Four Crowned Martyrs") to the tradition of the martyrdom of four converted Roman soldiers, who refused to worship a statue of Aesculapius and for this reason they were martyred under Diocletian.
With its high defensive walls, this bulky, thick-walled structure emerges on the way to the Lateran and looks more like a fortress than a church.
This basilica is, indeed, a very rare example in Rome of “church-fortress”: inside the historical complex, in fact, there is a bell tower of the 9th century, (the oldest of medieval Rome), the cloistered monastery, a medieval cloister, three churches and two classrooms frescoed in Gothic style.
It is is a architectonical complex not very well known to the majority of tourists and very rarely you will see people inside the church.
And maybe this is not a bad thing. The basilica does, after all, include a convent, and it’s nice to see it all undisturbed by hordes of visitors. The church is a gem, and a must-see for anyone interested in Rome’s off-the-beaten-path sites.
This compound holds some of the most secret and impressive medieval treasures imiraculously preserved in Rome: the Saint Sylvester’s Chapel, the Gothic Hall, and a meditative, secret cloister.
The third-century cloister, probably defined the most evocative one marble-carvers ever left in Rome, and the Oratorio di San Silvestro that, famous for the decorations with frescoes dated C.XIII, show, among the rest, episodes from the legend of Costantine.
The ensemble of buildings still shows the severe character it had during the Middle Ages, when it was used as a defensive bastion for the nearby San Giovanni Basilica and Constantine's Patriarchy.
The interior is the typical one of a medieval basilica, with three naves divided up by antique granite columns, with Corinthian composite capitals. The wide apse comes from the primitive church, whose middle nave was as large as the entire actual church. From the nave one moves into the gracious cloister that hosts a garden, built in 1120.
This Romanesque eden with its portico, its painted arches, the chapel of Saint Barbara with its medieval frescoes, the greenery and the central fountain make this one of the most secluded and quiet spots in the city.
The cosmatesque floor of the church is truly splendid.
It is worth a visit: especially for the cloister, an oasis of silence and beauty just 500 meters from the Colosseum.
You perceive a wonderful sense of meditation and peace that envelops these walls and makes it a real special corner of Rome.
You would never think you were in the hustle and bustle of Rome.
To visit the cloister, ring the little bell on the left after you’ve walked in.
A €2 donation is requested, though not required, for the upkeep of the convent and the basilica.