Hidden Gems of Italy: Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome


Perle nascoste d'Italia: Basilica di Santa Sabina a Roma
Basilica of Santa Sabina

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The Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill is widely regarded as the most beautiful early Christian church in Rome. It is the oldest church to have preserved its original colonnaded rectangular plan and architectural style, providing a glimpse into what churches from that time, including the original St. Peter’s Basilica, may have looked like. 

Indeed, the exterior of the church, with its large windows made of selenite, not glass, appears very similar to how it did when it was built in the 5th century.

The basilica was built by Peter of Illiria, a Dalmatian priest, on the site of the house belonging to  Sabina, a Roman matron turned saint, and near an ancient temple dedicated to Juno (24 columns from the temple were used for the construction of the church). 

The original entrance was through a door made of cypress wood, which is believed to be the original door from the 5th century, the only monument of this kind left in Rome. Like the 24 Corinthian-style columns that line the interior nave, the door may also come from the pagan temple of Juno.  

Wooden panels on the door present scenes from the Bible, including what is believed to be one of the oldest representations of the Crucifixion. 

Across from the door, a hole in the wall reveals a cloister and an orange tree, which, according to Dominican tradition, is the original tree planted by St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, whose headquarters are precisely in Santa Sabina.

To the right of the beautiful wooden portal there is a small column that indicates the place where, according to tradition, St. Dominic spent his nights in prayer; above it is a black basalt stone, likely a weight from an ancient Roman scale. According to legend however, this stone was thrown at St. Dominic by the devil.  

The Basilica of Santa Sabina is near the small ‘Garden of Oranges,’ which has beautiful views over Rome. 


La Basilica di Santa Sabina sul colle Aventino è largamente considerata la più bella chiesa paleocristiana di Roma. È la chiesa più antica ad aver conservato la sua pianta rettangolare con colonnato e architettura originale, offrendo così uno sguardo su come potevano essere le chiese di quel tempo, inclusa l'originale Basilica di San Pietro.

In effetti, l'esterno della chiesa, con le sue grandi finestre in selenite, non in vetro, appare molto simile a come era quando fu costruita ne

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