Oasis of Tranquility
The sliver of Rome that stretches across the Caelian Hill between the Basilica of St. John Lataran and the Colosseum is as historically significant as it is chaotic—a cacophony of whirring mopeds and rattling Fiats rumbling past tourists streaming between archeological treasures and locals going about their daily business. Yet amid all this confusion, tucked inside the massive summit fortress of Santi Quattro Coronati, is a virtual oasis of tranquility where contemplative Augustinian sisters pray and study in a secluded garden bathed in glorious sunshine. Gentle breezes carry the scent of fresh blossoms through the arches of an adjacent cloister; the noise outside is displaced by chirping birds and the gentle hum of Gregorian chant.Over the centuries, the monastery of Santi Quattro Coronati has endured wars and the ravages of time and nature. And, like other architectural masterpieces on the Caelian Hill, this meditative paradise could have just as easily become a ruin had it not been for the fierce determination of the sisters who live there and the dedicated team of architects and conservators charged with arresting its decay. Construction of Santi Quattro Coronati began in the mid-sixth century at which time a basilica was built atop the remains of a lavish Imperialage villa that had graced the Caelian Hill’s northern summit. During the reign of Pope Leo IV (r. 847–855), the basilica was rebuilt and several chapels were added while a crypt was dug beneath its nave. Other additions included a 22-meter bell tower and a quadriportico with pillars and columns, originally adorned with frescoes. When the Normans sacked Rome in 1084, the basilica was burned to the ground, reduced to fragments of pillars and arches that once supported its mighty walls. In the century that followed, a much smaller version of the original basilica was erected, incorporating remnants salvaged from the original structure, while several chapels and giant halls were also built on the site.