Santo Stefano in Rotondo, which dates back to the reign of Pope St Simplicius (r. 468-83), is one of the world's oldest and largest circular churches.
When Santo Stefano was originally built it consisted of a series of three circular concentric naves separated by rings of antique columns. Two of these mostly disappeared during the course of restoration in the 15th century, but the inner ring, comprising 22 ionic columns, remains intact and is still very impressive.
Santo Stefano in Rotondo is renowned for its late 16th century frescoes, which depict, in much gory detail, the martyrdom of some of the early Christian saints. The frescoes were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572-85) and the artist was Niccolo Circignani, better known as Pomarancio.
To the left of the entrance is the chapel of Saints Primus and Felician, which was commissioned by Pope Theodore I (r. 642-649). The two saints are depicted in a mosaic in the conch of the apse; the frescoes (1586) depicting their martyrdom and burial were executed, almost a thousand years later, by the Florentine painter Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), also known as il Tempestino.
The church stands on the site of an ancient Roman barracks and a Mithraeum.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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