Santo Stefano Protomartire a Via Latina, Basilica di is a ruined 5th century basilica in the Parco Archeologico delle Tombe di Via Latina, which is to the east of the Via dell’Arco di Travertino just before its junction with the Appia Nuova.
The park includes an original stretch of the Via Latina and several ancient Roman tombs as well.
The basilica was built within the large aula of a pre-existing ancient Roman villa in the 5th century, during the pontificate of St Leo the Great (440-61). According to an epigraph discovered in the ruins, it was sponsored by a lady of the noble (but not patrician) family of the Anicii named Demetrias who was a correspondent of the pope. The edifice is recorded as having been restored in the 8th and 9th centuries, but then falls into oblivion and it is not certain when it was abandoned or why.
The ruins were re-discovered in 1857 by Leonardo Fortunati, a teacher and amateur archaeologist who discovered them and the tombs while tracing the route of the Via Latina. He dug there, and there was a subsequent serious excavation after 1900. Unfortunately, those responsible rebuilt some stretches of walling using ancient material from elsewhere and this has obscured the evidence somewhat.
At present, entry to the archaeological park is free and there are guided tours to be had. The basilica is tucked away behind some trees to the south-east of the park, in the angle between two football fields.
The church had a nave with aisles, a semi-circular apse and a colonnaded narthex. The narthex incorporated three ancient walls running closely parallel, the outer two belonging perhaps to the courtyard of an earlier villa and the inner one to an outbuilding. The outermost wall provided the base for the entrance colonnade, the innermost one the actual façade of the nave and the middle one rather oddly divided the narthex into two narrow zones.
The actual walls of the church were built in a style known as opus listatum which involves laying bricks and stone blocks in alternate layers. It would have given the exterior of the church an attractive red-and-white striped effect.
The arcades had eight columns on either side, and a couple have been re-erected with their Corinthian capitals. It is known that there were arcades, as stones from the arches were found. The apse contains the surviving remains of the altar, and was partly enclosed by a screen wall with a central entrace which ran across the mouth of the apse. In front of this was a schola, and traces of marble flooring were found in the excavation. In the centre of the nave were traces of foundations for another altar or a shrine.