Chiesa di Villa di Plinio is a small ruined 4th century (?) church hidden away in the extensive pine woods next to the ancient Via Severiana, due east of Lido de Castel Fusano in the Castel Fusano zone. The nearest named road is the Viale della Villa di Plinio.
The villa is also known as the Villa Palombara.
This little church has no documented history.
Its proximity to the impressive ruins of a 1st century AD villa leads to the surmise that it was built for whoever owned the villa in the 4th century. However, this is also unknown. The old guess that the villa belonged to Pliny the Younger is now discredited.
There is a hint that the villa was occupied by a monastic community in the earlier Middle Ages, because the church was provided with a choir or schola cantorum. But, again, there is no documentary record of any monastery round here.
The villa was first excavated in 1713 when the Sacchetti family were in possession of the locality -this was the usual statue-hunting exercise of the era. The church was not noticed, however. The first scholarly archaeological excavation of the villa was by Antonio Maria Collini in the Thirties, when he discovered the church ruins casualmente (presumably somebody noticed the walling in the scrub). The church itself was excavated in 1953 by Guglielmo Gatti, and have been viewable ever since.
The surviving foundations, which have been excavated and lie exposed, show a little rectangular building with a semi-circular apse. The fabric gives a tentative dating to the 4th century. The frontage had a colonnaded portico.
In front of the apse are the longitudinal stone edges of what is interpreted as a schola cantorum. This was added later, perhaps in the same remodelling that saw the entrance colonnade walled up to form an enclosed narthex. Not even the century of this work can be well guessed at.
The villa is freely accessible to pedestrians, and the remains are well kept.
The church, however, is not easy to find, being completely surrounded by scrubby woodland. A track leads to it from the north-east of the villa ruins. Most visitors miss it.