The architecture, of Gothic style is unique to Rome, it dates from 1280, and we owe it to two Dominican brothers, fr. Sixtus and fr. Ristoro. It was them who also designed Saint Mary Novella of Florence.
The work lasted very long. In 1453, on the order of Count Francesco Orsini, the realisation of the main façade took place, we can still admire this with the portal of the Renaissance and which were the object of great work of restructuring inside the Basilica. The vaults of the central nave were required by cardinal Torquemada, the uncle of the famous inquisitor buried in the Basilica.
In 1600, there were other changes which have added to the sober Gothic structure of golden stucco decorations in baroque style which were subsequently eliminated by the Dominican architect, fr. Girolamo Bianchedi towards the mid- nineteenth century, to whom we owe the current appearance of the Basilica.
The work of construction only finished in 1725 during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XIII.
The basilica is the only example of medieval gothic church in the city of Rome. It is formed of three naves with crociera vaults placed on pilasters. The blue vault with gold stars offers a very suggestive vision to visitors. This vault gives an idea of what the Sistine Chapel should have been before Michelangelo decorated it. Several chapels, that kept their baroque aspect, open on both lateral naves and they historically belong to noble families: Capranica, Aldobrandini, Grazioli, etc. These chapels are filled with works of art, and in fact the whole Basilica is presented as a true art gallery. Such richness is due to the work of many very talented artists, among which: Lorenzo Bernini, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Filippino Lippi, Antoniazzo Romano, Maderno, ancient Barocci and Melozzo da Forli.
Visitor can also admire two big organs that are located above the two transepts, on the singer’s platforms. Original instruments, almost identical, dating back to 1628, and signed by the organ manufacturer Ennio Bonifazi, leaving only the facades. Hardly anything remains from the organ on the right, and the one on the left was replaced by a precious romantic instruments with pneumatic – tubular transmission with three manuals - signed by Carlo Vegezzi Bossi and inaugurated the 7th of April 1909. Such a large organ was a novelty for the Rome of the time.
The whole convent is annexed to the church, where 20 brothers currently live. They gather in the Basilica, in the wooden choir behind the main altar, to pray together three times a day the liturgy of the hours. In addition, the brothers provide spiritual animation and the surveillance of the Basilica. A cloister, where the decorations are splendid, is part of the convent, and it is only possible to visit on certain occasions because it is reserved to the life of the brothers.