Touring Rome's churches can be complicated, as there are so many to see that you will run out of time before you run out of opportunities to
unique and, perhaps, unanticipated treasures. In order to simplify
things a bit, we have selected only a few of Rome's churches to try and whet your appetite
to see more. Our list is clearly not exhaustive, although moderately selective.
We will introduce you to churches that are important, interesting,
beautiful, usually hundreds of years old and not too far off the
beaten track. We are sure you will develop your own favorites, but if
you have some spare time, each of these churches deserves a visit.
There are four Papal Basilicas in the world and all are in Rome.
The Papal Basilicas include Saint Peter's in the Vatican, the
Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and the
Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls . The most important of these is
St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City by virtue of the fact that it is
the Vatican's principal church, although as Bishop of Rome, the "official" church
of the Pope
is the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.
Saint Peter's Basilica is regarded by many Catholics as their most important
church. St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, was selected by Christ to
lead his religion and, after Christ's death, he migrated to the heart of the Roman Empire to continue this
task. St. Peter, who was the first bishop of Rome (and
Pope), was martyred during Nero's reign in the mid-first century and is believed to have
been buried with great secrecy in a crypt that is some
distance beneath what is now the main altar of Saint Peter's Basilica.
There have been at least two of churches built at this location in the
past and the construction on the present St. Peter's started in the 16th
century with completion in the early-17th
century. As can be imagined, the construction of Saint Peter's
occurred across the reigns of several popes and the plans for the basilica often
changed when new pope's began their reign.
Saint Peter's is truly a glorious building and we direct you to our
one-page guide to St. Peter's Basilica for a detailed description of its
interior and exterior.
For additional information on visiting St. Peter's Basilica,
see the official Vatican website at
Saint Peter's Basilica is located in the Vatican City at the top of Saint Peter's Square.
John Lateran is the official cathedral of the church of Rome and the official seat of
the Pope in his role as the Bishop of Rome. The church was built to honor
Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. The
original church in this location was founded in the 4th century, but fell into disrepair
and was damaged by fire when the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church was
moved to Avignon during the 14th century. The church was not restored
to its former glory until the 18th century. Saint John Lateran is a
beautiful building that is known for its excellent Baroque facade, which
dates from the 18th century restoration.
interior of the Basilica is dramatic and well worth seeing. Be sure to view
the Scala Sancta (the Holy Steps), which are believed to include original
components of the staircase ascended by Jesus Christ during his judging and
sentencing by Pontius Pilate. Don't miss the statues of the Twelve Apostles
and take a quick look at the cloister that survives from a monastery
that once graced the complex.
The obelisk in the piazza fronting the church was a creation of Thutmose
III and designed for erection at the Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak. It
was re-discovered there by Constantine the Great who arranged its transport to
Constantinople. However, he died before it could be shipped and his successor
rerouted it to Rome where it was originally displayed at the Circus Maximus.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran is located on Piazza San Giovanni.
Saint Mary Major, on the Esquiline Hill, is one of the most visited
churches in Rome, as it is the
major Papal Basilica dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of the
Portions of the basilica date back to the 5th century and the initiative
to build the basilica dated from the Council of Ephesus, which
proclaimed the Mary as the mother of God. Later in life, after the
Crucifixion, the Blessed Virgin Mary migrated to
which became her final home.
Be sure to see the mosaics in the central nave, as well as the beautiful Borghese Chapel and the Sistine Chapel (not to be confused with its more
famous version in the Vatican). St. Mary Major also sports an excellent facade by Fuga
that becomes even more appealing at night when light spills out from the
interior and highlights the beauty of the entrance.
The Basilica of Saint Mary Major is located in the Piazza di Santa Maria
the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica outside of the
Aurelian Walls at the purported location of the grave of Saint Paul the
Apostle, who had been martyred during Emperor Nero's reign in the mid-first century.
The Basilica was enlarged, expanded, restored and redesigned a number of
times, with each action contributing an important addition to the church.
The new mosaics,
cloister, altars and frescos contributed to the beauty and mystique of St. Paul’s
In the early 19th century a fire destroyed the basilica, although
it was rebuilt incorporating several sections that survived the fire.
re-consecrated in the mid-19th century. The basilica complex includes the remains of a Benedictine
Abbey dating from the tenth century.
See the official
Vatican website for almost every detail you could ever hope to know
about this Papal Basilica.
The Basilica of Saint Paul
is located on Via Ostiense .
Maria in Trastevere (at the
Piazza Santa Maria) is thought to be one of the oldest churches in Rome,
although its exact age is indeterminate. Some believe that portions of the
church date from the early third century, while others suggest that the
construction started in the mid fourth century. Whatever the real date of
construction, Santa Maria in Trastevere feels very old and is one of the most elegant
churches in Rome. It is thought that the columns in the interior of the
church were taken from the Baths of Caracalla, as well as other locations and,
if you inspect them, you will see designs that are clearly non-Christian.
Several of the interior mosaics are stunning and add to the ambiance of this
attractive church. In addition, Santa Maria in Trastevere houses a relic
known as the "Holy Sponge", which is reputed to be a piece of the
sponge that was used to offer Christ a
drink during his crucifixion.
the church, be sure to examine the large mosaic over the top of the arcade,
which dates from Medieval times, as well as the four statues of the saints above the
entrance portal. The elegant facade was restored by Fontana in the early
Santa Maria in Trastevere is located in Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria del Popolo began as a Chapel that was built in the 11th
century and later enlarged and modified to the structure we see today.
Santa Maria del Popolo is a stunning church that benefits from works by
Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bramante, Pinturicchio and other famous
Renaissance artists and artisans. The altars, statues, mosaics,
frescos and painting represent a virtual "who's who" of Italian Renaissance
The Chigi Chapel, which plays a role in Angels & Demons, was designed
and worked on by Raphael, although finished by Bernini.
Santa Maria del Popolo is located in Piazza del Popolo.
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