Santa Maria Maggiore Rome
Why it's a Must-See Basilica

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore Rome should be on your list of must-see churches. Not because it's a Papal Basilica, or because it's the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary...

santa maria maggiore in romeThe Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore - one of only 4 major basilicas in the world!

Santa Maria Maggiore Rome - Why You Should See It

  • Don't you want to see the site of a miraculous August snowfall that happened in the 4th century?
  • How about visiting the tomb of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of Rome's most famous, genius, and prolific sculptors and architects? Better still, why not check out Bernini's hidden spiral staircase?
  • Seeing the basilica in Rome on the highest point of the highest hill, with the tallest bell-tower.
  • And how about visiting what looks like an 18th-century basilica, only to find its inside looks like a 4th century basilica?
  • The ceiling? It's the original wood from the 15th century, and it's covered in gold brought over from the new world by Columbus for Queen Isabella and Kind Ferdinand of Spain!
  • You may want to have a closeup viewing of a piece of Jesus' crib brought here from Bethlehem in the 7th century.
  • And how can you miss those glimmering 4th century mosaics?

Santa Maria Maggiore is an easy church to visit, as it's near the Termini station and metro stop, and a walk through on your own won't last more than half an hour.

It's a really awe-inspiring church with a lot of history, and different architecture styles...but the main reason to visit Santa Maria Maggiore is just to see how beautiful it is.

Santa Maria Maggiore Rome - one of the four Major Basilicas

Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major) is one of only 4 patriarchal/major basilicas in the world, which, by the way, are all in Rome: The other 3 are Saint Peter's; Saint John in Lateran; Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Technically, the four major basilicas in the world are not all in Rome. Saint Peter's basilica is of course in Vatican City, which is its own state, and not in Italy. But it is so easily accessible while you are visiting Rome, let's just say that you can visit all four of these basilicas in one Rome visit.

The four Major Basilicas, including Santa Maria Maggiore Rome, are under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope. Santa Maria Maggiore is policed by guards from Vatican City, not by Italian police.

The official website of Santa Maria Maggiore is via the Vatican website.

A little nitpicky thing

These basilicas used to be called Patriarchal Basilicas. The term "Patriarchal Basilica" used to refer to the basilicas ceremonially assigned to one of the Patriarchs. Santa Maria Maggiore originally was assigned to the patriarch of Antioch.

In 2006, Pope Benedict declared the term Patriarchal Basilica to be obsolete, and now the four churches of Saint Peter, Saint John in Lateran, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and Saint Mary Major are called Papal Basilicas, or Major Basilicas.

Santa Maria Maggiore Rome - What to see

It's easy to just visit Santa Maria Maggiore, walk in, walk around and soak up the scenery. It's a massive church, and there is so much artwork, so much gold leaf, and so many little side chapels and cupolas and things to see at every turn, you can simply enjoy the view and that's that. 

There are many websites with lots of details about this basilica's history and architecture so I won't repeat them here. Let me just give you the nitty-gritty of what to see:

The Façade

There are two façades to Santa Maria Maggiore Rome: The original one was 

The Loggia

The Column in the Piazza

The overall interior

The original 4th century architectural design

The floor

The apse

The Mosaics

Santa Maria Maggiore - quick facts and a brief history

Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest of 26 churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary. (Hence the name, Maggiore, or Major/Most.) 

Santa Maria Maggiore was built at the top of Cispius, the highest part of the Esquiline hill, which is the highest of the seven hills of Rome. The medieval bell tower of the basilica is also the tallest in Rome, at 75 meters.

The miracle summer snowfall

Santa Maria Maggiore Rome - practical info

The Basilica is open daily from 7am to 6:45pm.

You can easily reach the basilica via the Metro lines A or B at Termini train station. It's only a 5-10 minute walk from there.

Bonus! There are two caffe's on the piazza that are open daily from 6am. When I say daily, I mean on Christmas Day, New Years Day...there is something magical about having a cappuccino and croissant on Christmas Day at dawn, and having the piazza and the church all to yourself.

santa maria maggiore dawn christmas daySanta Maria Maggiore Rome at dawn on Christmas morning

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