Santa Maria Maggiore

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See stunning mosaics in the Virgin Mary’s church.

Santa Maria Maggiore is one of Rome’s four patriarchal basilicas and the biggest church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to scholars, it’s the second most beautiful church in Rome and a must-see for visitors interested in spectacular art and architecture.


  • Be stunned by the shimmering mosaics, some dating as far back as the 5th century.
  • Admire the mix of architectural styles. Can you guess which parts were built during which periods?
  • Find an ancient relic said to have been a part of the baby Jesus’ manger.

How To Get There

To get to Santa Maria Maggiore using public transportation, you can take metro line A and get off at Termini or Repubblica or metro line B to Termini station.

Once you arrive at Termini, exit from Via Marsala, located on the left side of the station, when facing the metro tracks. From there, you walk straight for about 200 meters, and you should have reached the basilica. You can also take the train from the city’s outskirts.

Alternatively, you can take the bus to Piazza dell’Esquilino, just a few steps away from the basilica.

Several bus lines stop at this square, including the 16, 75, and 714.

If you prefer, you can also walk there on the way to or back from another destination. The basilica is about 15 to 20 minutes from the Trevi fountain, piazza Venezia or the Colosseum.

View of Santa Maria Maggiore from Via Torino.
(You will be able to see it from Via Gioberti as well).

Back of Santa Maria Maggiore, piazza dell’ esquilino

Things To Do


Santa Maria Maggiore is a stunning basilica with many architectural and artistic treasures to discover, and not to mention you can enter for free.

The most impressive feature of the church is its impressive mosaics, which cover the apse, the triumphal arch, and the nave. These mosaics date back to the 5th century and are considered some of Rome’s finest examples of early Christian art.

The nave and altar at the front hold such detail and historical meaning. This was one of my favorite parts of the basilica, not only because you get a full view of what is inside but also because of how close you are to the arches, where you can appreciate the art. 

Details of the Nave

What is Under the Altar at Santa Maria Maggiore?

The celebrated relic known as the Holy Crib is in the crypt under the high altar. A statue of Pope Pius IX, who kneels before the ancient wooden pieces of the manger, serves as an example to the faithful who come to see the first humble crib of the Savior.

Sistine Chapel

Another must-see feature of Santa Maria Maggiore is the Sistine Chapel, which is located on the right side of the nave. Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one Sistine Chapel; they are named after the Pope who commissioned them, in this case, Pope Sixtus IV. This chapel is famous for its stunning frescoes, which were painted by some of the most important Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Perugino.

The ceiling of The Sistine Chapel

I also highly recommend exploring all of the basilica’s chapels, which are filled with beautiful artwork and sacred relics. ‘Cappella Paolina’, for example, has a painting of the Crucifixion by Guido Reni.

Another favorite is the Cappella Sistina, which houses a statue of Pope Pius IX, who was responsible for the basilica’s restoration in the 19th century; like this, you can find many other interesting works of art; each one is different and particular in its own way. 

Picture of the chapel

Outside of the chapels, you can find confession stands with different times and languages. They have many language options, such as English, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, etc.

Confession room sign


You can also visit the museum, which has paintings such as: ‘The Ascente on the Calvary’ by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as the Sodoma, and ‘The Madonna with the Child, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Catherine of Siena’ by Domenico Jacopo di Pace. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.


You can also visit the ‘Loggia of the Blessings’, the Room of the Popes, and the famous Bernini Staircase. To visit, you can email [email protected] .

Along with all the other experiences, they have recently opened archaeological excavations under the basilica. You must email [email protected] to reserve a slot. Visits are available from Monday to Friday. 

Finally, you should take the chance to climb the basilica’s bell tower, which offers stunning views of Rome’s historic center. The tower can be accessed from the side entrance on the right side of the basilica.

Remember, if you wear shorts that are not considered an appropriate length, you will not be allowed in.

Stairs that lead to the underneath of the altar.


After visiting Santa Maria Maggiore, you can explore the surrounding neighborhood, which is known as Monti. This district is one of the oldest and most charming in Rome and is home to many historic buildings, trendy boutiques, and traditional restaurants.

One of the most interesting landmarks in Monti is Colle Oppio Park, which is located just a few steps away from the basilica. This park is famous for its stunning views over the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and is a great place to relax after a busy day of sightseeing.

Another interesting attraction in the area is the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, located about 10 minutes from Santa Maria Maggiore. This church is famous for its statue of Moses by Michelangelo, considered one of the artist’s greatest masterpieces.

In conclusion, Santa Maria Maggiore is a must-see attraction. Its stunning mosaics, impressive architecture, and rich history make it one of the most important basilicas in the city. After visiting the basilica, I recommend you take a walk around Monti, especially if you want to have some delicious and traditional Italian food.

Did You Know That: 6 Interesting Facts 

  1. Every year on August 5th, a cascade of white petals falls from the ceiling of the basilica in memory of the miraculous snowfall.

  2. Although located inside the city of Rome, the basilica enjoys extraterritorial status, as it is owned by the Holy See.

  3. It’s said that if one were to walk through all four holy doors of the patriarchal basilicas in a single day during a jubilee, they would be granted an indulgence and absolved of all their sins.

  4. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four papal basilicas in Rome and the only one to have retained its paleo-Christian structures.

  5. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius and a wealthy Roman named John in a dream. She told them to build a church in her honor on the spot where they would find snow on the ground. The snow on Esquiline Hill was in the middle of summer, and there the church was built.

  6. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is home to many beautiful works of art, including intricate mosaics and frescoes. One of the most famous is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which was painted by Michelangelo’s teacher, Pietro Perugino, in the late 15th century.


  • According to legend, in 352 CE, the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius in a dream. She instructed him to build a church on the site of a miraculous snowfall. The next day, August 5th, Liberius woke to see the Esquiline hill covered in snow, in the exact shape of the perimeter of the basilica.

  • In 431 CE, the Council of Ephesus confirmed the belief that Mary was the true mother of God. One year later, the actual Santa Maria Maggiore was founded, becoming the first great church of Mary in Rome.

  • It was consecrated on the 5th of August, 434, by Pope Sixtus III.

  • Over the centuries, the church underwent numerous restorations and extensions by various popes, but it still retains the core of its original structure.

  • The 75-meter-tall bell tower was added in the 1370s and is the tallest in all of Rome.

  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, two large side chapels were erected by popes Sixtus V and Paul V.

  • In 1743, Ferdinando Fuga was commissioned to design a new facade, giving the church its current Baroque appearance.

  • Today, the basilica remains the largest Marian church in Rome and is considered an important artistic and religious site. It’s visited by locals, tourists, and pilgrims alike.
Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore map

Address: Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore , 00100 Roma, Italy · view larger map