The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore)—among the first churches in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary—sits on the summit of Esquiline Hill. An extraterritorial property of the Vatican, it is one of the city’s four major basilicas and has one of the best preserved Byzantine interiors in Rome.The Basics
Expanded and reworked over the centuries, the original nucleus of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore dates from the mid-fifth century. Tour inside to see fifth-century mosaics depicting Old Testament scenes, a reliquary said to contain a piece of baby Jesus' crib, an ancient icon of the Virgin Mary, and the tombs of Saint Jerome and artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Don't miss the Sistine Chapel in Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, named for Pope Sixtus V.
The basilica's location near Rome’s main Termini train station makes it easy to pair a visit with other top sights in Rome by joining a scooter, Segway, e-bike, or hop-on-hop-off bus tour.Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- You must wear modest attire covering your knees and shoulders to enter the church.
- Photography without flash is allowed inside the church.
- The basilica is not accessible to wheelchairs and strollers due to a flight of stairs at the entrance.
- A visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a must for those interested in early Christian art and architecture.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is located on the square of the same name; it's an easy walk from the Termini train station, which is also a bus and metro hub.When to Get There
If you want to visit Rome without the crowds, come October through April, although prepare for chilly weather. Visit in May or September for warmer weather without the crowds that flock June through August.Snow … in August?
According to legend, plans for the church—also known as Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snow)—were drawn by Pope Liberius in the snow that miraculously fell on this hilltop on Aug. 5 in the fourth century. Every year on that date, the miracle of the snow is commemorated with a cascade of white petals falling from the ceiling onto the altar, one of the most evocative religious events in Rome.