Chiara Bianchi

Exploring Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Discover the architectural splendor and rich history of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, a must-visit attraction in Rome's Monti district.

Attraction Monti
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome


The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four major basilicas in Rome and one of the oldest churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is a stunning example of early Christian architecture, art, and history. In this article, you will learn about the origins, the features, and the treasures of this magnificent church.

Setting Expectations: Downsides and Time Considerations

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is a popular attraction for pilgrims, tourists, and locals alike. It can get crowded during peak hours, especially on Sundays and religious holidays. You may have to wait in line to enter the church or to see some of the artworks inside. The basilica is also undergoing restoration works, so some parts may be closed or covered by scaffolding.

To fully appreciate the beauty and the history of the basilica, you will need at least an hour or two. You may want to plan your visit in advance and avoid the busiest times. You can also book a guided tour or an audio guide to learn more about the details and the stories behind the church.

Tips for your visit of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

  • Dress appropriately: As a place of worship, the basilica requires visitors to dress modestly. You should cover your shoulders, knees, and chest. You may be denied entry or asked to wear a cloak if you are not dressed properly.
  • Don't miss the mosaics: The basilica is famous for its stunning mosaics that date back to the 5th and 13th centuries. They depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as the life of the Virgin Mary. You can find them on the walls, the ceiling, and the apse of the church.

Another tip is to visit the basilica at night, when it is illuminated by lights. You will see it in a different perspective and enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere.

Practical Information

Opening Hours: The basilica is open every day from 7:00 am to 6:45 pm. The museum and the treasury are open from 9:30 am to 6:15 pm.

How to Get There: The basilica is located on Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, near Termini station. You can reach it by metro (line A, stop Vittorio Emanuele or line B, stop Cavour), by bus (lines 40, 64, 70, 75, 170), or by tram (line 5 or 14).

Price: The entrance to the basilica is free, but you will need to pay a small fee to access the museum (€3), the treasury (€5), or the crypt (€2). You can also buy a combined ticket for €8 that includes all three.

Crowds: The basilica can get very busy during peak hours, especially on Sundays and religious holidays. You may want to avoid visiting between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm or between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm.

Weather Considerations: The basilica is open all year round, regardless of the weather. However, you may want to visit during spring or autumn, when the temperatures are mild and pleasant.

Photography: You are allowed to take photos inside the basilica, but you should not use flash or tripod. You should also respect the silence and the prayer of other visitors.

Accessibility: The basilica is accessible for wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility. There are ramps, elevators, and adapted restrooms available.

Facilities: The basilica has a gift shop, a bookstore, a cafeteria, and a cloakroom. You can also find public restrooms and drinking fountains nearby.

Tours: You can book a guided tour or an audio guide to learn more about the basilica and its artworks. The tours are available in different languages and last about an hour. You can also join a free tour offered by the volunteers of the basilica every day at 10:00 am, 11:30 am, 2:00 pm, and 3:30 pm.

Bringing Children: The basilica is a family-friendly attraction that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. You can find activities and games for kids in the museum and the treasury. You can also borrow a stroller or a baby carrier from the cloakroom.

Bringing Pets: Pets are not allowed inside the basilica, except for guide dogs or service animals.

These details are subject to change; please check the official website for the latest information

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the history of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Trastevere?

    The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, dating back to the 4th century. It was built on the site of a former house-church founded by Pope Callixtus I in the 3rd century, and later enlarged by Pope Julius I in the 4th century. The church has been restored and renovated several times over the centuries, and contains many artistic treasures, such as the mosaics by Pietro Cavallini and the icon of Salus Populi Romani.

  • How can I visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Trastevere?

    The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Trastevere is open to visitors every day from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. You can also attend the liturgical celebrations, which are held daily at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm. The church is located in Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, in the heart of the Trastevere district. You can reach it by bus (lines 23, 280, H), tram (line 8) or walking from the city center.

  • What are the main attractions of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Trastevere?

    The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Trastevere has many artistic and architectural features that make it worth a visit. Some of the highlights are:

The façade, which dates back to the 12th century and has a Romanesque style. It is decorated with mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus.

The bell tower, which is the tallest in Rome and was built in the 12th century. It has five floors and a pyramidal spire.

The interior, which has a nave and two aisles separated by columns. The ceiling is coffered and gilded, and the walls are covered with frescoes from different periods.

The apse, which has a stunning mosaic from the 13th century by Pietro Cavallini. It depicts the Coronation of the Virgin and scenes from her life.

The icon of Salus Populi Romani, which is venerated as one of the oldest and most miraculous images of Mary in Rome. It is located in the Borghese Chapel, which was designed by Flaminio Ponzio in the 17th century.

Must see

  • The Crypt of the Nativity

    The Crypt of the Nativity is located under the main altar of the basilica. It contains a relic of the Holy Crib, where Jesus was born according to tradition. The relic was brought to Rome by Pope Theodore I in the 7th century from Bethlehem. The crypt also has a statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before the crib, and a painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds by Francesco Mancini.

  • The Sistine Chapel

    The Sistine Chapel is a side chapel of the basilica, named after Pope Sixtus V who commissioned it in the 16th century. It is decorated with frescoes by Cesare Nebbia and Giovanni Guerra, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament. The chapel also contains the tombs of several popes, such as Sixtus V, Clement VIII and Paul V.

  • The Paoline Chapel

    The Paoline Chapel is another side chapel of the basilica, named after Pope Paul V who built it in the 17th century. It is adorned with marble sculptures by Alessandro Algardi, representing St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua. The chapel also has a painting of the Assumption of Mary by Guido Reni, and a reliquary with the chains of St Peter.

  • The Museum of the Basilica

    The Museum of the Basilica is located in the former sacristy of the basilica. It displays various artworks and objects related to the history and devotion of the basilica, such as paintings, sculptures, vestments, reliquaries and liturgical books. The museum also has a collection of presepi, or nativity scenes, from different countries and periods.

Lesser known stories and Interesting Facts

  • The Miracle of the Snow

    According to a legend, the basilica was built on the site where snow fell miraculously on August 5, 352, during the pontificate of Pope Liberius. The pope and a Roman patrician couple had a vision of the Virgin Mary asking them to build a church on the snow-covered hill. The basilica is also known as Santa Maria delle Neve (Saint Mary of the Snow) and celebrates this event every year with a shower of white petals from the ceiling.

  • The Salus Populi Romani

    The basilica houses one of the most venerated icons of the Virgin Mary in Rome, called the Salus Populi Romani (Health of the Roman People). The icon is attributed to Saint Luke the Evangelist, who is said to have painted it on a wooden table from the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth. The icon was crowned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1838 and is carried in procession on various occasions.

  • The Mosaics

    The basilica boasts some of the most impressive mosaics in Rome, dating from the 5th to the 13th centuries. The mosaics depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments, such as the creation of Adam and Eve, the annunciation, the nativity, and the adoration of the Magi. The mosaics are rich in symbolism and artistic expression, reflecting the theological and cultural trends of their times.

  • The Sistine Chapel

    The basilica has its own Sistine Chapel, named after Pope Sixtus V, who commissioned it in 1585. The chapel is decorated with frescoes by some of the most renowned Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Perugino. The frescoes depict scenes from the life of Mary, such as her presentation at the temple, her coronation as queen of heaven, and her assumption into glory.

  • The Holy Crib

    The basilica contains a relic that is believed to be part of the manger where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The relic is kept in a crystal reliquary under the main altar, where a statue of Pope Pius IX kneels in reverence. The relic is exposed to public veneration on Christmas Eve and during the Christmas season.

Historical Background

The basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the oldest and most important churches in Rome. It is one of the four papal basilicas, along with Saint Peter's, Saint John Lateran, and Saint Paul Outside the Walls. It is also one of the seven pilgrim churches that medieval pilgrims visited during their journey to Rome.

The basilica was founded in the 4th century, under Pope Liberius, who dedicated it to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The original church was enlarged and embellished by successive popes and patrons over the centuries, resulting in a harmonious blend of different architectural styles and artistic elements. The basilica has witnessed many historical events, such as papal coronations, councils, synods, and canonizations.

The basilica is also a treasure trove of art and culture, containing many masterpieces of painting, sculpture, mosaic, and reliquary art. The basilica is especially renowned for its Marian devotion, as it hosts several shrines and images dedicated to Mary under various titles and invocations. The basilica is also a place of prayer and worship, where liturgical celebrations and musical concerts are regularly held.

Nearby Restaurants

  • La Carbonara A traditional Roman trattoria that serves classic dishes such as carbonara, amatriciana, cacio e pepe, and saltimbocca. The restaurant is cozy and friendly, with wooden tables and checkered tablecloths. It is located on Via Panisperna, a few minutes walk from the basilica.
  • Trattoria Monti A family-run restaurant that specializes in regional cuisine from the Marche region, such as vincisgrassi, a rich lasagna with meat sauce and bechamel, and tortello al rosso d'uovo, a ravioli filled with ricotta and egg yolk. The restaurant is elegant and refined, with white tablecloths and paintings on the walls. It is located on Via di San Vito, near the basilica.
  • Pizzeria Ai Marmi A popular pizzeria that offers thin and crispy pizzas with various toppings, such as margherita, capricciosa, diavola, and quattro formaggi. The pizzeria is casual and lively, with marble tables and paper napkins. It is located on Viale Trastevere, a short tram ride from the basilica.

Nearby Attractions

  • The Colosseum The most iconic monument of ancient Rome, where gladiators, wild animals, and criminals fought for the entertainment of the public. The Colosseum is a marvel of engineering and architecture, with a complex system of arches, columns, and vaults. It is located on Via dei Fori Imperiali, about 15 minutes walk from the basilica.
  • The Trevi Fountain The largest and most famous fountain in Rome, where visitors throw coins to make a wish. The fountain is a masterpiece of baroque art, with a majestic facade depicting Neptune, the god of the sea, surrounded by tritons and horses. It is located on Piazza di Trevi, about 20 minutes walk from the basilica.
  • The Pantheon The best-preserved temple of ancient Rome, dedicated to all the gods. The Pantheon is a stunning example of Roman engineering and design, with a massive dome that has an oculus in the center, allowing natural light to enter. It is located on Piazza della Rotonda, about 25 minutes walk from the basilica.


The basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Rome. It is not only a beautiful and historic church, but also a place where you can admire some of the finest art and culture of the Eternal City. Whether you are interested in religion, history, or art, you will find something to inspire you at this magnificent basilica.