Farah Marini

Exploring Santa Maria in Trastevere

Immerse yourself in the historic charm of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of Rome's oldest churches, nestled in the picturesque Trastevere district.

Attraction Trastevere
Santa Maria in Trastevere Church, Rome


Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Rome. It is located in the lively and charming neighborhood of Trastevere, on the west bank of the Tiber river. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and has a rich history and artistic heritage. In this article, you will learn about the origins and legends of the church, the stunning mosaics and paintings that adorn its walls and ceilings, and the lively atmosphere that surrounds it.

Setting Expectations: Downsides and Time Considerations

Santa Maria in Trastevere is a popular attraction, so you may encounter crowds and queues during peak hours. The church is also an active place of worship, so you may have to wait for a mass or a ceremony to finish before entering. The church is open every day from 7:30 am to 9 pm, but the best time to visit is in the late afternoon or evening, when the golden mosaics shine with the light of hundreds of candles. You will need at least an hour to explore the church and admire its artworks, but you may want to spend more time if you are interested in its history and details.

Tips for your visit of Santa Maria in Trastevere

  • The Mosaics The church is famous for its stunning mosaics, dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. They depict scenes from the life of Mary and Christ, as well as saints and popes. The most impressive ones are on the facade and the apse of the church, but don't miss the smaller ones on the side chapels and the nave.
  • The Paintings The church also houses some remarkable paintings by famous artists, such as Domenichino, Cavallini, and Caravaggio. The most famous one is Caravaggio's Madonna of the Pilgrims, located in the Cappella Cerasi on the left transept. It shows a humble and realistic image of Mary and Jesus, surrounded by pilgrims who touch their feet.

Some other tips for your visit are:

  • Wear modest clothing that covers your shoulders and knees, as required by the dress code.
  • Respect the silence and the sacredness of the place, especially during mass or prayer times.
  • Don't forget to look up at the wooden ceiling, decorated with gold stars and coats of arms.
  • Enjoy the lively square in front of the church, where you can find street performers, musicians, and cafes.

Practical Information

Opening Hours: The church is open every day from 7:30 am to 9 pm.

How to Get There: You can reach the church by public transportation, using bus lines 23, 115, 125, 280, or tram line 8. The nearest stop is Piazza di San Cosimato. You can also walk from the city center, crossing the Ponte Sisto bridge.

Price: The entrance to the church is free, but you may want to leave a donation or light a candle.

Crowds: The church can get crowded during peak hours, especially on weekends and holidays. Try to avoid visiting between 10 am and 12 pm, or between 4 pm and 6 pm.

Weather Considerations: The church is suitable for visiting in any weather condition, but it may be more pleasant in spring or autumn, when the temperature is mild and the square is less crowded.

Photography: You are allowed to take photos inside the church, but without flash or tripod. Be respectful of other visitors and worshippers.

Accessibility: The church is accessible for wheelchair users, but there are some steps at the entrance and some uneven floors inside. You may need some assistance to access some areas.

Facilities: The church does not have any facilities such as toilets, lockers, or audio guides. You can find some public toilets and drinking fountains nearby.

Tours: You can join a guided tour of the church, which usually lasts about an hour and costs around 10 euros per person. You can book online or on site. You can also join a walking tour of the Trastevere neighborhood, which includes a visit to the church and other attractions.

Bringing Children: The church is children friendly, but you may want to keep them entertained with some stories or games related to the artworks or the legends of the church.

Bringing Pets: Pets are not allowed inside the church, but you can leave them outside in the square, where there are some benches and water bowls.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the history of Santa Maria in Trastevere?

    Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, and the first one dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was founded in the 3rd century by Pope Callixtus I, who built a house-church on the site of a former tavern for retired soldiers. The church was rebuilt several times, and the current structure dates back to the 12th century, when Pope Innocent II commissioned a Romanesque bell tower and a mosaic façade.

  • What are the main artistic features of Santa Maria in Trastevere?

    The church is famous for its mosaics, both on the exterior and the interior. The façade mosaic depicts the Virgin Mary with ten women holding lamps, symbolizing the wise and foolish virgins of the parable. The apse mosaic shows Christ and Mary enthroned, surrounded by saints and angels. The church also contains a 13th-century icon of Mary called Madonna della Clemenza, which is venerated by the faithful.

  • How can I visit Santa Maria in Trastevere?

    The church is located in the Trastevere district, on the west bank of the Tiber river. It is open daily from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm, and admission is free. You can reach it by bus (lines 23, 280, or N8), tram (line 8), or on foot from the city center. The church is also close to other attractions, such as Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, Piazza Trilussa, and Ponte Sisto.

Must see

  • The apse mosaic

    The apse mosaic is one of the most impressive artworks in Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was created in 1143 by Pietro Cavallini, a renowned Roman painter and mosaicist. The mosaic depicts Christ and Mary sitting on a throne, with a starry sky behind them. Christ holds a scroll with the words Ego sum lux mundi (I am the light of the world), while Mary holds a scepter and a book with the words Ego sum mater omnium (I am the mother of all). On their sides are ten apostles, four angels, and two figures representing Pope Innocent II and Cardinal Pietro Papareschi, who commissioned the mosaic.

  • The Madonna della Clemenza

    The Madonna della Clemenza is an ancient icon of Mary and Jesus, painted on wood in the Byzantine style. It is located in a chapel on the left side of the nave, protected by a glass case. The icon dates back to the 7th or 8th century, and it is one of the oldest images of Mary in Rome. According to legend, it was brought to Rome by Pope Gregory I after he saw it in a vision. The icon shows Mary holding Jesus on her lap, with both of them looking at the viewer with solemn expressions.

  • The Della Rovere Chapel

    The Della Rovere Chapel is a Renaissance masterpiece, decorated by some of the most famous artists of the time. It was built in 1488 by Cardinal Domenico della Rovere, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. The chapel features frescoes by Pinturicchio, depicting scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus. The ceiling is painted with golden stars on a blue background, creating an illusion of depth. The altar has a marble relief by Andrea Bregno, showing Christ's resurrection.

  • The octagonal fountain

    The octagonal fountain in front of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest fountains in Rome. It was originally built in 1472 by Pope Sixtus IV, who restored an ancient Roman aqueduct that supplied water to this area. The fountain has eight sides, each with a lion's head spouting water. The basin is decorated with four dolphins and four masks. The fountain is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike, especially at night when it is illuminated by the lights of the church.

If you visit Santa Maria in Trastevere, you should also take some time to explore the surrounding neighborhood, which is one of the most charming and lively in Rome. You can stroll along the narrow streets, admire the colorful buildings, visit the many shops and restaurants, and enjoy the atmosphere of this authentic Roman district.

Lesser known stories and Interesting Facts

  • The miracle of the oil

    According to a legend, the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere was built on the site of a miraculous event. In 38 BC, a stream of oil gushed out from the ground, where the church now stands. The Christians interpreted this as a sign of Christ's birth, which was about to happen. The oil was collected and used to light lamps in the church. The legend is commemorated by a plaque on the façade of the church, which reads Fons olei (Fountain of oil).

  • The tomb of Innocent X

    Innocent X was one of the most influential popes of the 17th century, who reformed the administration of the Church and supported the arts and sciences. He was also a patron of Santa Maria in Trastevere, where he restored the façade and the interior. He died in 1655, and his body was buried in a simple tomb in the left transept of the church. However, his heart was placed in a separate urn, which is displayed in a niche above his tomb. The urn is shaped like a flaming heart, symbolizing his love for God and the Church.

  • The mummy of Saint Apollonia

    Saint Apollonia was a Christian martyr who died in Alexandria, Egypt, in 249 AD. She was tortured by having her teeth pulled out, and then she threw herself into a fire rather than renounce her faith. She is considered the patron saint of dentists and those suffering from toothache. Her relics were brought to Rome in 1645, and are kept in a glass coffin under the altar of a chapel in Santa Maria in Trastevere. The coffin contains a mummified body dressed in white, with a golden crown and a palm branch.

  • The inscription of Pope Gregory IX

    Pope Gregory IX was one of the most important popes of the 13th century, who canonized Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic, launched two crusades, and founded the Inquisition. He was also a lover of literature and law, and he commissioned a new edition of the Decretals, which were collections of papal decrees on various matters. He left an inscription on one of the columns of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which reads: Gregorius nonus summus pontifex hoc opus iussit fieri (Gregory IX supreme pontiff ordered this work to be done).

  • The graffiti of Pasquino

    Pasquino was a famous satirist who lived in Rome in the 16th century. He used to write witty and biting verses against the corruption and tyranny of the popes and their officials. He would post his poems on a statue near Piazza Navona, which became known as Pasquino. His followers would imitate him by writing their own verses on other statues and walls around Rome. One of these places was Santa Maria in Trastevere, where you can still see some graffiti from that time on the right side of the church.

Historical Background

Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome, dating back to the 3rd century. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and stands on the site of a former house church, where, according to tradition, a fountain of oil sprang up on the day of Christ's birth. The church was rebuilt several times over the centuries, and its current appearance reflects the 12th-century Romanesque style, with a beautiful mosaic facade and a stunning interior decorated with golden mosaics and frescoes.

The church is also famous for its lively square, where locals and tourists gather to enjoy the atmosphere, the fountain, and the many bars and restaurants that surround it. The square is often the stage for cultural events, concerts, and festivals, making it one of the most vibrant places in Rome.

Nearby Restaurants

  • La Gensola A cozy trattoria that serves traditional Roman cuisine with a twist, such as pasta with artichokes and mint, or lamb chops with honey and rosemary.
  • Da Enzo al 29 A popular spot for locals and visitors alike, this restaurant offers authentic dishes like carbonara, amatriciana, and cacio e pepe, made with fresh ingredients and homemade pasta.
  • Freni e Frizioni A former garage turned into a trendy bar and restaurant, this place is ideal for aperitivo, with a buffet of vegetarian and vegan options, and a selection of cocktails and wines.

Nearby Attractions

  • Basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere A stunning church that houses the tomb of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, as well as some remarkable artworks by Pietro Cavallini and Stefano Maderno.
  • Villa Farnesina A Renaissance villa that showcases the artistic genius of Raphael, who painted some of his most famous frescoes here, such as The Triumph of Galatea and The Loggia of Cupid and Psyche.
  • Ponte Sisto A pedestrian bridge that connects Trastevere with the historic center of Rome, offering a panoramic view of the Tiber river and the city skyline.


Santa Maria in Trastevere is more than just a church; it is a symbol of the history, culture, and spirit of Rome. Whether you are interested in art, religion, or nightlife, you will find something to enjoy in this charming neighborhood. Don't miss the opportunity to visit this amazing attraction and discover its secrets.