No other city in the world has so many churches as Rome. The capital of Italy, in fact, is home to about a thousand places of worship from any religion, although mostly Christian.
Scattered along the streets, the alleys and the squares of the historic centre (literally at every corner!) are churches and basilicas of all shapes and sizes. Some of those monuments represent true masterpieces of art and architecture.
Since the birth of Christianity, the churches of Rome recount the history of architecture with examples of early Christian structures, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style. Often, in their interior are preserved artistic treasures of inestimable value, from ancient mosaics to frescoes, made by the greatest artists in the world, such as Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio and Canova.
So, here's a list - made by ItalyXP - of the 5 (+1) greatest and most famous churches to visit during your trip to Rome!
Symbol of the Vatican City, is the largest of the four papal basilicas of Rome and is the seat of the Pope. The construction of this imposing basilica began in 1506 and ended 120 years later, in 1626: the work was initially entrusted to Donato Bramante, but over time many architects (among the greatest at the time) were interested in the project: Raffaello, Michelangelo, Bernini and many others.
This papal basilica is one of the largest buildings in the world. Here's a bit of numbers: the structure is over 218 meters long, about 134 meters high, and it has a total area of 23,000 square meters; in its interior, along the aisles, there are as many as 45 altars and 11 chapels, which houses many priceless treasures of Italian architects and artists.
But the thing that makes this church unique is its immense dome, symbol of the basilica and symbol of the city of Rome itself. Apparently, it was built in just two years by Giacomo Della Porta on a project of Michelangelo. To visit the dome you must climb 537 steps, but once at the top you can enjoy a wonderful view that will repay you for all your efforts! To complete the majesty of the Saint Peter's Basilica is a magnificent square (the Saint Peter’s Square), with its impressive colonnade built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
A visit to this basilica in the centre of the Vatican City is almost a prerequisite for any visitor in Rome: you can book a vatican private guided tour with skip-the-line tickets, as well as a vatican small-group tour and a vatican group tour.
The Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran is one of the first buildings erected by Emperor Constantine “The Great” to Christian worship. The building is also known as the cathedral of Rome and the “mother of all churches in the world”. Over the centuries it was destroyed and rebuilt several times until the final, radical restructuring in the Baroque period thanks to the work of architect Borromini.
The church consists of five naves; in the middle there are the statues of the 12 apostles, while in one of the side chapels is preserved a true masterpiece of marble sculpture: the Pietà by Antonio Montauti. In the basilica, also, were buried 22 popes.
The Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran is part of a larger complex consisting of the Lateran Palace, the Cloister and the Lateran Baptistery. You can visit this extraordinary complex with a guided tour through which you will learn a lot about art and about the history of Christianity in Rome.
The large square in front of the church, Piazza di Porta San Giovanni, has became very famous because since 1990 hosts the traditional "May 1st Concert" , in honor of the International Workers’ Day, attended by many Italian and international artists. The event gathers every year thousands of young people who come from all over Italy.
Along the steep steps of Via San Francesco di Paola, you can reach a charming square on which stands the imposing 16th century façade of the basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli. The building dates back to the Imperial age, and it was built in the 5th century by order of Eudoxia, wife of Emperor Valentinian III.
The original function of the basilica was to guard a precious relic: the chains used by Saint Peter during his imprisonment in Jerusalem, and then in Mamertine Prison in Rome. Over time the church has undergone several restorations, but the relic has never changed place: it is located under the main altar and is exposed to the visitors on August 1st of each year.
Further, the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli houses another important treasure, which has made it famous and attracts visitors from all over the world. In its interior, in fact, you can admire a masterpiece of the 16th century: the marble statue of Moses, sculpted by Michelangelo in 1513 to adorn the tomb of Julius II. The sculpture of the prophet is majestic and intriguing, but above all extremely realistic! So realistic that it is said that Michelangelo, once the sculpture was finished, slammed the knee of the marble figure with a hammer and asked him, “Why don’t you speak?”.
Make sure to don’t miss such a masterpiece, and join a tour of the churches & basilicas of Rome!
The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (in Italian: Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura), is one of the four papal basilicas of Rome; the second largest after the Saint Peter’s Basilica (n°1 on this list).
The church stands on the site which has been traditionally referred to as the burial place of the apostle Paul, who was beheaded by Emperor Nero in a place situated about 3 km from the basilica.
The first structure was built in the Imperial time, but the influx of pilgrims was so intense that it has been necessary to tear it down and erect a much more imposing building, consisting of five naves supported by 80 columns. Over the centuries the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was enriched with enchanting works of art, chapels, a ring of fortifications, golden mosaics, a cloister and a wonderful entrance door made of 54 silver panels. One of the many jewels of the basilica is currently the magnificent porch, located in the forecourt, which is supported by 150 columns.
The site falls within the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. One more reason to visit this incredible basilica, even through a comfortable guided tour by car!
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest church in Rome dedicated to the cult of the Virgin Mary, and is also among the better preserved ones over the centuries. It is located on the summit of the Esquiline Hill and even in this case, as often happens in Rome, the construction of the building took place on the site of another existing church.
However, the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is the only church in Rome to have preserved the primitive early Christian structure, subsequently enriched by many new construction financed by a wealthy Roman patrician named Giovanni. Legend says that Giovanni, with his wife, having no children, decided to dedicate a church to the Virgin Mary that appeared to them in a dream during the night between Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th on August 352AD. Apparently, the Virgin Mary had informed them that a miracle would show them the place on which to build the church… Even Pope Liberius had the same dream and, the next day, he went to the Esquiline Hill that was completely covered with snow that day. The pope himself traced the perimeter of the building and the church was built at the expense of Giovanni and his wife.
Even today, every year, on August 5th recreates the miracle of snow with a special celebration during which, from the top of the basilica, are released into the air of white petals that produce a really impressive effect. If you want to know more about those fascinating legends, you should definitely visit the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore through a guided tour.
Despite being located between the Colosseum and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (n° 2 on this list), this Roman minor basilica is one of the lesser-visited places in Rome.
The Basilica of Saint Clemente is structured on three floors of different eras: the lowest level is a complex underground set of rooms connected to a 1st-century mithraeum, which is a part of a sanctuary of the mystery cult of Mithras.
Above this floor, it was built the first Christian church during the 4th century AD. After being heavily damaged by the Normans in 1084, the structure has been renovated in baroque style, as witnessed by the medieval frescoes.
On the first floor is the current basilica, whose interior is embellished by the frescoes on the ceiling and by the splendid apse mosaics. Visiting the Basilica of Saint Clemente means retracing 20 centuries of history: an eXPerience we definitely recommend!