Rome is one of the world’s most historically and culturally packed cities, which has something or the other to offer to every kind of tourist visiting the city. There are over 900 churches in Rome and Vatican City, and the small chapels, if considered, can take the number as high as 1500. Rome became important in the religious world with the arrival of Christianity and the establishment of the Pope as an important religious leader. This led to major religious structures being constructed all over the city, which are now considered the jewels of Rome.
The Roman churches have a lot to offer even if you are not staunchly religious, the beautiful architecture and the mesmerizing artistic masterpieces will leave you spellbound. This makes the Italian capital and all of its legendary basilicas, churches and cathedrals worth visiting once in your lifetime. The long list of Roman churches for your next religious and cultural experience should have the seven pilgrimage churches, including the four major patriarchal churches. So here is a thoughtfully crafted list of the top 10 basilicas in Rome to guide you on your next visit to Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the most famous church among the four major Basilicas of Rome. The church was built under the patronage of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and to date stands as the pride of Rome. The last major renovation that was made to the present building was done in the 17th century, and it stands as it is to date. The Basilica is dedicated to the first bishop of Rome, St. Peter, who was also the first pope. It is also rumoured to be his burial ground making it one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It is a symbol of the Vatican for the people around the world and is certainly one of the best churches in Rome for your upcoming vacation.
The exquisitely stunning interior is what the Basilica is famous for around the world as it houses pristine renaissance art and architecture majorly designed by Michelangelo.
The magnificent dome above St. Peter’s tomb was also designed by him and is one of the top attractions the Basilica has to offer. There are more than 390 statues in the Basilica, including the statue of St. Peter and Moses. The Basilica also houses more than 100 tombs, with most of them belonging to former Popes. Other things to admire are the Baldachin of Bernini and the beautifully decorated chapel of the sacrament. To enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Rome, head to the cupola of the Basilica.
The magnanimous Basilica can house up to 20 thousand people at a time, and it’s a good idea to get a Skip the Line ticket before you plan your visit to the Basilica.
St. John Lateran Basilica, the oldest church in Rome, was built in the fourth century and was the first Basilica built by Emperor Constantine. This ancient Basilica is also the most prominent of the four major basilicas of Rome. This is the official cathedral of Rome which also houses the seat of the Pope. The church has been through the test of time, with natural calamities and human interactions altering its original appearance. The new Baroque style of the church is due to its 16th and 17th-century restorations. The inscription on the façade of the church reads that it is the mother of all churches of the world and, through time, has remained the episcopal church of the Pope.
The massive white exterior of the church looks exquisitely stunning, making this one of the best churches to visit in Rome. The holy sacrament alters, the mesmerizing ceilings, mosaics, arches, grand sculptures, and picturesque paintings inside the Basilica makes this a must-visit church in Rome for you to visit.
Santa Maria in Trastevere is a minor yet one of the oldest churches in Rome. On the exterior of the church is the grand mosaic of the Virgin Mary, which is complemented by an octagonal fountain outside the church. The fountain creates a wonderful and holistic ambience around the church, making it a good place to relax and enjoy the surroundings of the Trastevere district. The Basilica houses a number of 12th and 13th-century classics, which includes famous religious relics, part of the Holy Sponge and the head of St. Apolonia.
Pantheon is one of the best-preserved pieces of architecture from the Roman Empire. This was formerly a pagan place of worship which was later converted into a church when Christianity was popularized in Europe. It was renamed the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs in the 7th century. The martyrs here refers to the sacred bones which were removed from the catacombs and placed in the Basilica. Because of its architecture, the Pantheon is one of the most visited Basilicas. The Pantheon is one of the top churches in Rome and definitely a must-see place for anybody visiting Italy.
The popularity of the structure is due to its unique Roman architecture, which includes a one of a kind concrete dome that is the largest in the world. The Pantheon is well known for a hole in its roof, which creates a circular beam of light that moves across the interior of the structure throughout the day. This beam of light illuminates the interiors and all of its grandiose, including the lavish decorations and decadent displays of marble. This also houses the tombs of Raphael and other famous monarchs of Italy, making it one of the top attractions in Rome.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is one of the four major basilicas of Rome and is also the only church to have celebrated mass every day since the 5th century. This church is also the resting place of Lorenzo Bernini. One of its major attractions is the 75-meter tall Romanesque bell tower which houses five bells, and one of the bells is namely ‘Call for all the faithful’, which rings at 9 PM every day. This bell tower is the tallest in all of Rome, making it a famous tourist attraction. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is definitely one of the top churches in Rome that have also retained its original Christian structure.
Legend has it that a childless couple donated all their earthly possession in order to appease the Virgin Mary and asked her for a sign. The next day it miraculously snowed at the sight of the Basilica in the summertime, and it was later constructed there. On the 5th of August every year, the Basilica hosts the celebration of the Miracle of the Snows owing its origins to the legend. During the celebration, thousands of white petals are dropped to emulate the effect of snow, and this is a spectacular affair and something that makes this one of the best Basilicas to visit in Rome.
The construction of the exterior of the church was completed in the 18th century. The columns, the stained glass, the magnificent statues and the gleaming marble all reflect a different style of architecture incorporated in the stunning construction of the Basilica. The glimmering gold on the ceiling of the Basilica is said to be brought back by Columbus from the New World during his voyages.
This Basilica was built with soil that was imported from Jerusalem hence originating its name Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. It was built in the 4th century to house and curate the collection of relics brought to Rome from Jerusalem by the mother of Constantine, St. Helena. The beautiful frescoes and the Baroque style construction are a later addition that adds to the attractiveness of the Basilica and makes it one of the top churches in Rome.
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is the saying that perfectly describes this Basilica. The Basilica of San Clemente is named after the third Pope of Catholicism and is said to be one of Rome’s greatest underground attractions. The now standing church was built around the 12th century after its original building was demolished by the Normans in 1084. The Basilica San Clemente is a basilica that is one of its kind, and a chance to visit it should not be missed when in Rome.
The Basilica is a three-floor structure that isn’t evident from the outside and may deter tourists from visiting this gem of a place, but the interiors make up for the lacklustre exterior of the Basilica. The floors descend below ground level, and the lower you go, the deeper you travel into the history of the Basilica and Rome itself. The ground floor is where you’ll find the modern features of the Basilica, which is decorated with mesmerizing Byzantine mosaics. The first lower floor wasn’t discovered until the late 18th century, as it was covered with gravel around the year 1100. On this floor, you can find the architecture belonging to that era and experience how Rome was like during that period of time. On the lowest floor are the oldest remains of a Roman house built of brick which dates back to the first century and was later converted into a Mithraeum around the second or third century.
As it gets narrower on the lower levels of the church, it can get a tad bit claustrophobic and hence it is advised to consider this while visiting the Basilica. This Basilica is a place out of time itself, and to experience history first hand is something that should not be missed which makes this one of the top churches to visit in Rome.
The Basilica San Maria Del Popolo was built in 1099 because the people in the area thought that the place was haunted by Nero’s ghost, and building a church would get rid of the paranormal. The Basilica is situated in the northern part of Piazza Del Popolo, which is one of the most famous squares in Rome. The display of some of the finest Renaissance art makes Santa Maria Del Popolo one of the must-visit basilicas in Rome for all the art admirers.
The Basilica isn’t that historically significant, but it stores exquisite artworks by some of the most famous artists throughout history. The list includes masterpieces by the likes of Raphael, Bernini, Pinturicchio, Carracci and Caravaggio.
The Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, built in the 13th century, is one of the few Gothic churches in Rome. The Basilica is built over the ruins of three ancient temples, which includes the temples of the Egyptian goddess Isis, The Greco-Egyptian goddess Serapis and the Roman goddess Minerva, which gives the Basilica its present name. One of the best features of all the basilicas in Rome is their exquisite painted and ornate ceilings, and this Basilica is no exception. The decorations of the altar and the façade complement each other with the regal shades of blue; you certainly will be mesmerized.
Some of the relics found in the church can also be of importance for the Christian visitors, like a piece of wood from the cross and the nails of St. Thomas, who once tortured Jesus. The other relics that can be found in the Basilica include the Carafa Chapel built by Filippino Lippi, the statue of Christ the Redeemer by Michelangelo, the tombs of Leo X and Clement VII and the relics of St. Catherine of Siena, which lie below the main altar.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is in close proximity to both the Pantheon and the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Due to this, the Basilica is usually tranquil and quiet as it is lost in the shadow of the Pantheon. However, be sure to include this regal Basilica on your itinerary of the top churches in Rome.
Santa Maria Ara coeli means Santa Maria of Heaven’s Altar in English, and it was built in the 6th century. The entrance to the church is a 124 step climb which is also known as the ‘stairway to heaven. The exterior may appear plain, but the interior of the church makes up for the exterior as it is ornately decorated. In the 16th century, after the victory in the battle of La Panto, a gold ceiling was added as a token of celebration. There are numerous beautiful frescos, including Madonna and Child by Cavellini, which enhances the beauty of the church, making it one of the best basilicas in Rome.
A statue of Baby Jesus carved from the wood from an olive tree will certainly grab your attention in the church. The projections of rainbow reflections across the interior of the Basilica by the fifty chandeliers make this Basilica something right out of fantasy. You will find Romanesque and Gothic style architecture across the naves and the columns of the Basilica.
OTHER RECOGNIZABLE CHURCHES
The Minor Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls is one of the oldest churches in Rome and house the relics of various saints, including St. Lawrence, St. Stephan and St. Justin. It was commissioned by Emperor Constantine as it was believed to be the site of St. Lawrence’s martyrdom. The original frescoes that ornate the façade of the Basilica were lost in the Allied bombing of 1943.
St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is the second largest Basilica in Rome after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. It was completely destroyed in the fire of 1823. However, it was rebuilt and maintained its position as one of the four patriarchal basilicas of Rome. This Basilica was built as a shrine over the grave of Paul the Apostle in 324 AD.
It is located outside the city walls of Rome, but a visit there will be worth your time.
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere is one of the most tranquil churches in Rome, which was built back in 340 AD. The beautiful façade of the exterior of the Basilica is matched by the octagonal fountain in the Piazza, which complements the octagonal ceiling inside the Basilica. It is one serene Basilica in the heart of Rome where you can find peace of mind.
Sistine Chapel, located inside the Vatican museums, is one of the most famous Christian sites in the world. Its every inch is covered with frescoes which entail the story of the creation and fall of man. All of this was brought to life by Michelangelo 500 years ago.
This place is likely to be super crowded, and hence a VIP guided tour is recommended to you for your best experience.
- The basilicas are a place of worship, so make sure you’ve dressed appropriately in clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
- Be sure to book your tickets well in advance if needed, because some of these places can get extremely crowded.
- Make sure you maintain the decorum of the places of worship
- Book a guide for a better and well-informed experience.
- Visit the more popular sites early to avoid the crowds and for a better overall experience.
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