6 years, 9 months ago
There are 900 churches in Rome, but who has 900 days to explore and admire them all? With all eyes turned to the city that birthed modern Christianity, for the looming papal vote, let us highlight ten of the most beautiful, most historic and most important churches in Rome.
Cupalone di san pietro. By Giampaolo Macorig.
St. Peter’s Basilica
While we’re sure it’s a little inappropriate to use this analogy we’ll risk it anyway because St Peter’s Basilica really is the Godfather of churches in Rome and possibly throughout the world, not least because of the architectural and artistic dream team that worked on making Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano, the greatest Renaissance church in the world. While both the exterior and interior of the church are captivating, the church also serves as an alternative art gallery with Canova’s striking Monument to the Royal Stuarts, Bernini’s elaborate Papal Altar and in addition to his redesigning the world famous dome, Michelangelo’s famous Pietà sculpture that is now stored behind bulletproof glass as a result of a former incident in which poor Mary’s nose got chopped off with a hammer.
And if you were wondering what makes a church a Basilica as opposed to a cathedral, it’s because it holds superiority due to its architecture or historical significance. One such way is because a significant saint is buried there, which is famously the case here as the tomb of St Peter – the first Bishop of Rome – is one of the most sacred of holy sites that many thousands from all over the world go on pilgrimage to see.
By Luca Pedroni.
The Pantheon was not built as a Catholic church; it was built as a temple to the ancient Roman gods over 1800 years ago, when it also served as a sundial marking many occasions still recognised today like Summer Solstice. One of the best preserved Roman buildings on the planet, the Pantheon was offered to the Roman Catholic Church 600 years ago and is considered to be one of the most beautiful places to celebrate Mass on Christmas Eve.
By Giuseppe Moscato.
Basilica San Clemente
Famous for a fine collection of frescoes and a beautiful mosaic from the twelfth century, Basilica San Clemente can be found in prime tourist territory near the Colosseum. It boasts one of the most impressive altars in Rome and has a number of “hidden” churches downstairs that you can explore too.
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
One of the big four, the four Major Basilica of Rome that is, there’s been a church on the site of the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore since the 4th century. The current building – which is the largest of Rome’s churches dedicated to Mary – has been added to along the centuries, the current facade dating from the 18th century. Inside there are many features to marvel at, not least the detailed 16th century ceiling, which was created using gold leaf reportedly brought back to Europe from Christopher Columbus’ new world adventures.
Borromini’s white Baroque masterpiece’s full name is San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane – a nod to the four famous fountains found nearby. A peaceful church, it is a fine example of a highly-detailed external facade and puzzling geometric patterns inside, the most elaborate of which is to be found looking up at the inside of the dome.
By Giulio Menna.
Santa Maria della Pace
A short walk from Piazza Navona is this gem of a church where you can enjoy a trio of treats once inside its original 15th century door. There’s the Chigi chapel, named after one of Rome’s most historically famous families; Raphael’s famous frescoes “Four Sibyls receiving angelic instruction”, which dates back to 1514; and Bramante’s cloister, the first of many works that this famous Renaissance architect blessed Rome with.
Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza
This charming 17th century church should be sought out for a glance at its unique and intricate corkscrew spire. Another Borromini work of art, once inside you may feel like you’re trapped inside a delicately decorated jewellery box or hand-painted Easter egg. The name “La Sapienza”, which means knowledge in Italian, is another name often used for the University of Rome, which has had a chapel on the church’s site since the 14th century.
Santa Maria del Popolo
While it may seem a little non-descript from the outside, don’t choose the people watching of Piazza del Popolo over a quick visit inside this beautiful church that contains stunning gold Raphael frescos curving around the church’s dome and not one but two famous Caravaggio paintings.
San Luigi dei Francesi
The national church of France in Rome is home to not one or two but three Caravaggio paintings. One of these paintings – The Calling of St Matthew – is considered to be Caravaggio’s best and unlike many of his works in the Galleria Borghese you won’t need to pay an entry fee to see it.
By RWN Photography.
Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappucini
We’ve saved the weirdest for last with the crypts of Santa Maria dell Concezione needing to be seen to be believed. When you walk into this church the last thing you expect is to be standing on top of is the bones of 4000 dead Capuchin friars, and yet this is precisely what lines the crypts’ walls. Head downstairs, if you dare, to see it for yourself and you can find somewhat of an explanation in the museum that opened recently next door.
By How I See Life.
So from art to architecture, Cavana to Caravaggio and Borromini to bones there is much beauty, history and charm to be enjoyed in these the best churches of Rome. But if they weren’t enough, don’t forget there are at least another 890 to be found too.
Featured image by Stuck in Customs.