One of the things that surprised us most in Rome was the number of basilicas and churches. You can’t go five blocks without seeing one. Since our hotel was 100 meters away, the one we saw each day was the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
This article gives you all the information you need to plan your visit to the basilica, as well as a summary of our experience.
A brief history of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Papal Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is an important Catholic building in Rome as it is one of the four major basilicas in the Italian capital.
Its construction began in the 5th century and the last important works date back to the 18th century. The dominant style is paleochristian and baroque.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore houses an icon, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is considered the protector of the city’s inhabitants and received a canonical coronation from Pope Gregory XVI in the 19th century.
If you want more information on the historical part, I invite you to go to the website Vatican.va. Indeed, even if the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is in Rome and not in the Vatican, it belongs to the Holy See. The Wikipedia page of the basilica is also very complete.
Where is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore?
The basilica is in a square that bears its name: Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore.
It is only a few hundred meters from the Roma Termini train station and a short walk northeast of the Colosseum.
Another small square is located behind the basilica. It offers another view of the building, but it was dirty and not very well frequented.
Who can enter the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore?
All persons who respect the internal rules of the Basilica may enter the building. Catholicism is an open religion. So no matter where you come from or what your religion is, you have the right to go into the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Besides, and like us, many tourists enter to admire the beauties of the basilica without being believers.
But, don’t forget that you are entering a basilica and that you must respect the “rules”. Thus, you must remove your cap, not talk on the phone, cover your shoulders and lower legs.
However, this is only the theory. In practice, the prohibition to enter seems to be given to the head of the tourist. We saw women in skirts and cleavage or men in shorts accepted, while Amelie was given a remark for a partially uncovered shoulder. As a safety precaution, bring a shawl or cardigan to wear before entering the basilica.
How much does it cost to enter the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore?
Admission is free, as it is for all the churches and basilicas in Rome. There are several places where you can leave an offering, but it is not mandatory.
What are the opening hours of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore?
The Basilica is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Of course, the visit is possible except when there are religious services. You should not wander around and take pictures while there is a religious service in progress…
The Catholic religion being very practiced in Rome and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore being an important religious place, many people attend the services, especially on Sundays. If you want to attend a mass in Rome, this is the right place to do it.
Even though the basilica is closed at night, its night lighting is a must see if you are in the area.
Visit to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore: our experience
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was the first visit we made once we arrived in Rome. Indeed, staying at the Amalfi hotel located in the vicinity, its discovery lent itself well to our desire to walk a little after a day of transportation.
The square where the basilica is located is not big and there is a lot of traffic (and Italians love to honk). So, you’ll probably do what we did: don’t linger in the square, take a few pictures and head for the entrance.
With the impressive amount of monuments in the city, the renovation work in Rome is considerable. At the time of our visit, the exterior of the Papal Basilica was a grayish color, indicating the need for a refreshment in the coming years.
Security is important in Rome and at the entrance to the basilica there were two military and two police officers, then two carabinieri at the exit. The security check (looking in the bag, passing a metal detector) was quick, as it was late afternoon and tourists were already becoming scarce.
Visiting a basilica with so few people is very pleasant, even if you always have selfie aficionados who stand in front of sacred objects in strange poses…
Rather than telling you what I saw, discover it in pictures. Between the ceilings, the sculptures, the nave, you can admire centuries of history. If you are not used to visiting basilicas, the height of the ceiling and the quantity of things to see will be a real surprise.
The basilica is obviously magnificent and we enjoyed visiting it, but it did not have on us the “shock” effect felt when entering St. Peter’s Basilica or St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs Basilica.