St Peter’s Basilica
Arguably the most famous church in the world, St Peter’s is the big daddy of all Rome churches. This basilica is an unmissable sight during any visit to Rome, and tourists flock from every country in the world to drink in the spectacular view of the basilica’s humongous cupola. Located in the Vatican City, the smallest independent country in the world, St Peter’s acts as the headquarters of the entire Catholic Church. This church, with its 20,000-person capacity, is one of the two largest in the world. The basilica was designed by celebrated artist Michelangelo, and is one of the most famous examples of Renaissance architecture in existence. Home to the tombs of the popes and the treasury of church ornaments, the basilica’s interior is as magnificent as the outside. Make sure to take time to scale the 551 steps to the top of the cupola to enjoy a breathtaking panorama across the whole city.
St Peter’s Basilica, Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City, +39 06 6988 3731
The Sistine Chapel
An absolute wonder to behold, the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous sights in Europe and the world. Located inside the Vatican Museums, superb frescoes cover every inch of the walls here, with not a plain spot in sight. The exquisite detail in every aspect of the chapel’s decoration is simply jaw-dropping. Over 1,000 square metres of paintings retell the entire history of Man – with all the biblical tales from Creation right through to Man’s Fall. Painted by Michelangelo over the course of about four years, the 500-year-old ceiling is a true masterpiece of art, which is considered one of the world’s greatest treasures. Watch out for the long queues that stretch out into the distance from the entrance of the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica.
Atmosphere:Indoors, Photo Opportunity
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
Constructed in 1099, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo comprises several chapels, each more sumptuous than the last. This church is practically a showcase of the finest Renaissance art on earth, and is known as the place to find the greatest masterpieces painted by the likes of Caravaggio, Bernini, and Raphael. The basilica’s setting, on the elegant Piazza del Popolo, simply enhances the beauty that suffuses the entire building. The church has a fascinating history, and was originally built in the 2nd century to exorcise the ghost of hated Roman Emperor Nero, whom the locals believed was haunting the area.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy, +39 06 361 0836
Built around 118 AD, this building was originally a temple dedicated to all the Roman gods. In the 7th century the Pantheon was transformed into a church by early Christians. Entering through the immense bronze doors, you immediately sense the scale and importance of this iconic building. After 2,000 years since its completion, the Pantheon’s colossal dome remains the largest unreinforced dome ever created. The Pantheon is celebrated as the best-preserved building of the Roman Empire in existence, and so offers an unparalleled opportunity to gain an insight into the Ancient World. This structure houses the tombs of Italy’s most famous monarchs, as well as the nation’s beloved artist, Raphael. The Pantheon is most famous for the hole in its roof, which leaves the interior open to the elements. Many come to watch this perfectly circular beam of light move across the interior throughout the day, illuminating the lavish decoration and decadent displays of marble.
Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Italy, +39 06 6830 0230
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Dating back to around 350 AD, Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the most ancient churches in Rome. The church is famed for the dazzling Byzantine mosaics decorating the interior, which were created around the 12th century. The church houses many famous religious relics, including part of the Holy Sponge and the head of St. Apolonina. A beautiful octagonal fountain outside the church is a tranquil place to relax while soaking up the incredible sight of the Santa Maria church and the wonderful atmosphere of Rome’s Trastevere district.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
This jewel of a church is one of Rome’s most important. Soaring columns, gleaming marble, sparkling stained glass, and magnificent statues astound visitors as soon as they cross the threshold here at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. It’s said that the gold that glistens on the fabulous ceiling here was brought back by Columbus from the New World. Each year, on the 5th of August, the basilica plays host to the Miracle of the Snows celebration, which celebrates the legend of the church’s founding. As the story goes, the church is constructed on the site where, in 358 AD, snow miraculously fell in the summertime as predicted by the Virgin Mary, who communicated it to the then-Pope. Come and admire the jaw-dropping beauty of thousands of white petals being dropped from the ceiling during this iconic Roman celebration.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Though far smaller than the colossal basilicas of this list, the Santa Maria in Aracoeli church is a true gem. It is located at the peak of the Capitoline Hill, the most important of the seven hills Ancient Rome was found on. The 124-step staircase that leads to the church is known as the ‘stairway to heaven’, and rightly so. A remarkably plain brick exterior hides a treasure trove of lavish features, ornate decoration, and Catholic riches. A mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architectures, the church boasts of three stunning naves and 22 columns, each a different size as the columns were taken from various Ancient Roman buildings. One of the most awe-inspiring sights is the row of around 50 chandeliers in Santa Maria in Aracoeli which project dazzling rainbow reflections across the entire church. The most famous item here is the statue of the baby Jesus, carved from wood from an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Scala dell’Arcicapitolina, 12, Rome, Italy, +39 06 6976 3839