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The Four Major Basilicas in Rome and How to Get There.

As an Italy Travel Specialist, I've been to Rome many times. And as a Catholic in Rome, I wanted to see as many churches as possible. There never seems to be enough time to see all of them no matter how long my stay in Rome is. If you are like me and want to see the best, then Rome's Four Major Basilicas is a good place to start.

St Peter's Baldachin (Bernini in bronze) over the High Altar

Visiting Rome's Four Major Basilicas can be a wonderful experience for anyone if you know how to plan properly. Here's a guide to help you plan your visit:

St. Peter's Basilica

Located in Vatican City, this basilica is of course the most popular of the Major 4. It is also the largest in the world and is the burial site of Saint Peter, the first Pope.

Artistic masterpieces housed within the basilica, including Michelangelo's Pieta, and Bernini's Baldacchino among the most famous.

Be sure to check out the Vatican Grottoes underneath the church, where several Popes including Pope John Paul II (and most recently - Pope Benedict) are buried. The grottos are free to enter, but if you want to see where St Peter is buried you have to reserve a time way (like a year) in advance.

Few people visit the free and very large Sacristy of St Peter's in Rome

And remember to dress appropriately - even for climbing the dome. I found this out the hard way and had to cover both my knees and my shoulders (thank goodness I always carry a scarf (or two) with me at all times.

Address: Via Conciliazioni, St. Peter's Square.

Open: Daily, Apr-Sep 7:00-7:00 PM;

Oct-Mar 7:00-6:30 PM(For occasional closings Click Here)

Treasury Museum: Apr-Sep 9:00-6:15 PM

Oct - Mar 9:00-5:15 PM

Grottoes: Apr-Sep 7:00-6:00 PM;

Oct-Mar7:00-5:00 PM

Admission: Free, but donations are appreciated.

Cupola (Cost: 10 Euros for the elevator, 8 Euros for stairs): Apr-Sep 8:00-6:00 PM;

Oct - Mar 8:00-4:45 PM.

Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura

Located outside the city center, this basilica is dedicated to St. Paul (hence the name: St. Paul Outside the Walls) and is one of the largest churches in Rome. Founded in the 4th century, it was rebuilt after a fire in 1823. Spanning 20 years, it was rebuilt just as it had been with the original Medieval cloister that survived the fire. Inside, mosaics of every pope from St. Peter to Pope Francis look down on visitors.

Central Nave of St Paul's Outside The Walls Rome

The facade of the basilica is adorned with beautiful mosaics and sculptures depicting scenes from the life of St. Paul. Inside the basilica, visitors can see the tomb of St. Paul, which is located beneath the main altar.

The cloister of the basilica is a peaceful oasis, with a tranquil garden and a well-preserved ancient well.

Address: Piazzale San Paolo, 1, 00146 Roma

Open: Daily 7 - 6:30 PM.

Admission: Free, but donations are appreciated.

The Cloister (cost is €4.00) is open daily 9 - 5:30 PM.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

This basilica is located near the Termini station and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The church stands on the site where snow fell on an August night in the 5th century. They still provide a reenactment on the night of August 4/5th where they drop flower petals through an open space in the ceiling and shoot foam outside for those on-lookers from the street.

It is the largest Marian church in Rome and it's the only Roman basilica to have preserved the original paleo-Christian structure. This basilica was founded by Pope Liberius between 352 and 366 but was rebuilt and restructured by Pope Sixtus III.

During the jubilee of 1300, it was renovated, and added were the transept and a new apse decorated with mosaics (Jacopo Torriti in 1295) and depicts the Incarnation of Mary and Stories of Mary.

The basilica also houses several chapels and tombs of important figures in Catholic history.

One of the basilica's most notable features is the Cappella Sistina (built by Pope Sixtus V), which boasts beautiful ceiling frescoes by the artist Michelangelo. Roman guides often refer to this monumental chapel as the "Other Sistine" or the "Twin Sistine Chapel."

Opposite the Cappella Sistina is the Borghese Chapel which houses The Salus Populi Roman icon that is at least a thousand years old, and perhaps the oldest icon in Rome.

The Salus Populi Roman icon in the Borghese Chapel

Address: Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, 00100 Roma RM, Italy

Open: Daily 7 - 6:45 PM

Admission: Free, but donations are appreciated.

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano

This basilica is the oldest and ranks first among the four major basilicas. It is located in the Lateran district. The original church on this site was built just after Constantine (empower of Rome) legitimized the Christian Church (4th Century).

St. John Lateran is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome. You may or may not know this, but the Bishop of Rome is in fact the Pope. This means that the Pope comes here to celebrate important Masses in Rome (which is different from the Vatican City). In the back of the church under the mosiac apse, you can find the Pope's chair. This is where he resides when celebrating Mass.

The Pope's Chair in St John Lateran of Rome

In 1929, the 'Lateran Agreement" was signed declaring the Vatican an independent state.

Address: Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, 4, 00184

Open: Daily 7 - 6:30 PM

Admission: Free, but donations are appreciated.

My suggestion is (and always has been) to take it slow. If you want to enjoy all four basilicas, I recommend one church per day. visit in the morning so you can stay as long as you want. visit every nook and corner. Lots of people walk right past the Tombs of the Popes (grotto) entrance in St. Peter's because they don't spend the time.

Remember to dress appropriately (knees and shoulders covered) and be respectful when visiting these Holy Sites. Enjoy your visit to Rome's Four Major Basilicas!

Have you been to all four? Which one is your favorite? Post in the comment section below.


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