Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

Santa Maria Maggiore Rome Location, Tickets & Events

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When in Rome, visit this church! The Church of Santa Maria Maggiore Rome is known for its stunning interior, beautiful mosaics and marble columns. It is a papal basilica outside of the Vatican walls, and is therefore often visited by the Pope.

Let’s learn more here about the Basilica’s history in this guide.

The recent history of Santa Maria Maggiore

Following the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the Church of Santa Maria Rome was conceded to the Pope. Essentially, the Italian state agreed to recognize it as an “overseas” Vatican territory. Its bishops have diplomatic immunity – so it is a little bit like having another foreign embassy in Rome.

Origins of St Maria Maggiore

There is a bit of a legend about the founding of the church. Locals believe that a childless couple were looking for a way to spend their inheritance. They didn’t know what to do but they did know they wanted to leave a legacy in the name of the Virgin Mary.

One night, 2 things happened. The couple received a vision of the Virgin Mary. And the residents of Rome awoke to snow falling on top of the Esquiline Hill! The couple took it as a sign to build the basilica on the very spot at which the snow fell. You might hear the church being referred to as Our Lady of the Snows. That’s why!

Take a look inside this amazing Church

Basilica interior in Rome

St Peter’s Basilica is of course the most well known Vatican property around town. But the St Maria Maggiore certainly comes a close second. The one you see today was built in 431 AD – after the one donated by our couple lasted about 100 years – but repaired over time.

Inside you will be welcomed by a feast for the senses. The 13th century ceiling is gilded with gold and the mosaics – some of which date to the 3rd – are simply marvelous.

The Mosaics

The mosaics in this church deserve their own section. Adorning the triumphal arch, they are the churches best asset. Here, you can see scenes from the life of Jesus. The Apse Mosaic dates to the 13th century, here you can see images of Mary and Jesus amongst others.

Floor plan of the Church of Santa Maria Rome

This floor plan of the Basilica will help you get your bearings. From the stunning apse to the marble columns, read up in advance to work out what you are going to see.

Floor plan Church Santa Maria Rome

The Exterior of the Santa Maria Maggiore Architecture

Since its 3rd century build, and subsequent restorations over time, the church has undergone changes. It is now an interesting mix of architectural features, depending on when the work was done.

  • The Bell Tower is visible to those outside in the square. If you can, climb it! It offers one of the best views over Rome!
  • Huge marble columns are believed to have come from the original church, or even perhaps from another older Roman building
  • The church faces the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore
  • Outside it stands a huge Marian column. The church itself stands at 75 metres high and is 80 metres wide.

What to see in Santa Maria Maggiore

Church of Santa Maria Maggiore

Cappella Sistina and Crypt of the Nativity

Below the altar is a sight many will want to see. In the Crypt of the Nativity lies – it is claimed – wood from Jesus’ crib! And don’t be confused if someone points you to the Sistine Chapel here – the Santa Maria also has one! Saint Jerome is also buried here – he’s the guy that translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century AD.

Borghese Chapel and Salus Populi Romani

The icon of Salus Populi Romani is located here, and is rumoured to have been created by St Luke! The Borghese Chapel – named after the Pope with the same name – is shaped like a Greek cross. A beautiful dome is supported by 4 huge pillars.

Work of arts

Don’t just get awed by the architecture and stunning interior. There is also a very worthy collection of art. Apart from the Salus Populi – which is a stunning example of the Virgin and Child icon you will find much more. The Pauline Chapel frescoes by Guido Reni are worth a look, as is the statue of Pius the IX, amongst others.

Famous Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore burials

Santa Maria Maggiore triumphal arch inside

Lots of famous religious and public figures rest in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. One of the most famous – Gian Lorenzo Bernini – left behind an amazing collection of works. (Check some of them out in the Galleria Borghese). Of course, there are also quite a few Popes chilling out here. Pope Nicholas IV and Pope Sixtus V are amongst the long list.

Santa Maria Maggiore Events

Visiting Santa Maria Maggiore Christmas Mass

This is one of the most famous events the church holds. The nativity scene is perhaps the best loved, and definitely the most beautiful. Don’t expect much excitement at the very traditional mass, however the candlelight, music and singing will certainly warm your heart.

Snow Fall – 5th August

Perhaps a random time of year to celebrate the snow fall that claims to be the origin of this church. Visit on the 5th August and you will get to see white rose petals being thrown from the heights to the ground below. The church publishes the calendar for this event, and others, online here.

Why visit?

Basilica Saint Mary Major

The church is an interesting place to visit for many reasons, we could hardly pick just three.

We gave it a go though:

  • the mosaïcs. ‘Nuff said.
  • the interesting experience of being on Vatican territory, without being on Vatican territory
  • the Baby Jesus crib. Absolute must visit.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore tickets

Good news if you are on a budget. You do not need tickets! You can of course make a donation to the church at the entrance. This is a working church, so if mass is on you may have to wait.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore hours

Days Hours
Monday - Saturday 7am - 7pm
Sunday 9am - 12pm

Open every day from 7am until 7pm, although it will likely close at 6pm in the winter. On Sundays and other feast days the church will be open from 9am to 12pm.

How to get to Church of Santa Maria Rome

Take the metro! Line A or B run there from Termini station. It is about a 10 minute walk to the Esquiline Hill. Head straight for the beautiful square.

Affordable Restaurants near Santa Maria Maggiore Rome

There are restaurants a plenty all around! For a quick bite within a stone's throw of the cathedral, try Casa Maria. Serving up pizza and pasta dishes, it is the perfect lunch spot. If you need a quick takeaway between sights, Ristoranti Leonetti on Via Farini hits the spot. At around €10 a pizza, it’s great for those on the move.

Hotels near Santa Maria Maggiore Rome

Vinci House hotel

Perhaps you want to say near to the action and enjoy the view of Santa Maria Maggiore with a quick walk? Pick a hotel nearby and enjoy the scenery!

The Vinci House guest house is just 0.2 kilometres away. Here, enjoy the beautifully renovated surroundings. Private rooms and bathrooms in this small guest house mean you will have a peaceful experience. Rooms start at about €130.

The Gemme di Roma is another option. Rooms here include a lovely breakfast. The hotel is situated just a 5 minute walk from the Santa Maria Maggiore Cathedral. The pleasant colour themed rooms start from just €100.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Where is Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome?

The cathedral is located on the Esquiline Hill, in the Piazza Santa Maggiore.

How old is Santa Maria Maggiore?

The current church dates to the 3rd century, the original dated to a century prior.

Does basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore have a church store?

Yes! The little gift shop attached to the church is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.

How much time to visit basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore?

You should leave up to one hour to explore this much loved attraction in Rome.

What saints are on top of Santa Maria Maggiore?

On the top of the Santa Maria Maggiore you will see the statues of popes who oversaw different stages of renovations of the church.

When was Santa Maria Maggiore built?

The current structure was finished in the 3rd century.

Who made the plans for the Santa Maria Maggiore?

Ferdinando Fuga - an Italian architect - is credited with designing the building.


This is one of Rome’s best rated places to visit! It’s a great place to check out if you have an hour or 2 to spare, especially as it is free to enter. Once you are done here, why not check out the Vatican City attractions within the Vatican city walls.

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