Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore

"Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore" submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Wednesday 11th January 2012

Basilica of St. Maria Maggiore, Italy

One of the most important of the Roman churches dedicated to Madonna was built after the council of Efeso who, in 431, sanctioned the dogma of Maria as a Holy Mother. According to the legendary tradition, the church was built in a place where a miraculous snow fell on 5 August 356. Here there is an important trail of each century: the cosmatesque floor belong to 12th century a new Apse was erected a little backwards at the end of 13th century, so creating the Transept decorated with paintings. In 14th century the Bell Tower was built and completed during 15th century, time where the building of St. Michele Chapel belong. At the end of 400 the richest ceiling of the nave was carried out. According to the tradition it was decorated with the first gold loading from America, a gift of the Spanish queen Isabel.

Radical interventions of the basilica were promoted by the Pope Sisto V and Paolo V, between 16th and 17th century. To them we owe the two side chapels actually called Sistina and Paolina. The last big support was due to Ferdinando Fuga, the architect from Florence who remade the façade in 18th century, so creating one of the best examples of the so called Roman Baroque. This façade goes overlapping the ancient one of which it still keeps the original decoration and the mosaic of 13th century. The inside of the basilica still keeps an aspect close to the original one: a huge space with 2 aisles and a nave which ends up in the Apse preceded by a Triumphal Arch. In the apse there is the beautiful mosaic dating back the end of 13th century. The full relief frescos on the transept, representing figures of prophets, are attributed to Cavallini, Cimabue and the young Giotto. From the right aisle it is possible to enter the baptistry, the sacristy and the Chapel of St. Michele that still keeps a trail of the frescos attributed to Piero della Francesca.

The big Chapel Sistina in the right aisle, was carried out at the end of 16th century by Domenico Fontana and was decorated with frescos by artists of the late Roman Manierism; here there is an ancient Crib Oratory. The decoration of the sculpture was carried out by Arnolfo di Cambio. Outside the chapel, on the floor there is a simple Grave Slab of the great Bernini's family, under which the great Gian Lorenzo was buried too. In the right aisle, symmetric to the Chapel Sistina and magnificent as well, there is the Chapel Paolina, designed at the beginning of 17th century. The Chapel Paolina has a higher quality of paintings, masterpieces among the others by Cavalier D'Arpino, Guido Reni. In the Chapel Paolina some of the members of Borghese's family, among which Paolina Borghese, sister of Napoleon I, were buried. In the left aisle it is worth to admire the scenery of Chapel Sforza with elliptical layout erected by Giacomo dalla Porta over Michelangelo's project, around the second half of 16th century.

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