Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four papal basilicas of Rome and is also Vatican territory. Legend has it - based on a few lines in an old document - that it was built at the top of the Esquiline Hill because of a dream. (Excavations under the present building have found the remains of Roman walls, important 2nd and 3rd century AD objects and some evidence of the earliest church on the site). In this dream Liberius, a 4th century pope, was visited by an angel who told him to build a church on the top of a hill where snow would fall the next day. This was in the middle of August. The Pope woke up and saw snow on the top of the Esquiline Hill. On further investigation Liberius found that the owner of the land had had the same dream and so the church was built there. Every August 5th the event is commemorated with a service in the basilica when white flower petals float down from the ceiling.
Santa Maria Maggiore is both medieval and Baroque in style. From the front it can be observed that the newer, baroque facade is built around the older one. The campanile is 14th century Romanesque and is the highest bell tower in Rome. The belfry contains five bells, one of which is called 'La Sperduta' or 'The Lost One'. Every evening the five bells ring out with a distinctive sound which goes back to an old tradition of helping lost visitors find their orientation in this area of the city.
In the entrance portico is a statue of Philip IV one of the basilica's benefactors. The clay model was created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini although his pupil, Girolamo Lucenti, carved the finished work. (Bernini is buried in Santa Maria Maggiore, but I missed what apparently is a simple memorial plaque which marks his resting place. It's one of the reasons I would like to return some day, the other is to look more closely at the medieval mosaics).
The basilica is divided into the central nave with wide side aisles on either side. There are 40 columns, 36 made of bianco greco marble and 4 of granite. The 13th century pavement floor consists of marble stones inlaid to form intricate patterns and was designed by the Cosmati family. Above the nave are 5th century mosaics recounting four cycles of Old Testament history featuring Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Joshua. More mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary decorate the arch at the head of the nave.
|The High Altar|
The equally ornate Sistine Chapel was named after Pope Sixtus V (not after Sixtus IV who commissioned the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican). Pope Sixtus V and Pope Pius V are buried here.
|The tomb of Sixtus V|
|The ornate altar of the Sistine Chapel|
|Looking up to the gilded ceiling of the chapel, paintings of biblical scenes and characters|
and one of the two cupolas at the east end of the basilica.
|The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel|
|This painting which seems to be of a lady presenting her child to Mary is in oils and was harder to photograph.|
I like the dynamic-looking sculptures, one angel with a joyful expression.
|The Chapel of St. Michael and St. Peter in Chains|
|There are several doors through which the visitor enters and exits the basilica. In the centre is the Holy Door which is opened by a pope during a special ceremony at the beginning of a Jubilee Year (2016 being one of them).|
In an outside courtyard I found this interesting old well. It fascinated me as it would have been an important water resource for those who lived on the Esquiline Hill. Perhaps it belonged to the monastic community which settled next to the basilica, perhaps it's even older? There seemed to be ancient objects fixed to the niche in the wall.
|In the Piazza stands an ancient marble column which originally stood in the Roman Forum. |
A bronze Virgin and Child was added in 1615.
|The streets in the area near the Termini train station.|
Back to the train station to find Mr. P. (from my archive of photos). Usually I have a browse in the bookshop and buy some gifts for the grandchildren, but not this time as the special express train to Fiumicino Airport was due. (The shuttle train comes and goes every 30 minutes so no problem, but it's always good to get to the airport, have some lunch and relax for a while until our flight departs).