The Great Roman Basilicas
Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, Scala Santa, San Paolo.
The tour starts on the top of the Esquiline hill dominated by the 5th Century basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The first important church dedicated to the virgin Mary and one of the great patriarchal churches of Rome.
The monumental façade leads to a nearly perfect basilica inside. The beautifully proportioned nave, equal in largeness and height, is divided from the side aisles by 40 ancient columns. The ceiling is coffered and gilded with the first gold that has reached Europe from America on the 16th C.
The nave mosaics are original from the 5th C. while the apse mosaic is one of the most beautiful among those of the Middle Ages. Two great baroque showpieces are the Sistine chapel and Pauline chapel.Their sumptous ornamentation is excessive even by baroque standards!
We continue to the basilica of St John in Lateran. The basilica is the cathedral of Rome and the mother church of the Catholic world. The first church built for the pope by emperor Constantine, it has been often restored and transformed and was completely restored by Borromini in 1650.
Across the piazza is the Scala Santa (the Holy Staircase) believed to belong to Pilate’s House and which was trod on by Christ in Jerusalem. The original marble steps are covered with wood and are climbed by Roman Catholics on their knees.
The last basilica San Paul, has been built in the 4th century over the tomb of the Apostle Paul and embellished during the succeeding centuries. It’s the church better expressing the early spirit of the early Christian churches even if it had been mainly rebuilt after a tragic fire that destroyed it in 1823.