Category Archives: Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome Italy

The Amazing Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is a UNESCO Site in Rome Italy

English: Basilica of St. John Lateran - apse I...

English: Basilica of St. John Lateran – apse Italiano: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano – l’abside Polski: Bazylika św. Jana na Lateranie – apsyda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano) is Rome’s cathedral. It serves as the the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope as the Bishop of Rome. Pope Benedict celebrated the Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi here and then lead a Corpus Christi procession along Rome’s Via Merulana, which links the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore).

English: Doctors of the Church. Attic of the B...

English: Doctors of the Church. Attic of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome). Français : Docteurs de l’Église. Attique de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome). Italiano: Dottori della Chiesa. Attico della Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Roma). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the roofline, note the statues of  the Doctors of the Church: Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Pope Gregory I who were the original Doctors of the Church in 1298. Doctors of the church are individuals who are recognized as having special importance, usually regarding their contributions to theology or church doctrine.

Doctors of the Church. Attic of the Basilica o...

Doctors of the Church. Attic of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome). Français : Docteurs de l’Église. Attique de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome). Italiano: Dottori della Chiesa. Attico della Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Roma). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basilica of St. John Lateran, cathedral of the...

Basilica of St. John Lateran, cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, Italy. Español: Basílica de San Juan de Letrán, catedral del Obispo de Roma, Italia. Italiano: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma Polski: Bazylika św. Jana na Lateranie (znana jako Bazylika Laterańska), katedra biskupa Rzymu, Włochy. Português: Basílica de São João de Latrão, catedral do Bispo de Roma, Itália. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Doctors of the Church. Attic of the Basilica o...

Doctors of the Church. Attic of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome). Français : Docteurs de l’Église. Attique de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome). Italiano: Dottori della Chiesa. Attico della Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Roma). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St. Matthew by Camillo Rusconi. Nave of the Ba...

St. Matthew by Camillo Rusconi. Nave of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome). Français : Saint Matthieu, par Camillo Rusconi. Nef de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pope's chair, Basilica di San Giovanni in Late...

Pope’s chair, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a virtual tour of St. John Lateran http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/index-en.html

Lateran papal altar

English: Basilica of St. John Lateran - detail...

English: Basilica of St. John Lateran – detail Italiano: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano – un particolare Polski: Bazylika św. Jana na Lateranie – herb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The archbasilica contains the papal throne (Cathedra Romana) that is located in the Aspe behind the papal altar http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/Media/VR/Lateran_Nave1/index.html.  The altar contains the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Lateran ceiling

There are interesting sites in the complex. I love the ornate ceiling and the beautiful statues.

St. Andrew by Camillo Rusconi. Nave of the Bas...

St. Andrew by Camillo Rusconi. Nave of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome). Français : Saint André, par Camillo Rusconi. Nef de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The decorated ceiling of the Basilica of St. J...

The decorated ceiling of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take time to visit the charming cloister

San Giovanni in Laterano (cloister)

San Giovanni in Laterano (cloister) (Photo credit: MarcelGermain)

Here’s a virtual tour ot the cloister http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/Media/VR/Lateran_Cloister/index.html.

Basilica of St. John Lateran - statue of St. J...

Basilica of St. John Lateran – statue of St. John Italiano: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano – la statua di san Giovanni Polski: Bazylika św. Jana na Lateranie – figura św. Jana Apostoła (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ancient baptistery was also built by Constantine and was converted from a Roman temple. The Lateran Baptistery is one of the oldest in Christendom. The present name is a result of the importance of the baptistry of the church, and of the presence of a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Here’s a Virtual tour of the Baptistery: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_giovanni/vr_tour/Media/VR/Lateran_Baptistery/index.html

English: St. James the Great by Camillo Ruscon...

English: St. James the Great by Camillo Rusconi. Nave of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome). Français : Saint Jacques le Majeur, par Camillo Rusconi. Nef de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lateran baptistery building

San Giovanni in Laterano was the first cathedral of Rome. This was the first Constantinian Basilica and is the oldest basilica in the world, founded in 311 and consecrated in 324. Emperor Constantine gave Pope Melchiades a parcel of imperial property for a church and a papal residence. It was known as “Lateran” because the property previously belonged to the family of Plautius Lateranus of the former Roman Empire. The Laterani lost their properties to Emperor Constantine who in turn gave it to the Christian Church in 311.  The basilica suffered extensive damage during the earthquake of 896 and was restored by Sergius III who dedicated it to St. John the Baptist. Later, Saint John the Evangelist was added as a patron of this church by another pope.

English: Main façade of the Basilica of St. Jo...

English: Main façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran (Rome) by Alessandro Galilei, 1735. Italiano: Facciata principale della Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (Roma), progettata da Alessandro Galilei (1735). Français : Façade principale de la basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran (Rome) par Alessandro Galilei, 1735. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The popes lived in the Lateran Palace adjacent to the church until Clement V (1305-14) transferred the papal seat to Avignon in France. The popes lived at Palazzo Laterano from the time of Constantine until 1304 when the Papacy moved to Avignon. When the popes returned to Rome in 1377, the papacy moved to the Vatican. Excavations beneath the basilica have uncovered pagan buildings and foundations of the 4th century Constantinian basilica.

San Giovanni in Laterano

San Giovanni in Laterano (Photo credit: sgatto)

Lateran Palace on the left of the obelisk

The central bronze doors came from the Curia of the Roman Senate in the Forum. The Holy Door is on the far right. The main travertine facade is on Piazza di Porta Giovanni with five entrances that lead to the portico with five more doorways.

Lateran door

On the top front entrance of the basilica, Jesus Christ is carrying a cross. He is surrounded by St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist and the Doctors of the Church.

Lateran roofline with Jesus and saints

In 1646, the basilica was in danger of collapsing so Pope Innocent X gave the task of restoring it to Francesco Borromini.  Pope Innocent X had the interior completely remodeled by Borromini in preparation for the Jubilee (Holy Year) of 1650. It was during Borromini’s restoration that the church was given its Baroque appearance. The eastern façade was created in 1736 by Alessandro Galilei with statues of saints welcoming visitors.

In front of the north facade ( adjacent to the Lateran Palace) you can find the Lateranense obelisk. It is the tallest obelisk  in Rome that dates back to 1500 B.C.  and weighs over 230 tons. The red granite obelisk in the square in front of the Lateran Palace was originally commissioned by Pharaoh Thuthmose III and completed by his grandson Thutmose IV and stood in the temple of Amun in Karnak. It was placed in the Circus Maximus until Pope Sixtus V had Fontana re-erect it in this square in 1588 in place of the equstrian statue of Marcus Aurelius that was moved to the Capitoline Hill.

Lateran obelisk inscription

Lateran obelisk

Lateran rear entrance

The Renaissance coffered ceiling is attributed to Pirro Ligorio and was started in 1562 during the pontificate of Pius IV.

The apsidal mosaic was restored by friars who were commissioned by Nicholas IV (1288-1292). The apse mosaic depicts the miraculous appearance of Christ in the basilica’s apse at the time of its consecration by Pope Sylvester.

There are beautiful statues in the nave in grey marble aedicules. The statues are flanked by verde antico columns.

Lateran coffered ceiling and apse mosaic

Lateran Saint Peter

The monumental tomb of Leo XIII by Giulio Tadolini is over a door leading to the Sacristy.

The archbasilica has a lavishly decorated interior. The Lancelloti Chapel was designed by Francesco da Volterra and rebuilt by Giovanni Antonio de Rossi. The  “Saint Francis of Assisi recieves the stigmata” painting was done by Giovanni Battista Puccetti in the altarpiece.

Lateran fresco

Lateran fresco Mary Immaculate by Placido Costanzi

There are additional parts of the Lateran complex worth visiting in close proximity to the church.  Walk over to the  Scala Sancta to see the Sancta Sanctorum and the Triclinium of Pope Leo III  These Holy Stairs are particularly attractive for Christian pilgrims who wish to honor the Passion of Jesus. These are the marble stairs that were brought to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 AD by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. These are the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to his trial with Pontius Pilate; the staircase leading once to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate at Jerusalem .

The Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) consists of twenty-eight wooden steps that encase white marble steps and are sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during his Passion. The marble stairs are visible through openings in the wooden risers. The stairs are located  in a building which incorporates part of the old Lateran Palace, located opposite the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. They are located next to a church which was built on ground brought from Mount Calvary. The stairs lead to the Sancta Sanctorum ( Holy of Holies) which is the personal chapel of the early Popes in the Lateran palace, known as the chapel of St. Lawrence.

Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Italy Travel Guides. To learn more about Rome visit www.vino-con-vista.com

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I love Santa Maria Maggiore Church and the Re-enactment of Rome’s Blizzard: St. Mary of the Snows

This is a rare photo of the Salus Populi Roman...

Image via Wikipedia

English: Central nave of Basilica di Santa Mar...

English: Central nave of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome Italiano: Navata centrale della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore a Roma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Italiano: Rosone all'interno della Basilica di...

Italiano: Rosone all’interno della Basilica di santa Maria Maggiore a Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Head of the Blessed Virgin Mary (deta...

English: Head of the Blessed Virgin Mary (detail) adorning the Puerta Santa of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy. Français : Tête de la Vierge Marie (détail) ornant la Porte Sainte de l’église Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the Roman / Early Christian Nave Mosaic...

One of the Roman / Early Christian Nave Mosaics depicting the Story of Moses, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"Sacra Culla" in Basilica di Santa M...

“Sacra Culla” in Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, in front of main altar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frontview of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pan...

Frontview of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Panaorama from 3 images. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Piazza Esquilino with Basilica di Santa Maria ...

Piazza Esquilino with Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Português: Capela Borghese, Santa Maria Maggio...

Português: Capela Borghese, Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Triomphal Arch Mosaics in the Basilic...

English: Triomphal Arch Mosaics in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, right side, fourth register from up (bottom) Italiano: Roma, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, mosaici dell’arco trionfale, lato destro, quarto registro dall’alto (registro inferiore) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica

Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the four greater basilicas of Rome and it has two facades. One of them is  located in Piazza Esquilino. One of the facades has twin domes. The rear facade faces the lovely Marian Column and has a massive bell-tower.

Santa Maria Maggiore bell tower

According to legend, on the night of August 5, 356 the Madonna appeared in a dream to a nobleman and the Pope (cannonized Saint Liberius). She asked them to build a sanctuary dedicated to her on the summit of Esquiline Hill. The dream foretold of a blizzard that miraculously occurred on  August 5, 352. According to this legend, on the morning of August 5th, 358, the Esquiline Hill in Rome was completely covered in snow. In an apparition, the Virgin promised pope Liberius that this would happen.

The Basilica of Santa Maria di Maggiore or St. Mary Major,  was built in this area and it is one of the most important churches of Rome. Inside the Church stands the icon of the “Madonna Salus Populi Romani”, which translates to “The Protectress of Rome.”

Ever since the year 358, every August 5th  is celebrated with a Mass and the traditional “snowfall” made from white rose petals. The liturgical feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major is celebrated each year on the august 5th to commemorate the miraculous snowfall. At the conclusion of the Mass, the snow of white rose petals falls from the dome of the Chapel of Our Lady.

Rome, The Piazza and Church of Santa Maria Mag...

Rome, The Piazza and Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are beautiful mosaics representing the “Miracle of St. Mary of the Snow” in the portico. A precious (bronze, marble and lapis-lazuli) relief by Stefano Maderno in Cappella Paolina portrays the pope drawing the plan of S. Maria Maggiore on the snow which had fallen on the top of the Esquiline hill. Although snow usually doesn’t occur in Rome in August, hail-storms are not unlikely to occur. The miraculous “Legend of the Snow”  is re-enacted every year at the Basilica on August 5th to commemorate the feast day of Our Lady of the Snow as white rose petals fall from the dome of the basilica.

Here’s a virtual tour of the basilica http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/vr_tour/index-it.html

Under the altar is a crypt housing the remains of St. Matthais, who was the Apostle that was chosen to replace the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot.  In front of the confessio that houses part of Christ’s manger is a kneeling statue of Pope Pius IX. The tombs of Popes Pius V, Sixtus V, Paul V, Cardinal Rodriquez (1299) and Clement VIII are in this basilica.  The 1740 Baldacchino was built by Ferdinando Fuga.

The church has had many names over the years: Santa Maria della Neve (English: St. Mary of the Snow), then Santa Maria Liberiana after Pope Liberius. After the basilica obtained a relic of the Holy Crib it was called Santa Maria Del Presepe (St. Mary of the Crib). It was finally named Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) because it is the largest of the 26 churches in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The church has a wide central nave separated by 40 columns;  36 are made from bianco greco marble and four are granite columns. There are mosaics on each side of the nave from 430-431 during the papacy of Sixtus III. Above the mosaics and between the windows, there are a series of frescoes from 1593 representing scenes from the life of the Virgin. The gilded gold coffered ceiling was begun by Giuliano da Sangallo in the middle of the 14oos.

Santa Maria Maggiore ceiling

The Marian column that graces the front of the basilica is crowned with a bronze statue of the Virgin known as the Salus Populi Romani (The Salvation of the Roman People). It is from Constantine’s Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine and was erected in 1614 according to the design by Carlo Maderno. It has a fountain at the base with eagles and dragons. The column was erected as a token of gratitude for the miraculous remission of the plague during the Baroque era.

As a papal basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore is often used by the pope when he presides over the annual Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th each year.

Pope Paul V put Carlo Maderno in charge of relocating a column in front of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore; the surviving 46 foot high column of Basilica di Massenzio. At the time this building was known as Tempio della Pace and in the long inscription the pope explained that the column was dedicated to the Virgin Mary because ” ex cuius visceribus princeps verae pacis genitus est donum dedit” (the Prince who gives true peace came from her womb). For this reason the column is also known as Colonna della Pace. The column and the small fountain in front of it are decorated with the eagles and dragons of the pope.

Marian Column in front of Santa Maria Maggiori

Santa Maria Maggiori in Rome Italy

In papal Rome, the basilica became one of the fulcrums of the urban plan of Sixtus V.  The other three papal or major basilicas in Rome are St. John Lateran, St. Peter and St. Paul outside the Walls.

The construction of Santa Maria Maggiore started in 420 under Pope Celestine I but the majority of the basilica was built under Pope Sixtus III (432-440) after the Council of Ephesus. The inscription on the triumphal arch reads: “Sixtus Episcopus plebi Dei” (Sixtus the bishop to the people of God).  Pope Sixtus III built the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the summit of Esquiline Hill.

The travertine facade is flanked by twin buildings with five entrance doors into the Basilica. The one on the left is the Holy Door.

Santa Maria Maggiore Porta Santa

The Holy Door (Porta Santa) is opened only when a Holy Year is announced. The doors to the left of the Holy Door lead to the loggia with the mosaic decorations of the old facade.

Here’s a virtual tour of the Loggia http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/vr_tour/Media/VR/St_Mary_Loggia/index.html

Arrangements must be made in advance to view the georgeous mosaics by Filippo Rusuti that were created toward the end of the 13th century.

In the Borghese Chapel, the basilica currently houses the oldest Marian image in Rome called the Salus Populi Romani (Salvation of the Roman People ). For centuries, the people of Rome have prayed to this icon in times of famine, war and national crisis.

It was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist using the wooden table of the Holy Family in Nazareth. It is currently enshrined in the Santa Borghese Chapel of the basilica surrounded by five gilded bronze angels designed by Camillo Mariani. Here’s a virtual tour of the Borghese Chapel with the treasured icon http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/vr_tour/Media/VR/St_Mary_Borghese_Chapel/index.html .

The icon was placed in the chapel in 1613. The crowns were added to the icon by Pius XII in 1953. Radiocarbon dating establishes the age of the icon to be approximately 2,000 years old.

After the Crucifixion, Christ’s mother “Our Lady” moved to the home of St. John. She took a few of her personal belongings with her including a table built by the Redeemer in the workshop of St. Joseph. When the residents of Jerusalem asked St. Luke to paint a portrait of the Mother of God, he did it on top of this table. St. Luke listened carefully as the Mother of Jesus spoke of the life of her son, facts which the Evangelist later recorded in his Gospel. Legend also tells us that the painting remained in and around Jerusalem until it was discovered by St. Helena in the fourth century. Together with other sacred relics, the painting was transported to Constantinople where her son, Emperor Constantine the Great, erected a church for its enthronement.

Santa Maria Maggiore Borghese Chapel

The relief above the altar in the Borghese Chapel depicts Pope Liberius marking off the dimensions of his basilica in the newly-fallen snow. The relief was made by Stefano Maderno in 1612.

The basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore has the tallest bell tower in Rome at 240 feet. The two twin cupolas are a characteristic element of the Rome’s domed landscape.

The basilica is loaded with coveted mosaics; there are 36 panels in the nave and the mosaics of the triumphal arch date back to the 5th century. The “Coronation of the Virgin” mosaics in the apse were finished in 1295 and are signed by the Franciscan friar Jacopo Torriti. The coveted mosaics depict scenes of the Virgin and Christ, as well as scenes from the Old Testament and Egyptians Drowning in the Red Sea.

The lovely rear facade of the basilica was designed by Carl Rainaldi (1673) and it reflects Baroque architecture. Santa Maria Maggiore is the only Roman basilica that retained the core of its original structure despite several additional construction projects and damage from the earthquake of 1348.

Santa Maria Maggiore stained glass window

Pope Pius IX

When the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Papacy returned to Rome, the Basilica became a temporary Palace of the Popes due to the deterioration of the Lateran Palace. The papal residence was later moved to the Palace of the Vatican in what is now Vatican City.

The basilica houses the tombs of many popes. The Capella Sistina was built for Pope Sixtus V and houses his tomb.  The altar in the Chapel’s center has a beautiful ciborium from 1590 composed of four bronze angels holding a tempietto. Pope Paul V is buried in the Borghese Chapel with the “Salus Populi Romani” icon of the Virgin.

In front of the main altar there is a beautiful statue of Pope Pius IX by Ignazio Iacometi. The pope is kneeling in contemplative prayer while gazing at the relic of Christ’s manger from Bethlehem.

Sacra Culla:The relics of Christ’s manger from Bethlehem

Pius IX in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome Italy

Clement IX

The relic of Christ’s manger is located in front of the main altar in the confession in a gold and silver reliquary designed by Valadier in 1802. The relic came to Rome when Saint Jerome’s body was brought to the church from Bethlehem. The relic is in front of Pius IX kneeling in Prayer.

The canopied main papal altar resembles Bernini’s Baldachinno in Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was designed by Fuga who used four porphyry columns. The columns are encircled with bronze palm branches moving in an upward direction that were added by Giuseppe Valadier in 1823. The Corinthian capitals with Pope Benedict XIV’s  coat of arms on the base of the columns.

Here’s a virtual tour of the altar showing the Baldachinno and the passageway to the relic of the crib http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/vr_tour/Media/VR/St_Mary_Nave1/index.html

The monument of Clement IX is by C. Painaldi. The baroque statue of the pontiff was done by Domenico Guidi with “Charity” on the left by Ercole Ferrata and “Faith” on the right by Cosimo Fancelli. The pope is actually buried in front of the confessional.

Charity

Pope Clement’s Monument Papal Altar of Santa Maria Maggiore

I love the Baptismal Chapel with the beautiful font. Here’s a virtual tour of the Baptistery http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/sm_maggiore/vr_tour/Media/VR/St_Mary_Baptistery/index.html

Bernini’s Saint Cajetan holding the Holy Child resides in this church.  Near the papal altar there is an inscription on the marble step that reads: “Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who brought honor and art to the city, here humbly lies.”  Bernini’s father Pietro is also buried here.

Bernini’s Grave

The gilded gold of the coffered ceiling of the Basilica was presented by the soverieigns of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella from the gold mines of Latin America. There’s an interesting musuem under the church. It’s loaded with sacred artifacts and objects. I love the presepio.

Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Italy Travel Guides. To learn more about Rome visit www.vino-con-vista.com

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