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A Real Rome Tours exclusive, this Basilicas of Rome private walking tour visits four outstandingly beautiful and significant churches of Rome. The four basilicas explored on this tour include; the Santa Maria Maggiore, the San Giovanni in Laterano, the Saint Clement Basilica and the Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
Your private guided tour of the basilicas of Rome begins with the Santa Maria Maggiore.
St.Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) Private Tour
We start our journey from St.Mary Major. Situated on the top of the Esquiline Hill, Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. As a papal basilica, it is often used by the pope; every 15th August, he presides over the rites for the annual Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Pope Francis visited the basilica on the day after his election.
Tradition has it that the Virgin Mary herself inspired the choice of the Esquiline Hill for the church’s construction. Appearing in a dream to both the Patrician John and Pope Liberius, she asked that a church be built in her honor on a site she would miraculously indicate.
The morning of August 5th, the Esquiline Hill was covered with a blanket of snow. The pope traced out the perimeter of the basilica in the snow, and John financed the construction of the new church. The Romanesque bell tower, built by Gregory XI after his return from Avignon, rises 75 meters high and is the tallest in Rome. The belfry contains five bells, one of which, “La Sperduta,” or “the lost one,” rings every evening at nine with its distinctive sound to call the faithful to prayer.
The magnificent mosaics found in Santa Maria Maggiore's nave and triumphal arch are some of the oldest representations of the Virgin Mary in Christian Late Antiquity.
From here, your guide will take you to the Basilica of Saint Clement.
Basilica of Saint Clement Private Tour
The second stop on your Basilicas of Rome Tour is the Basilica of Saint Clement – a Roman Catholic minor basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I. The present basilica was built just before the year 1100, during the height of the Middle Ages. The current basilica was rebuilt by Cardinal Anastasius between 1099 and 1120.
Originally a private residence, the site the basilica stands on was used as a clandestine place for Christian worship in the first century. In the sixth century, it was transformed into a stunning basilica by the Catholic Church.
Irish Dominicans have been the caretakers of San Clemente since 1667, when England outlawed the Irish Catholic Church and expelled the entire clergy. Pope Urban VIII gave them refuge at San Clemente, where they have remained, running a residence for priests studying and teaching in Rome.
The Dominicans themselves conducted the excavations in the 1950s in collaboration with Italian archaeology students.
Next, you will walk to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran - the oldest church in the world.
Saint John Lateran Guided Tour
To give the basilica its full name: The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist in the Lateran, this basilica was built under pope Melchiade (311-314) and is the most ancient church in the world. In addition to be the oldest, it is also the highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, giving it the title"archbasilica".
The papacy moved its seat to France in the 1300s and the Lateran Palace and the archbasilica deteriorated. Suffering two devastating fires in 1307 and 1361, the basilica lost its former splendor. Upon the pope moving back to Italy, Saint John Lateran was deemed unsuitable for his official residence and he was moved to the Vatican.
Francesco Borromini’s original architectural plans included twelve niches, which were left vacant for decades. Finally, in 1702, Pope Clement XI and Benedetto Cardinal Pamphili, archpriests of the archbasilica, announced a grand scheme for twelve sculptures of the Apostles to fill the vacant spaces. They opened a commission to all the premier Roman Rococo sculptors to produce 12 larger-than-life-size sculptures to fill the niches.
Each statue was to be sponsored by an illustrious prince with the Pope sponsoring that of St. Peter and Cardinal Pamphili that of St. John the Evangelist.
From here, your guide will take you to The Holy Steps, just over the road from Saint John Lateran Basilica.
The Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs Guided Tour
An absolute must for every pilgrim to Rome is a visit the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. It is one of the most important and renowned sanctuaries in the Roman Catholic Church. The Sanctuary houses the Sancta Sanctorum, recognized as the first private Papal chapel. The sanctuary gets its name from the 28 marble steps of the Holy Stairs.
According to an ancient Christian tradition, Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine, had the stairs transported from Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem to Rome. It is believed that Jesus climbed these stairs several times the day he was sentenced to death and this is why they are known as the “Scala Pilati” or “Scala Sancta” (the Holy Stairs or Pilate’s Stairs).
From the Holy Stairs, you'll head to the last stop on your tour - the Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem Tour
The final destination on your tour is the Basilica of The Holy Cross in Jerusalem in the Esquilino quarter, which is close to the Aurelian Walls and the Castrense Amphitheatre. The Basilica of the Holy Cross is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches in Rome that ancient pilgrims used to visit on foot.
Consecrated in 325, the original chapel on the site was built to house the relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ, which were brought to Rome from the Holy Land by Empress St. Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I. Originally, the chapel's floor was covered with soil from Jerusalem, hence the name!
This chapel became the nucleus of the Basilica of the Holy Cross, originally called the Basilica Eleniana or Sessoriana. Over the centuries, the basilica has undergone multiple major works. The Titulus of the Cross was found hidden in a box, inside a wall, during the restoration works carried out by Cardinal Mendoza between 1478-1495. This inscribed wooden tablet (once placed on the Cross of Jesus Christ) is still visible inside the Basilica.
Our Basilicas of Rome tour is a unique tour, not offered by any other tour operator in Rome, so book now and don’t miss this special opportunity to go off the beaten track and see the Real Rome!
It is possible to add the Underground of Saint Clement Basilica to your private tour - just allow for an additional 30 minutes of sightseeing when planning your day.