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Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, Rome

Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, Rome

The highest summit of the Capitoline Hill in Rome is crowned with an enormous Romanesque-Gothic temple. It is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven (Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli). The church is located between Altare della Patria and the Senatorial Palace. Religious architectural landmark, a pretty unique for its age, managed to preserve its original look since 1250. Massive walls helped this medieval basilica survive through many changes of government, religions, and epochs.

Church’s history

Previously in the ancient times, basilica’s spot was occupied by the temple of Juno Moneta. This is where names for Roman, English, and Polish money derived from later. An ancient Greek monastery used to be here as well from the 7th to 9th century. During medieval times the area at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven was chosen as a place for public assemblies. In the 14th century, stairs were added to the church that had 124 steps in total. The Statue of Cola di Rienzo, popular tribune that opened the basilica can be found on the way to the place itself.

Interior design and valuables

The building you can see today was built out of remains that once were ancient constructions. It is a quite simple-looking church. Its austere façade is decorated only with rose windows. Interiors can, however, boast richness.

Inside you can find:

  • Beautiful wall frescos created by Pinturicchio and Benozzo Gozzoli.
  • A famous wooden figure of the Child Jesus. Churchgoers say it has healing properties. Unfortunately, original Santo Bambino was stolen, but its replica is just as popular. Every year the sculpture of Jesus is bombarded with letters and telegrams that have pleas for help in them.
  • Altar. The legend has it that the oldest altar can be found precisely in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven. Even before Jesus Christ was born, Augustus received a message from the famous oracle Tiburtine Sibyl that the son of God would come down from heaven. Then the emperor ordered to build a huge altar on the top of the hill. Today one of the columns of this ancient church can confirm that these events indeed happened.
  • Byzantine icon of the Madonna of the 13th century is the highlight of the basilica. It was painted by Luke the Evangelist.

Fun facts

In History of Rome Livy describes a famous legend. A beautiful story about the geese that saved Rome. Once upon a time sacrifices were performed in the ancient temple. Traditionally, people brought geese that were raised at the church itself on the altar as an offering to June. In 390 BC Rome was encircled by the Gauls. These events took place late at night, and no one except for the geese heard the danger. They started honking loudly and woke up guardsmen. Thanks to that Romans managed to survive the attack.

How to get

You can reach the Capitoline Hill by taking the subway to the Colosseo station. You can also catch buses № 30, 51, 81, 83, 85, 87, 118, 130F, 160, 170, 628, C3 or N9 at the Ara Coeli/p.za Venezia stop.

Opening hours: you can visit the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven on any day from 09:00 till 17:30.

Admission: free.

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