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Underneath one of the oldest basilicas in Rome

2009-06-11

Santa Maria Maggiore, or Saint Mary Major, is built on top of layers of pre-Christian history.

Monsignor Michele Jagosz
Prefect, Santa Maria Maggiore Museum

“You can see everything that existed before the construction of the basilica. And how the construction of the basilica didn’t destroy anything below. Everything remained conserved underneath.”

Monsignor Michele Jagosz led the first public tour of the Basilica’s underground, before only open for students and special tours.

For hundreds of years, Santa Maria Maggiore has preserved pieces of history trapped in time underneath its floors. Today, it acts as a time machine, giving clues as to how people lived before the arrival of Christianity
 
Monsignor Michele Jagosz
Prefect, Santa Maria Maggiore Museum

“You can imagine how life was here on the Esquilino, one of the hills of Rome. Mainly in Cispio. That’s what this part of the Esquilino was called where we are now and Pope Sixtus III built this basilica.”

The Basilica was built on what used to be a private residence dating back to the year 332 BC. Over the years it evolved until the years of Christianity. But it still harbors key historical clues that survived time.

Like this ancient Roman calendar, for example, depicting the month of September with pictures of agriculture and crops painted on a wall. It’s likely that the owner of the home was a nature enthusiast from the middle class.

Saint Mary Major is also the resting place of popes and cardinals. Artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini is also buried here.

Built around the fifth century AD, the basilica is one of the four papal basilicas in Rome. It’s famous for its rich history both above and underground.

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