The Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome is an eloquent testimony to the fact that true beauty is often hidden under a blank cover. Its facade does not attract views with sophisticated finishes or unusual shapes, but unique treasures are hidden behind the walls of a modest-looking building.
Legends and facts
The church building was built in the 1470s. Previously, a Roman chapel of the late 11th century stood in its place. The basilica owes its name to an ancient legend: it was believed that once there was the tomb of Nero, the cruel persecutor of Christians. Centuries later, poplar grew over the crypt (Latin populus), in whose crowns flocks of ravens gathered. The place was known as the damned, the townspeople bypassed it until, in 1099, Pope Paschal II the Virgin Mary appeared and ordered to cut down the tree. The pope immediately fulfilled the will of the Most Holy Theotokos and ordered to erect a chapel named after her in this place.
Another version is not so romantic: some historians believe that the name came from the phrase popolo romano ("Roman people"), because the world raised funds for the construction of the chapel.
In 1277, on the orders of Pope Gregory IX, a small church appeared on the site of the chapel. Then in it from the Basilica of St. John the Baptist (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano), located on Lateran hill here, in Rome, the icon of the Mother of God, created, according to legend, by the Evangelist Luke himself, was transferred. In fact, the image of the Madonna was painted in the 13th century in Siena.
In 1250, the church came under the jurisdiction of the Order of St. Augustine. The building was rebuilt several times; it underwent global reconstruction in the middle of the 15th century by order of Pope Sixtus IV. Restructuring was carried out under the direction of Andrea Bregno (Andrea Bregno) and Baccio Pontelli (Baccio Pontelli). Santa Maria del Popolo became one of the first churches in Rome, whose architecture is dominated by the Renaissance style. It was then that the basilica acquired the form that has survived to this day.
One has only to cross the threshold, and the gaze opens to luxurious interiors, which you will not see in any city cathedral.
Modest outside, dedicated to the Holy Virgin, the church reveals itself from the most unexpected side. And when you find out what great masterpieces adorn the walls of the basilica, and what big names stand behind their creation, you realize that passing by would be an unforgivable mistake.
Over the years, the design and interior design of the church involved Donato Bramante, Raffaello Santi, Andrea Breño. In the middle of the XVII century, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini) carried out another large-scale reconstruction of the basilica; since then, the Baroque style has prevailed in its decoration.
Indirectly, anyone who has never been to the Eternal City, but watched an adaptation of Dan Brown's novel Angels and Demons, is familiar with the church. The film is partly set in the Chigi Chapel. She bears the name of the customer, banker Agostino Chigi. Designed the future tomb of a wealthy clan Rafael Santi; he decorated the dome of the chapel with the creation of the mosaic. Until the end of the 16th century, the church also contained two paintings by the master. A hundred years later, Bernini reconstructed the chapel by order of another representative of the clan, Cardinal Fabio Chigi, who later became Pope Alexander VII.
The works of Caravaggio in the chapel of Cherazi
The Cerasi Chapel is associated with a no less famous Italian master, Caravaggio. Here are two of his original works, “The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” (aka “The Conversion of Saul”) and “The Crucifixion of the Apostle Peter”.
"The Conversion of Saul", made in the style of realism, is one of the most striking manifestations of Caravaggio's talent. Above the altar hangs the Ascension of the Virgin Mary canvas by Annibale Carracci.
Pinturicchio in the chapel della Rover
It is worth noting the chapel of the genus della Rovere (Della Rovere). It was built at the end of the 15th century and painted by Pinturicchio and his students. Pinturicchio designed the Chapel of Cybo, but we won’t see the results of his work: at the end of the 17th century, the chapel was reconstructed by Bernini's follower, architect Carlo Fontana.
The chapels of the Saibo-Soderini (Cybo-Soderini), or the chapel of the Crucifixion, and Theodoli (Theodoli) are not so "popular" among tourists, but no less interesting. The first was designed by the Flemish artist Peter van Lint (Pieter van Lint. It contains a wooden crucifix of the 15th century. The second is made in the style of Roman Mannerism and is decorated with stucco work by the sculptor Giulio Mazzoni).
The altar of the basilica is decorated with two stained glass windows by the Frenchman Guillaume da Marcillat. They are dated 1509, and therefore they are considered the oldest in Rome. The altar itself was made by Andrea Breño in 1472-1477.
Opening hours, how to get there
The basilica is located at Piazza del Popolo, 12.
The church is open daily from 7:00 to 12:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00, on Sundays from 8:00 to 19:30. Free admission.
How to get there by public transport: take the metro line A (red) to Flaminio or Spagna stations, then walk.