Explore the Historic Santa Maria in Trastevere: Rome’s Oldest Fountain and Basilica

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Trastevere represents the heart of the most genuine and authentic Roman culture. But have you ever wondered what is the focal point of the most famous district of the Eternal City? Without a doubt, the answer is only one: the square of Santa Maria in Trastevere with its iconic fountain, a crossroads for tourists and Romans for decades, and the splendid basilica towering behind it. Today, we will delve deeper into the history and curiosities of this church, among the most well-known and visited Christian places of worship in the world.


The Primacy of the Monumental Fountain in Front of the Basilica

Let’s start with a small record: did you know that the fountain of Santa Maria in Trastevere is the oldest in Rome? It was built right where a fountain already stood in the time of Augustus. A historic meeting place for the so-called “punta” – as Romans call it “the appointment” – it is the ideal place to relax for 10 minutes with a beer or a sandwich in hand.


The History of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere

The basilica was founded by Saint Callixtus in the 3rd century and also holds an enviable and important record: it was the first church officially opened for Catholic worship. Today, not much remains of that original building because Innocent II in the 12th century decided to completely demolish it and then rebuild it, larger and more precious, using materials salvaged from the Baths of Caracalla.


The Facade, the Porch, and the Bell Tower

Approaching the Basilica, you can admire its facade, with mosaics made in the 13th century by Pietro Cavallini depicting the “Life of the Virgin,” with Mary on the throne and the Baby Jesus portrayed among ten women holding lamps.

Among the most important moments in Mary’s life depicted by Cavallini are the birth of the Virgin, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the presentation at the Temple, and the death of Mary. Later, the artist added another mosaic representing the patron cardinal Bartolomeo Stefaneschi, surrounded by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, offering the mosaics to the Virgin.

The large porch was redesigned in 1702 by Carlo Fontana at the behest of Pope Clement XI and today houses Christian inscriptions, fragments of ornaments from the ancient basilica, and tombstones. Four statues depicting four popes surmount the porch. Until 1800, various types of weapons were hung here because when a “not-so-good” boy decided to change his life, he would hang and leave his weapon here as a wish for a better life.

On the side of the Basilica stands the Romanesque-style bell tower, built at the same time as the facade.


The Interior

What immediately strikes the visitor who instinctively looks up is the magnificent wooden ceiling with polychrome backgrounds designed in 1627 by Domenichino, with “The Assumption” at the center; the floor, instead, features typical 13th-century mosaics.

The church is divided into three naves interspersed with twenty-two ancient granite columns of various diameters, all with Ionic and Corinthian capitals, probably from the Baths of Caracalla. There are eleven chapels inside the church: the best-known is the Altemps Chapel, also known as “The Chapel of Our Lady of Clemency.”



If you have planned a trip to the Eternal City and want to discover the origins of Christianity and some of the most representative artistic masterpieces, surely the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is a must-visit on your walking tour through the alleys of Rome.


Photo credits: @manununu976 on Tripadvisor

Hotel Santa Prisca is at only 20 minutes walking from Santa Maria in Trastevere