Rome: The Pantheon

The Pantheon is an impressive structure: large, cylindrical topped with a huge dome. It sits on one side of a good sized piazza with restaurants and shops and lots of people.

Inside, the space is equally large, and wide open. As you walk in, there is the main altar straight ahead.

Inside the Pantheon
Inside the Pantheon

The dome of the Pantheon is quite impressive, especially considering how large the building is. There’s also a big hole in the roof, so if it’s raining outside, it’s raining inside too.

Dome of the Pantheon
Dome of the Pantheon

The High Altar has candle stick holders that are as tall as the person that was lighting the candles when we were there.

Main altar at the Pantheon
Main altar at the Pantheon

In addition to “newer” mosaics and sculptures, there are much older ones on the walls of the Pantheon, such as this fresco. Pretty remarkable that something like this has managed to survive so long.

Old Pantheon fresco
Old Pantheon fresco

The Pantheon isn’t just a tourist attraction though. It’s still a functioning Catholic church, so about 10-15 minutes before Mass starts, they start shooing out the people who aren’t planning to participate in the Mass.

If you’re visiting the Pantheon, stick around for the Mass. Afterwards, you’ll have a little bit of time to wander around while it’s relatively empty before they let the tourists back in.

Rome: Papal Basilica – St John Lateran

Papal Basilica of St John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano) is located near the Porta San Giovanni, a gate in one of the walls of Ancient Rome.

St John Lateran
St John Lateran

The Basilica seemed a little bit out of the way to me (probably because I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to where we were going), but it wasn’t very far from a metro station and only a few stops from Termini.

The Basilica has the distinction of being the seat of the Bishop of Rome, who also happens to be the Pope.

The Bishop of Rome's chair
The Bishop of Rome’s chair

The inside, like the previous Papal Basilicas, is very large, very grand, and beautifully decorated.

Inside St John Lateran
Inside St John Lateran

The impressively large baldacchino holds statues of St Paul and St Peter

Baldacchino at St John Lateran
Baldacchino at St John Lateran
Inside the baldacchino at St John Lateran
Inside the baldacchino at St John Lateran

Along the sides are larger than life sculptures of the Apostles, with St Peter and St Paul closest to the altar.

Sculpture of St Peter in St John Lateran
Sculpture of St Peter in St John Lateran
Sculpture of St Paul in St John Lateran
Sculpture of St Paul in St John Lateran

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time here, and it was the last of the four major basilicas that we visited.

Rome: Papal Basilica – St Mary Major

A few blocks away from Rome’s Termini train station is the Papal Basilica of St Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore).

St Mary Major
St Mary Major

A circular plaza with a central obelisk and fountain provides a nice place for hanging out and selfie opportunities.

Plaza outside St Mary Major
Plaza outside St Mary Major

Inside the Basilica, it’s very big and also very beautifully decorated.

Inside St Mary Major
Inside St Mary Major
Mass at St Mary Major
Mass at St Mary Major
Porta Santa (Holy Door) at St Mary Major
Porta Santa (Holy Door) at St Mary Major

Over the front entry is a large very nice stained glass window (people for scale)

Inside the entry of St Mary Major
Inside the entry of St Mary Major

The adoration chapel

Adoration chapel at St Mary Major
Adoration chapel at St Mary Major

In the confessio

The Confessio at St Mary Major
The Confessio at St Mary Major
Praying Pope sculpture (Pope Pius IX I believe?)
Praying Pope sculpture (Pope Pius IX I believe?)

One more papal basilica to visit.

Rome: Papal Basilica – St. Paul Outside-the-Walls

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside-The-Walls (Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura) is located (not surprisingly) outside the walls of the original Rome, and is built on top of where St. Paul is buried. There’s a metro stop just a couple blocks away, so the Basilica is pretty easy to get to.

Going through the front entrance puts you into a nice little garden square with a large statue of St Paul in the middle.

Basilica of St Paul Outside-The-Walls
Basilica of St Paul Outside-The-Walls
St Paul
St Paul

Inside, the Basilica is very long, and like all the churches in Rome, beautifully decorated. On the walls just below the ceiling are mosaics of all the Popes, with the current pope lit up by a spotlight.

Inside the Basilica of St Paul Outside-The-Walls
Inside the Basilica of St Paul Outside-The-Walls
Pope mosaics
Pope mosaics
Pope Francis mosaic
Pope Francis mosaic

I counted about a dozen or so empty spots for future popes. Not sure what happens when those are all filled up.

In the Confessio beneath the main altar, you can see one side of St. Paul’s sarcophagus, and a length of chain that is supposed to have bound St. Paul.

The Confessio at St Paul Outside-The-Walls
The Confessio at St Paul Outside-The-Walls
Length of chain that bound St Paul
Length of chain that bound St Paul
Tomb of St Paul
Tomb of St Paul

There’s also a gift shop/book shop here, a little cafe where you can get some food and drinks (including beer…how many churches can you say you’ve had a beer at?!). There’s also an archaeological dig/exhibit, but it wasn’t open when we were there. Looked like it would have been pretty interesting to go through. Near the Basilica is an archaeological dig of a necropolis which looked pretty interesting through the fence.

Definitely worth adding to the list of places to visit when you’re in Rome.