Basilicas and Catacombs
Visit two of Rome’s most important basilicas – those of St John Lateran and of St Mary Major – learn more about the Holy Stairs and discover the ancient Roman Catacombs.
After meeting up with your guide – and equipped with your earphones to hear the explanations more clearly – you will first visit the ‘Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran’, more commonly known as the Basilica of St John Lateran, which is also the cathedral of Rome and the episcopal see of the bishop of Rome (the Pope). This is Rome’s most important papal basilica (the others being St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls and the Basilica of St Mary Major) and it is the oldest and most important in Western Christendom, where popes resided for ten centuries. First built in the 4th century, it was almost completely rebuilt by Borromini in the 17th century, though the main facade is the work of Galilei in the 18th century. The latter followed the style of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, resulting in the basilica’s current Baroque style. The magnificent interior is characterised by its breath-taking decorations, sculptures, marble and mosaics.
After this, you will make your way to the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs), located in front of the basilica. Made of marble (with a wooden protective casing), there are 24 steps in total. It is believed that these were brought from the Holy Land by St Helen, and that they are the steps that Jesus ascended at Pilot’s palace when he was condemned. In 1980, together with the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Holy Stairs were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Your guide will give you detailed information about the construction and history of the Stairs as you contemplate them.
From here, you will go on to the Basilica of St Mary Major, another of the four papal basilicas and the largest basilica in Rome to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary. For a time, it was a papal residence and the tombs of some past popes can indeed be found here. Also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980, this 5th century basilica now features diverse architectural styles, ranging from the Early Christian to the Baroque. In terms of its exterior, particular highlights are the front and rear facades, the high medieval bell tower and its Baroque domes; the interior is characterised by the quality and abundance of its mosaics and impressive side chapels.
To conclude this tour, the bus will take you on to the famous Roman Catacombs – the ancient underground cemetery and once a hiding place for persecuted Christians – which are situated beneath one of Ancient Rome’s most important roads, the Via Appia. The majority of the catacombs date from the 2nd to 5th centuries and contain the tombs of Christians, martyrs and even of some popes. The catacombs represent an awe-inspiring preservation of antiquity, where we would advise you to stay close to your group so as to ensure that you do not get lost as your guide leads you through its labyrinthine passages.
- Duration: approx. 3 hours
- Meeting point: at your hotel (if it is in Rome’s center), or at 95 Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Gray Line Rome Office / I Love Rome Office, in front of the Grand Hotel), 15 minutes before the start of the tour
- Finishing point: in the centre of Rome
- The tour includes the entrance ticket to the two basilicas and to the catacombs.
- Short trousers and sleeveless shirts are not permitted within the basilicas.