Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo, a marvel of Roman architecture and artistry. Discover the beauty and history within this iconic church in the heart of Rome.

From the outside Santa Maria del Popolo doesn’t look like it would be that interesting. Located in a small square, Piazza del Popolo, one should not judge this building based on its exterior appearances.

A Glimpse into History and a Ghost Story

The origins of this basilica are quite unusual and incorporate a ghost. Not what you were expecting right? Well, let me tell you a bit more. Legend has it that the site where the church stands was once haunted by the ghost of Nero, who had been buried in that location. A walnut tree that people thought was bewitched grew out of this ground and was often full of black crows. Sounds ominous doesn’t it.

In 1099, Pope Paschal II ordered the cutting down of the tree and the disposal of its ashes into the Tiber River to dispel this myth. He commissioned the construction of this Romanesque chapel, which underwent enlargement in 1227 and later reconstruction between 1472 and 1477.

The church authorities requested artists to adorn the walls and ceilings of the church. These artists include Pinturicchio, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Bernini, some of the biggest names of the time. Captivating tales continue to intertwine with the history of the church, making it a unique pilgrimage for history enthusiasts. Speculations persist that the church is haunted by Nero, with rumors of nearby residents being plagued by evil spirits and occasional sightings of the emperor.Go check it out and let me know what you think.

Captivating view of Santa Maria del Popolo, a blend of architectural elegance and artistic richness in the heart of Rome.

Architectural Marvels

As you enter Santa Maria del Popolo, you’ll encounter the harmonious blend of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

Raphael designed the Chigi Chapel, arguably the most famous chapel, for his friend and patron, the banker Agostino Chigi. You can see his tomb here in a usual pyramid also designed by Raphael. Unfortunately, Raphael and Chigi’s deaths in 1520 brought the work on the chapel to a halt. A century later, Bernini completed it upon the request of Pope Alexander VII, a member of the Chigi family.

The Cerasi Chapel, adorned with works by Caravaggio, exemplifies the church’s architectural grandeur. In 1600, Tiberio Cerasi, the owner of the chapel and treasurer under Pope Clement XVII, commissioned The Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul. Annibale Carracci, the artist, created the altarpiece depicting The Assumption.

Fun Facts about Santa Maria del Popolo

  • Guillaume de Marcillat, the French artist, designed the oldest stained-glass windows in Rome, located in Santa Maria del Popolo in 1509.
  • In 1511, Martin Luther stayed in the monastery adjacent to the church on his visit to Rome.
  • Dan Brown, one of my favorite novelists, features this chapel in the book Angels and Demons.
  • There is some debate about how the church got its name ‘Popolo’. It originates from the Latin word ‘populus’ which can mean either ‘of the people’ or ‘poplar trees’. The church was constructed in an area formerly covered by poplar trees.
Santa Maria del Popolo, a Roman architectural gem adorned with rich history and artistic treasures. Explore the captivating beauty of this iconic church in the heart of Rome.

Piazza del Popolo

The square earned its notoriety for public executions, with the last one occurring in 1826.

The 72-foot obelisk in the center of the square is an Egyptian treasure that has been standing there since the 16th century. Emperor Augustus brought it to Rome in 10 BC to commemorate the Roman Empire’s conquest of Egypt. Originating from 1300 BC, it originally stood in the Sun Temple area of Heliopolis.

Practical Tips

  • Guided Tours: Opt for a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the history and artistry of the church.
  • Dress Modestly: As with many religious sites in Italy, it’s advisable to dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees.
  • Combine with Nearby Attractions: Explore the surrounding area, including the iconic Piazza del Popolo and the nearby Villa Borghese Gardens, to make the most of your visit.
Santa Maria del Popolo: A visual feast of Roman splendor and artistic brilliance in the heart of the city.


Santa Maria del Popolo stands as a living testament to Rome’s artistic and religious heritage. Whether you are an art aficionado or a casual traveler, the church’s historical significance and captivating artwork promises a memorable experience. Embark on a journey through time and creativity as you step into the sacred halls of Santa Maria del Popolo – an essential stop for anyone seeking the soul-stirring beauty of Rome’s cultural treasures.

Helpful Information

Best Time to Visit: To fully appreciate the beauty of Santa Maria del Popolo, consider visiting during the quieter hours of the morning or late afternoon. This will allow you to immerse yourself in the tranquility of space without the hustle and bustle of large crowds.

Important Information

Santa Maria del Popolo visitor information


Kristal Ham

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Traveler and Photographer

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