Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri: Michelangelo’s last grand architectural project
Rome is a city with histories upon histories, and quite literally so. It’s not uncommon to find historical sites literally built on top of each other, or important locations from different eras just around the corner from one another.
There are few places in Rome where this is more evident than the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, or Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. Designed by Michelangelo himself, the basilica was built into the ruins of the famous Diocletian Baths. Its name comes from a legend of Christian martyrs who died during its construction. In fact, you may even walk past the basilica without noticing as there is no true facade. It is built into the ruins in such a way which interpolates the brick walls of the baths as well as some of the design.
The entire site is truly incredible. You come face to face with the best of the Renaissance and the might of Ancient Rome. Like many of Rome’s churches, the building is one to marvel at. You will feel small standing inside the vestibule, gazing up at the beautiful art and massive frescos which adorn the walls.
Not only is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels unique, it was also the official state church of the Kindgom of Italy, and even a burial site for state funerals. Some notable people buried in the basilica are William Chisholm II, Salvator Rosa, General Armando Diaz, and Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel.
Any beautiful church like this is an interdisciplinary intersection of math, science, art, and religion, but the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs goes a step further with its meridian line, which was added in the early 1700s and serves as a calendar and time keeper. Every day around noon, the sun shines through a hole in the southern-facing wall, projecting its image onto the meridian line. On either side, you can see the signs of the zodiac which correspond with different times.
Make sure to look for the sculpture of Galileo Galilei Divine Man, given to the church by the China Center of Advanced Science and Technology in 2010 and designed by Nobel Laureate in physics, Tsung-Dao Lee. And of course, take some time to examine the bronze doors created by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj.
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is not a site to miss, and conveniently located near Rome’s Termini Station, it is an easy stop to make on your trip.
Piazza della Repubblica
Daily 7am – 7.30pm