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Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

If you've been keeping up with my Rome blog posts, you will have seen me talk (waffle) in detail all about the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum (check out that post here) and also the Capitoline Museums (check that out here) which I visited all on one super busy, sight-seeing filled day. On that same day, there was one other place we visited and again, it was completely by chance. Believe it or not, this was my favourite part of the holiday. Sure, seeing the sites of Rome was amazing, eating all the food was great, and going into Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica was absolutely breathtaking, but because this was an unplanned, unknown little gem for me it definitely takes the top spot for "best bit" so I suppose I should tell you all about it!

Nestled next to Musei Capitolini/Piazza del Campidoglio, there was a building at the top of a very steep and high staircase that looked just well, a bit plain in comparison to its next door neighbour's architecture. Matt & I had wandered down the stairs from Piazza del Campidoglio to fill our water bottles at the mineral fountains at the bottom of the main staircase whilst we considered where we were going to go for a few hours to kill some time and to also cool down because gee whizz it was *hot*. It was then we noticed this kind of plain building at the top of this insane mountain of a staircase and toyed with the idea of heading up there. After a quick map search we read "Santa Maria" and knew it must be one of the seemingly thousands of churches dedicated to her. We kept looking at the unappealing staircase, then at the sun beating down on us and we almost turned away but there were quite a few people making their way up the stairs so... it must be worth the climb, right? And you betcha it was.

Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli InteriorDome Detail in Santa Maria of the Altar of HeavenBasilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeliDome DetailBasilica Floor TilesBasilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Absolutely stunning isn't it? I genuinely gasped when I walked into the space; out of the blinding midday sun into the tranquil but astonishingly complex interior. This is the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Altar of Heaven (Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli in Italian!) which is the 12th century church nestled on the Capitoline Hill, right next door to the Capitoline Museums. It's a breathtaking space with gold glistening and chandeliers hanging everywhere you turn (I mean just *look* at that ceiling! My goodness!). The richness and artistic flair throughout Rome's churches is something I will never forget and something I fully appreciate that I got to see in real life. The level of detail and commitment shown to Christianity in these holy buildings is extremely humbling and inspirational to see for someone such as myself who doesn't have a faith but is forever intrigued by them.

Santa Maria of the Altar of HeavenBasilica of Santa Maria of the Altar of HeavenBasilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli
Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli is not just beautiful upon first glance but also because it houses some impressive works of art by various well known names. Both Donatello and Michelangelo designed tombstones/tombs in the church but there is also a remaining fresco of Madonna and the Child by Pietro Cavallini (who was an Italian painter and mosaic designer who lived between 1259-1330) on display which you can see pictured below (on the right!). Not only was it interesting to see these various pieces of art and absorb everything else inside the gorgeous place, it was wonderful to learn about the famous Santo Bambino of Aracoeli (also picture below, left).

It is believed this wooden figure of the Child Jesus was carved from a piece of olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane in the 15th century. It is decorated and adorned with golden fabric, gemstones and jewels which were donated by devotees to the statue as it is believed to have healing properties and thus has been used as a pilgrimage point since as early as the late 1700s. Visiting the separate chapel room in which the shrine to Santo Bambino sits, I was so surprised to see it surrounded by letters; letters from worshippers all around the world who wish to communicate with and pray to the Child Jesus. Again, it was so interesting to see such a level of dedication and devotion to an image as someone who wouldn't consider themselves religious at all. This image was stolen in 1994 which caused uproar in this Roman Catholic city - as you can imagine! It was never recovered despite people offering thousands of pounds in ransoms so a copy was made which is what can be seen locked away tight in a glass cabinet in the basilica nowadays.

Artwork DomeCeiling PaintingCeiling ArtworkBasilica di Santa Maria in AracoeliGolden Cherub

I hope you guys have enjoyed a brief look into this beautiful building and can hopefully see why I thought it was worth the sweaty hike up to its front door but my photographs honestly don't do the interior justice. If you're ever in Rome and you're ever in the area around the Colosseum/Roman Forum, please don't pass this little beauty by - I promise you it's even more gorgeous in real life.

- A.
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