Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
The Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Just behind the Pantheon hides the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a gem in its own right. The only Gothic church in Rome's center, it's a breath of fresh air from over-the-top Baroque opulence. Plus, it has gorgeous frescoes by Filippo Lippi (an early Renaissance master), the body of Italy's patron saint Catherine of Siena, the tomb of painter Fra Angelico, and a statue done—at least partly—by Michelangelo himself.
By Amanda Ruggeri, AFAR Contributor
Have you been here? Share a tip or a photo with fellow travelers.
Plain Facade But Wonders Inside
This small Romanesque basilica looks very plain from the outside, but venture inside and you'll be captivated by its riches. Just behind the Pantheon is the Piazza della Minerva, the focal point of which is an sculpture of a baby elephant that was made by Bernini in 1667. Once inside the basilica, you'll be surprised at its size and the beautiful vaulted ceiling. It was built on a temple to Minerva, and you can still find ruins of the temple in the crypt—a cool place to explore on warm days. A sculpture in the apse, Christ Bearing the Cross, was carved by Michelangelo for the church in 1521. Saint Catherine's body is buried under the altar, although her head resides in Siena — long story. Fra Angelico paintings can be found here as well as his burial site. This place is packed with lots to see, and it is little-known to most tourists. Highly recommend.
By Clare Olivares, AFAR Local Expert