Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major) is located on Esquilino hill in Rome. This is one of the four papal basilicas outside the torritory of Vatican, and therefore has extraterritorial status and belongs to the pope.
According to the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the basilica, located in Italian territory, is owned by the Holy See and enjoys extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies. The building is patrolled internally by police agents of Vatican City State, not by Italian police.
The name of the temple comes from the fact that it is the largest church in Rome, which was built in honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary. But commonly it is called the Basilica of Our Lady of the Snows, or the Basilica of Our Lady Liberian. According to the legend, in 352 in the middle od the summer the pope had a dream in which Virgin Mary had appeared. She told them to build a church in the place where snow would fall at night. When Esquilino got covered by snow the Pope decided upon erecting a church. The story is depicted on the mosaics in the lodge of the church.
The construction of the basilica began after the Ephesian council in 431 during the Pope Sixtus III reign. At the same time, on the hill there was a temple of Juno, an ancient Roman goddes said to look after the women of Rome. During the construction works on the church Santa Maria Maggiore, the columns from the old Roman temple were used as pillars supporting the roof. In the end of the 13th century Pope Nicholas V ordered to add the transept and apse, which was rebuilt in 1673. In the middle of 18th century, the Facade of the church was designed by Ferdinans Fugue by order of Pope Benedict XIV.
The basilica is surrounded by the palaces. In the center of the facade there is medallion with the image of Jesus Christ. This church is a triple-nave basilica; the floor was laid by stonecutter from Cosmati School. The ceiling was decorated with a Renaissance gold which was brought by Christopher Columbus from one of his expeditions. Above the columns situated in the main nave there are mosaics depicting scenes from the New Testament related to Saint Mary's life. In the apse there is the Coronation of Our Lady scene presented. The main alter is topped with a canopy under which there are relics of nativity scene of the baby Jesus (Sacra Culla). Through the Baptistery adjoining the right aisle one can go to the sacristy - here there paintings hanging on the walls and one of them pictures the Malbork castle. On the both sides of the altar there are chapels. The right one is devoted to Sixtus V, the founder of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. However, that is why the chapel in Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is often called "Sistine" too. Inside of it, there are tombs of its patron and Pope Pius V. The chapel is surmounted by a dome. The chapel on the left is called "Pauline" because it was founded during the pontificate of Paul V. It can be also called "Borghese" which was the family name of the pope. In 1614 in front of the basilica there was a colonnade, which is topped with a statue of mother Mary in the key part.