Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four papal basilicas of Rome, was built during the reign of Pope Sixtus III (r. 432-40) and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was declared the Mother of God (Theotokos) at the Council of Ephesus (431). Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest Marian church in Rome.
The brick bell tower, which at 246 feet (75 m.) is the highest in the city, was completed in 1377.
The rear of the church, with its imposing flight of steps, was created by Flaminio Ponzio and Domenico Fontana. It was completed, circa 1673, by Carlo Rainaldi. The obelisk, which once stood outside the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus, was set up here by Pope Sixtus V in 1587.
A new facade was completed in 1743, the work of the Florentine architect Ferdinando Fuga (1699-1782). The portico is surmounted by a three-arched benediction loggia.
The 14-metre-high marble column, which stands in front of the church, comes from the Basilica of Maxentius. It was set up here in 1613 at the behest of Pope Paul V (r. 1605-21) and is crowned with a bronze statue of the Virgin and Child, the work of Guillaume Berthélot and Orazio Censore.
At the time the column was set up, the Basilica of Maxentius was known as the Temple of Peace. The inscription explains that the column was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, for 'the Prince who gives true peace came from her womb' ('ex cuius visceribus princeps verae pacis genitus est donum dedit'). The column duly came to be known as the Colonna della Pace.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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