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Loggia, Hall of Popes and Bernini’s Staircase

The majestic facade designed by the architect Ferdinando Fuga as a mantle for the Marian Basilica, creates a true and proper stage from where one can admire the entire square and Filippo Rusuti’s mosaics (circa 1300). They narrate the founding history of the Basilica: on the night of 5 August 358, Our Lady appeared in a dream to the Roman aristocrat, Giovanni and his wife. The Virgin promised them that she would grant their desire to have a child through a miracle. The couple went to visit Pope Liberius who told them that he had had the same dream. As they were leaving, the married couple saw that part of the Esquiline Hill was covered in snow. Using his crosier, the Pope marked the perimeter of where the couple was to build the church. While the original aspect of the Liberian Church is still unknown, the consecration of today’s Basilica, which was ordered by Pope Sixtus III in 431, after the Council of Ephesus, took place precisely on the day of the miracle, on 5 August. In memory of this miraculous event, each year solemn celebrations take place that culminate with a shower of white petals falling from the ceiling above the Major Altar.

The Hall of Popes is the hall that most closely shows the scope of the architectural project wanted by Pope Paul V (1605-1621). Flaminio Ponzio, from Lombardy, built a large building with five floors for the Canons of the Basilica. The Hall is like a sort of Pantheon for eminent figures linked to it: Cardinals, Archpriest Saint Charles Borromeo, Popes and the royal family of Spain who is very devoted to the Basilica, as the King of Spain is the Protocanon of the Chapter. The elegant spiral staircase, believed to be by “Gian Lorenzo Bernini” is made of travertino stone and connects the five floors of the building with the New Sacristy. Its shape, devoid of columns, recalls a stylized seashell and its lines follow an ascending direction. It symbolizes the human journey from earth to the heavens and from darkness into light.


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