Basilica papale di San Paolo fuori le mura, Rome

Visit one of four major basilicas in the Eternal City, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the walls.

The history of the Basilica of Saint Paul begins in the year 324, when Constantine has a church built above the tomb of Saint Paul a couple of kilometers from the Porta da Paolo outside of the walls of Rome. It got the ball rolling and the ball got bigger and soon the modest church was demolished to make way for a larger and more oppulent basilica completed in 395. The popes made it ever bigger, the bell tower and Byzantine door were added in the 11th century. But that wasn't all. Pietro Cavallini added the mosaic on the facade and the soaring Paschal candle was put in place in the 13th century. It become the biggest Basilica of Rome until the consecration of the new Basilica of St. Peter in 1626.

Then, one night in the summer of 1823, fire destroyed all but the cloisters. 

But they built it all back using what they could salvage from the conflagaration, the world coming together to supply elements which couldn't be found locally. 

And, once again the expanding and embellishment began.

So you can see it in all its glory and then some. If you haven't heard of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, it will absolutely stun you. Let's have a look at the facade.

basilica of saint paul facade

Statue of Paul in front of the Mosaic Facade of the Basilica of St. Paul

The people depicted in the lower section are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. In the central section you'll the mystical Lamb surrounded by four rivers which symbolize the four Gospels, and by twelve lambs representing the twelve Apostles. In the upper section Christ is situated between Peter and Paul.

Other things you can see: Don't miss the Cloister, as the monastic community at San Paolo datees back to the 6th century. There is digging at The archaeological site of 'Orto dei Monaci' the 'Monks' Orchard', across from the basilica.

Be aware that entrance to the basilica is free, but there's an admission charge to see the picture gallery, chapel of relics, and cloister. A gift shop will empty your wallet with products from the monastery, books, and religious items.

Inside the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

Ok, so you might think that the outside of the Basilica is nice enough, but it's inside that will blow you away. 

apse mosaics in the basilica of st paul

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) ordered the creation of the large mosaic in the apse. It's 24 meters wide and 12 meters long.

The Gothic baldachin tilting in from the left side of the picture was done by Arnolfo di Cambio.

chains of saint paul

The Chains of Saint Paul

The chain which linked the Apostle and the Roman soldier charged with guarding him. Just below the grate you see on the top of the picture is the tomb of Paul.

mosics of the popes

Mosaics of the Popes

Each of the popes is represented with portraits adorning the frieze above the arches.

chains of saint paul

The Easter Candle

The 5.6 meter tall Easter candle is considered a masterpiece of Romanesque art. It depicts Biblical or secular scenes with other figures, including plants and animals.

mosaics of the popes

The Base of the Easter Candle

The monumental Candelabrum for the Paschal candle was created by Nicola D’Angelo and Pietro Vassalletto.

Location Map of the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

View Larger Map

Here you'll see the complex that includes the Basilica of Saint Paul and including the Abbey, a world heritage site you can visit, just to the south.

If you follow the Via Ostiense north by dragging the map, you'll find it's a mere half hour walk to the Porto San Paolo. This walk can be done as a little itinerary, which we'll outline next. If you don't want to walk, you can take the Metro (shown on the map) to the Porta San Paolo, which is a connection hub for other destinations, including one we recommend very much if you have time, Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome.

Basilica to Porto San Paolo Itinerary

A walk down the Via Ostiense from the basilica makes for a rewarding half hour or so; it's 1.3 miles. If you walk north on the sidewalk on the left side of the road you will come to signs for Musei Capitolini Centrale Montemartini on via Ostiense, 196. Betsy Malloy of TripSavvy recommends it: "They're displaying works from the Capitoline Museum which would otherwise be in storage, inside a decommissioned early-1900s power plant. It sounds odd, but it's really quite wonderful and the contrasts between Roman marble and modern machines are brilliant. And on their own, some of the pieces are outstanding."

From there you continue up the Via Ostiense until you reach Porto San Paolo and the walls of Rome. The area around the Porta S. Paolo is a transportation hub, featuring the Roma Porta San Paolo station that takes you to Ostia with a stop at the Roman city of Ostia Antica, and the Rome Ostiense railway station a little further south.

San Paolo Basilica is the stop on the Metro line B, the second stop north is Piramide, which is the stop you want for the Porta san Paolo. You can continue on in that direction to get to the Colosseum or Termini Station.

Porta San Paolo Map & Guide

Lodging in the area