Skip to content

17 Gorgeous Churches in Italy That Will Take Your Breath Away

Spread the love

Italy isn’t just the land of pizza and pasta; it’s also home to some of the most stunning churches you’ll ever lay eyes on. These architectural marvels aren’t your average Sunday morning chapels; they’re timeless works of art that have withstood the test of time. From the marble marvels of Rome to the vibrant frescoes wonders of Florence, each sacred space stands as a testament to faith and architectural brilliance. Let’s explore the 17 most famous churches in Italy, that stand as the crown jewels.

best churches in Italy

Did you know that it’s estimated that in Italy there are about 100,000 Catholic churches? Not only they are sanctuaries for the soul, but they also represent feats of engineering and triumphs of artistic expression.


The most famous churches in Italy you must visit


1. Pantheon

churches in Italy - Pantheon, a masterpiece of ancient craftsmanship with a record-breaking dome.

A religious chameleon of Rome has remained perfectly intact for almost 2,000 years.


When it comes to the most famous churches in Italy, it’s hard to beat Rome’s Pantheon. This isn’t just any average temple; it’s the best-preserved building from ancient Rome. Despite its fame, many people are unaware of its rich history and stunning architecture.

The Pantheon is a masterpiece of ancient craftsmanship – it’s a geometric wonder with perfect dimensions and a record-breaking dome. And guess what? The Pantheon was so advanced for its time that Michelangelo called it ‘’angelic and not human design.’’ It even became the model for Michelangelo’s dome for St. Peter’s Basilica and Brunelleschi’s dome for Florence Cathedral.


best churches in Italy - Pantheon because it has the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world

Did you know the Pantheon’s dome was the world’s largest for 1,300 years? It only lost the title to the Florence Cathedral in the 15th century. Today, it remains the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. This masterpiece stands without a frame – it’s a true work of genius. If that doesn’t amaze you, nothing will.



Want to learn more mind-blowing Pantheon facts? Read our article about this fascinating building that has lasted far longer than anything else.

Surprising Pantheon Rome facts


2. Siena Cathedral

churches in Italy - Siena Cathedral, an art-filled wonder

Curious about what makes Siena Cathedral in Tuscany so special? This magnificent cathedral is one of the greatest and the most significant Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals in Italy. Here’s a juicy bit: if 14th-century plans to create a new nave had come to fruition, the building would have become the largest church in Christendom. Spoiler alert: it did not happen. The plan was abandoned when the plague of 1348 virtually halved the city’s population. You can still see traces of this ambitious project.

the remnants of a large incomplete Facciatone (façade)

The unfinished nave and the remnants of a large incomplete Facciatone (façade) indicate the planned size of the nave.


churches to visit in Italy - Siena Cathedral because it is the most significant Romanesque and Gothic cathedral in the country.

The Facciatone viewpoint offers the best views of the cathedral.



But what else makes Siena Cathedral truly unique, you may ask? Well, for starters, this UNESCO-listed white, green and pink marble church is an art-filled wonder. What’s inside? Among the Duomo’s treasures are works by world-famous artists, such as Pisano, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Pinturicchio. Siena Cathedral is also special because it houses the Cathedral Museum on the south side of the Duomo. It’s the oldest private museum in the country, featuring the famous Duccio’s huge Maesta – one of the Sienese School’s finest works.

things to do in Siena: Seeing the Piccolomini Library is one of the best things to do in Siena because this small room has some of the most impressive frescoes in Tuscany. The famous Italian painter Pinturicchio and his pupils decorated the walls of the gorgeous Piccolomini Library. The detailed frescoes are full of bright colours, and the ceiling with gold details.

the Piccolomini Library


But that’s not all. The Duomo complex includes a few more structures: the Piccolomini Library, the Baptistery and the Crypt. The Piccolomini Library is surely one of the highlights. Every inch of the library contains stunning frescoes, considered to be some of the most impressive in Tuscany.



Don’t forget to look down: the extraordinary marble mosaics are one of the most impressive works inside the cathedral.


Ever heard of the Siena marble floor? Top artists from across the city designed it over several centuries. The cathedral’s floor became so famous that Giorgio Vasari described it as “the largest and the most magnificent floor ever made”. No wonder the most precious panels are covered for the majority of the year for protection.

the Gate of Heaven OPA SI PASS

Here’s a little secret: Buy the Gate of Heaven OPA SI PASS and see the beautiful mosaic floor from the top and the Cathedral roofs.



places to visit in Siena Tuscany


3. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

churches to visit in Italy - Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

Want to know why everyone who visits Rome talks about St. Peter’s Basilica? Not only is it the largest church in the world (interior) but also boasts one of the world’s largest domes. But size isn’t everything, right? Catholicism’s most sacred shrine took 120 years to build. This marble-caked basilica is a result of a remarkable collaboration between 20 popes and many architects. Among the most famous artists were Bramante, Bernini, Raphael and even Michelangelo.



dome inside St Peter's Basilica

Did you know that Michelangelo is the architect of the magnificent Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica? That’s right, not only Michelangelo was a sculptor and a painter but also an architect for an entire third of his life.


Here’s a juicy bit: The pope told Michelangelo to make this dome bigger than the one in the Pantheon. However, Michelangelo made it just half a meter, 1.6 feet smaller in diameter. Why, you may ask? Because he didn’t want to disrespect the architectural majesty of the Pantheon. Luckily for him, the pope never hiked up there with a tape measure.

Now let’s just say a little more about its unique features. St. Peter’s Basilica measures more than two football fields in length – 218 metres or 715 feet. It holds hundreds of precious works of art, including an impressive bronze baldachin and statue of St. Peter. And let’s not forget Michelangelo’s Pieta, the only work he ever signed – you can spot his signature across her sash. How cool is that?

Once inside, make sure to look down. Markings on the floor of the nave show how other churches compare in length. And here’s one more secret – St. Peter’s Basilica has no paintings; they are actually all mosaics. Get close to the picture, and you will spot the little squares of glass and ceramic.



Don’t forget to climb the stairs or take an elevator to the top to see the dome up close. The views are hard to beat, and there is also a secret rooftop café.


4. Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna

churches in Italy to visit - Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna

San Vitale’s apse mosaics depict Christ, San Vitale, two angels, and a bishop who began the church.


Let us tell you a secret: The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is Italy’s hidden treasure. You might not have heard about this city in the Emilia-Romagna region and its church, but trust us, you must see it. Why? Because Ravenna was once the capital of the Western Roman Empire and is world-famous for its early Christian mosaics.

Now, let’s say something about this stunning octagonal basilica. It’s the most visited church in the city, dating back to the first half of the 6th century AD, and it stands as the finest example of Byzantine art in Italy. Here’s what makes it fascinating: The UNESCO-listed Basilica of San Vitale boasts the largest and best-preserved collection of mosaics outside Istanbul. It’s also the only major house of God from the period of Emperor Justinian I that has survived visually intact. How amazing is that?


Justinian mosaic pannel in Ravenna

Don’t miss precious Justinian and Theodora’s panels – they represent some of the best examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Western Europe.



1 day in Ravenna


5. Florence Cathedral

unique churches in Italy: Florence Cathedral because its dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

The richly decorated Duomo is famous for its size, beauty, and murder.


Ever wondered why the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a big deal? It’s because a committee of Florence Cathedral came up with the ambitious plan: to build a church with an iconic dome. Rome’s Pantheon was, of course, the inspiration for this massive domed church. Florentine determination to lead in all things resulted in the creation of this breathtaking cathedral. Today, Florence Cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with elements of Romanesque and Renaissance influences.

Here’s where it gets interesting: The cathedral took over 140 years to build because no technology to complete the dome existed at the time. They started building the cathedral anyway and left the dome’s roof exposed until Brunelleschi figured out how to construct it. When Filippo Brunelleschi finished in 1463, it was the largest dome of its time to be built without scaffolding.



Now, let’s talk about its unique features, which make the Duomo one of the most famous churches in Italy. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the third largest cathedral in the world. The larger ones are only St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. After its completion in the 15th century, it became the largest cathedral in Europe.

But that’s not all – this ornate cathedral with green, red and white marble façade has gorgeous stained-glass windows and stunning artworks. Inside, you are surrounded by breathtaking Renaissance art, from frescoes to sculptures. You cannot help but notice the giant dome decorated with stunning frescoes. The famous Italian painter and architect Vasari is responsible for The Last Judgement.

brunelleschi dome inside

The Last Judgement by Vasari and Federico Zuccari


Filippo Brunelleschi’s massive self-supporting red-tiled dome stands as a testament to human creativity. Did you know the Florentine artist left no documents for others to learn how he constructed this massive cupola weighing over 37,000 tons? To this day, the dome of Florence Cathedral remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. That’s why Florence Cathedral is one of the unique churches in Italy.



Climb up the dome, admire the stunning frescoes, and enjoy breathtaking views of Florence. Afterwards, enjoy the views of the cathedral and its dome from Giotto’s Bell Tower.



best things to do in Florence



6. Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli

Not many would place the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli on their list of the best churches to visit in Rome, but that would be a mistake. Wonder why? The church’s name means ‘’St Peter in Chains’’, and people come here to see the chains of Saint Peter, which you can spot in a reliquary beneath the altar. This Roman Catholic church and minor basilica is conveniently located not far from the Colosseum.


unique churches in Italy - Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome because it houses the chains of Saint Peter.

Did you know these chains were originally two different sets with different sizes? One was from Jerusalem, and the other was from Rome. According to legend, Empress Eudoxia presented the chains from Jerusalem to Pope Leo I in the 5th century. When he held them beside those from the Mamertine Prison in Rome, the two sets of chains miraculously fused together. That’s why they are considered to be a relic.


tomb Monument of Pope Julius II

Another major reason why people visit the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is to see the tomb Monument of Pope Julius II. Why is it so special? Because at the centre of the tomb is Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to create a funerary monument that was originally intended to include over 40 statues (spoiler alert – it doesn’t have so many). Michelangelo began this impressive marble statue of Moses. After that, he was diverted to other projects, such as the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.


7. St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice

top churches in Italy - St Mark’s Basilica in Venice because it's a perfect example of Italo-Byzantine architecture.

 Until 1807, St Mark’s Basilica, or Basilica di San Marco as the locals called it, served as the doge’s private chapel. Today, it’s one of the top attractions in Venice.


Nobody can deny that St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice is one of the most famous churches in Italy. This magnificent basilica from the 9th century AD blends the decorative styles of East and West. With a Greek cross plan and five massive domes, St Mark’s Basilica is a perfect example of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The basilica stands as a testament to the city’s rich history. Why, you may ask? Because the locals built it to house the relics of the evangelist Saint Mark. This apostle also became Venice’s patron saint.

Here’s where it gets juicy: From 1075, all ships returning from abroad had to bring back, by law, a precious gift to adorn ‘’the House of St Mark’’. This tradition explains why St. Mark’s Basilica boasts marble floors, beautiful artworks, and over 8,000 square metres (86,000 square feet) of mosaics. These mosaics, mostly from the 12th and 13th centuries, cover the basilica’s walls, vaults, and cupolas. Even its uneven floor, caused by high water flooding, has an impressive design.



Did you know St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most significant religious buildings in Northern Italy? Highlights include Saint Mark’s body, housed in the altar, and the 10th-century Byzantine altarpiece Pala d’Oro, made of 250 panels.

Don’t miss the stunning mosaic of Christ in Glory decorating the central dome and Museo Marciano. Not only does this museum offer breathtaking views of the basilica, but it also houses the four original Horses of St Mark. These precious bronze horses were taken from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and brought to Venice.

Also, be sure to see the façade mosaic, which tells the story of how St. Mark’s bones were smuggled from Alexandria to Venice.  There is also a little detail on the side of St. Mark’s Basilica – the 1700-year-old Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs. This sculpture happens to be one of the oldest things you can find in Venice. It represents Diocletian, Maximian, Valeriand and Constantine, who helped rule the Roman Empire.


No time to read now? Save 17 famous churches in Italy to read later.

famous churches in Italy


8. Pisa Cathedral

must-visit churches in Italy: Duomo di Pisa because it's one of the finest examples of Pisan-Romanesque architecture in Tuscany. 

Duomo di Pisa, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is the oldest of three structures in this famous square. The cathedral has undergone numerous restorations and incorporates various styles and designs.


Planning a trip to Pisa? Let us sprinkle some wisdom on why Pisa Cathedral is one of the most significant churches in Italy. While the Leaning Tower of Pisa often steals the spotlight, Pisa Cathedral should also be at the top of your bucket list. Not sure why? This stunning cathedral in the Field of Miracles stands as one of the finest examples of Pisan-Romanesque architecture in Tuscany. According to UNESCO, the Cathedral Complex significantly influenced monumental architecture in Italy from the 11th to the 14th century.



Did you know this stunning cathedral is one of the oldest in Italy? Its construction began in 1064, making it older than those in Siena, Florence, Milan, and even St. Peter’s Basilica. Pisa Cathedral features a Latin cross plan with an unusual five-aisle layout and a strong Byzantine influence.


oldest churches in Italy: Pisa Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in Italy, it's older than the Duomo in Siena, Florence, Milan, and even St. Peter’s Basilica.

The locals constructed the Pisa Cathedral Complex, which consists of the Duomo, the Leaning Tower, the baptistery, and the cemetery outside the city’s early medieval walls. Why, you may ask? Because this powerful maritime republic had no fear of being attacked.



Pisa Cathedral inside

Curious about its highlights? Apart from its stunning façade, check out the Portale di San Ranieri and the beautiful bronze doors. Bonanno Pisano, the first architect of the Leaning Tower, decorated these 12th-century doors with cast reliefs. Inside, don’t miss the golden ceiling, the carved marble pulpit by Giovanni Pisano, and the Tomb of Emperor Henry VII. There is also an impressive mosaic of Christ in Majesty in the apse. And those granite Corinthian columns between the nave and the apse? They are Pisan spoils from the mosque of Palermo. And the large bronze chandelier? The locals call it ‘Galileo Lamp’’ because legend has it that Galileo Galilei first thought about the law of perpetual motion when he saw the hanging lamp.



places to visit in Pisa


9. Santa Maria Assunta in San Gimignano

Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta, San Gimignano

Here’s one more secret worth uncovering: Have you ever heard of Santa Maria Assunta in San Gimignano? This 12th-century Romanesque church is a hidden Tuscan treasure waiting to be discovered. While you may not have stumbled upon it before, trust us, it’s one of the most breathtaking churches in Italy. Wondering why?

most beautiful churches in Italy: UNESCO-listed Duomo di San Gimignano because it's famous for cycles of Renaissance frescoes by Sienese artists.

Not only does Santa Maria Assunta resemble the interior of the Siena Cathedral (on a smaller scale), but it also boasts outstanding frescoes. Were you aware that this UNESCO-listed Roman Catholic church is famous for cycles of Renaissance frescoes by Sienese artists? The stunning wall paintings by Benozzo Gozzoli, Lippo Memmi, Taddeo di Bartolo, and Domenico Ghirlandaio are as much a draw to San Gimignano as its medieval tall towers. They adorn the church’s walls entirely – depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments.



best churches in Italy - Santa Maria Assunta in San Gimignano because its 14th-century frescoes look like a vast medieval comic book.

Here’s the fascinating part: The 14th-century frescoes look like a vast medieval comic book. But why, you may wonder? Because these wall paintings served a crucial purpose. They helped the predominantly illiterate community understand and connect to biblical teachings. The frescoes illustrate various stories from the Bible – that’s why many refer to it as the “poor man’s Bible”.


Also, don’t overlook the small Chapel of Santa Fina, dedicated to the city’s patron saint, which you can find on the right side. Many scholars say this chapel is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture, painting and sculpture. The church also houses a magnificent The Last Judgement fresco by Taddeo di Bartolo, with images of Paradise and Hell.



1 day in San Gimignano


10. Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Is a trip to Milan complete without seeing Da Vinci’s Last Supper? Well, probably not. This over 520-year-old stunning masterpiece even received a precious UNESCO status. You won’t find it in any museum – it has a more exclusive address at the Santa Maria delle Grazie. It’s not just a church and Dominican convent, it’s home to a precious mural in the refectory. The Last Supper is more than just a pretty picture. It represents Da Vinci’s failed experiment and savvy political move, securing the Duke of Milan’s legacy for all time.


must-visit churches in Italy: Santa Maria delle Grazie because it houses the precious Da Vinci’s Last Supper.


Moreover, Da Vinci’s Last Supper is a geometric masterpiece – it holds a numerological message and even a hidden melody. How cool is that? The painting had quite a ride through history, and many things set it apart from other paintings of its kind. If you want to learn more, we recommend reading our post about the Last Supper painting secrets.



Da Vinci's Last Supper painting secrets


11. Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice

Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice

If there is one more church you must see in Venice, it’s the Roman Catholic Santa Maria della Salute. This large Baroque church and minor basilica lie at the entrance of the Grand Canal. What makes it unique, you might wonder? Well, for starters, it lies on a narrow platform supported by an impressive 1,000,000 wooden piles. The locals built in the 17th century to mark the end of the plague, which killed a third of the city’s population. They dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and constructed it from Istrian stone. The Venetians refer to this elegant basilica as ‘’Salute’’, which means ‘’health and salvation’’.

Why should you visit it? Because Santa Maria della Salute, with a large octagonal space and six chapels, is one of the most photographed symbols of the city. It also houses a collection of artworks by Titian. Don’t miss his early altarpiece of St Mark Enthroned with Saints Cosmas, Damian, Roch and Sebastian. Also, find this his dramatic painting of Cain and Abel, The Sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac and David and Goliath. Afterwards, climb 150 steps to the cupola, which offers breathtaking city views.



If you find yourself in Venice on the 21st of November, experience the religious ‘‘Festa della Salute’’. Thousands of people give thanks to the Virgin Mary and light candles each year on this day. They even build a temporary bridge across the Grand Canal to make the pilgrimage to this beloved church.



How to spend 2 days in Venice


12. Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral

If you’ve ever visited Milan, you know its cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Construction began in 1386 and wasn’t completed until over 570 years later. Today, it’s the largest church in Italy (yes, larger than St. Peter’s Basilica) and one of the largest in the world. Milan Cathedral is a stunning example of Italian Gothic architecture. Did you know it has more statues than any other building in the world? There are 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles, and 700 figures decorating this magnificent church.


Duomo di Milan roof terrace

Duomo’s most famous feature is its extraordinary roof, crowned with spires. You can admire them up close from its rooftop terrace, accessible by a staircase or elevator. Don’t miss Madonnina, the golden statue of Mary, which sits atop the highest spire. Since 1930, all buildings in Milan must be shorter than this symbol of the city.



The white and pink marble covering the cathedral’s ornate facade comes from the Lake Maggiore region. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the completion of the façade before his coronation as King of Italy in 1805.


Other must-see features include the largest musical organ in Italy, beautiful paintings and the sarcophagi of the famous Milanese citizens. The most famous statue in the cathedral is the flayed San Bartolomeo, which shows the saint carrying his own skin.

Inside the Gothic Duomo, you’ll find 52 giant pillars – one for each week of the year and a surprisingly precise sundial. And did we mention a small red light bulb in the dome above the apse? It marks the spot where the Holy Nail from the Crucifixion of Christ is placed. The public can view it every year on the Saturday closest to September 14th, when the locals celebrate the Rite of the Nivola.


13. Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe

Mosaic lovers looking for the most stunning churches should also see the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe. Don’t confuse it with the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo – this 6th-century red brick church lies five kilometres from Ravenna. Why is it worth visiting? The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, with a distinctive round bell tower, houses exceptional Byzantine mosaics. It also boasts  a fine collection of early Christian sarcophagi and it once housed the remains of the first bishop of Ravenna until the 9th century. Here’s where it gets juicy: it’s one of the best-preserved and most significant early Christian churches in Italy. That’s why this church has a precious UNESCO status for its outstanding preservation and historic value.

churches in Italy - Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe because it's one of the best-preserved and most significant early Christian churches in Italy.

The basilica’s mosaics are truly impressive, depicting the saint in a green meadow with sheep. The upper part of the mosaic features a large disk with a cross and 99 stars. And three lambs in between trees? They symbolize the saints – Peter, James and John. Other highlights include elegant columns made from Greek marble and stunning mosaics of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IV and Abel and Abraham.


14. Orvieto Cathedral

Orvieto Cathedral’s Gothic façade is one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages

Did you know that the Orvieto Cathedral’s Gothic façade is one of the great masterpieces of the Late Middle Ages?


Have you ever heard of Orvieto? This small Umbrian city, perched on a rock cliff in central Italy, is a perfect day trip from Rome. Let us whisk you away to its 14th-century Roman church, the city’s top attraction. Why was it built? Pope Urban IV ordered its construction to commemorate and house the relic of a miracle from 1263.



According to popular belief, the locals built Orvieto Cathedral in honour of the miracle at Bolsena, a nearby town. Legend has it that the priest doubted Christ’s presence in the Host. During Holy Mass, blood from a consecrated host stained the altar cloth. This cloth, bearing the blood spots, is now stored in the Corporal Chapel in the Orvieto Cathedral.



Today, tourists explore Orvieto Cathedral because it’s one of the greatest Romanesque-Gothic Cathedrals in Italy. Work on it continued for over three centuries, with at least 5 talented artists contributing to its stunning façade. Look closely, and you will see three bronze doors and an enormous rose window with the statues of twelve apostles above it. The façade is also famous for glittering golden mosaic decorations, filling every part where there aren’t statues.

Inside, you’ll find a nave with six bays and two aisles, decorated similarly to the exterior, with rows of blue-grey basalt and white travertine. The highlight is, of course, a Gothic triptych in the Corporal Chapel, which contains a stained altar cloth from Bolsena. This chapel also boasts Lippo Memmi’s precious panel of the Virgin of Mercy from the 14th century. Also, don’t miss Ugolino di Prete Ilario’s stunning frescoes of the Miracle of Bolsena and Miracles of the Sacrament.



Did you know the cycle of frescoes in the Orvieto Cathedral was an inspiration for Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel? Some scholars claim that The Last Judgement by Signorelli is equal to, or exceeds Michelangelo’s famous version. Luca Signorelli painted these stunning frescoes, which decorate the Chapel of San Brizio, about 40 years before Michelangelo.


15. Monreale Cathedral in Sicily

unique churches in Italy - Monreale Cathedral because its mosaics cover approximately 6,400 square meters and contain 2,200 kg of pure gold.

King William II commissioned the construction of Monreale Cathedral, completing it in just a few years. His aim? To create a church that would rival any other.


One of Sicily’s most renowned tourist attractions is the Catholic Monreale Cathedral. This magnificent 12th-century cathedral is famous for its exceptional blend of Norman, Byzantine, Italian, and Saracen styles, making it a cultural gem of Italy. It stands as a testament to Norman Sicilian architecture, attracting tourists with its rich history and stunning design. As a national monument with a precious UNESCO status, it’s an essential stop in Palermo.

Why visit? The Duomo’s cloister with orate columns is a masterpiece of Norman artistic expression. Inside, the cathedral glitters with vast 12th and 13th-century mosaics, created by Sicilian and Byzantine artists in under a decade. These interior mosaic decorations, among the largest in existence, include highlights such as a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator and a Mosaic Cycle. The last mentioned depicts scenes from the Old Testament, the Teachings of Christ, and the Gospels, including the story of Noah’s Ark.



Monreale Cathedral is the most famous for its stunning mosaics. Art historians have estimated that they cover approximately 6,400 square meters and contain 2,200 kg of pure gold. That’s why they belong among the most beautiful in the world.


16. Sancta Sanctorum in Rome

famous churches in Rome - Sancta Sanctorum in Rome because it houses Scala Santa

©Scala Santa


Though you may not find the small Sancta Sanctorum on the cover of travel guides in Rome, it’s one of the most significant chapels in Italy. Not sure why? This Roman Catholic chapel of the Lateran Palace was once the original private chapel of the papacy before it moved to Avignon and later to the Vatican Palace. The chapel formed part of the Lateran Palace, which was once the ancient palace of the Roman Empire and later the main papal residence.


Here’s where it gets fascinating: The Sancta Sanctorum gets its name from the Holy Stairs. According to an old Christian tradition, these 28 marble stairs are precisely the same ones Jesus climbed on his way to his trial during his Passion. Saint Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, transported them from Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem to Rome in 326 AD. Hence the name Scala Sancta.



  • One of the reasons why believers want to visit the Scala Sancta is that it’s a major stop on the Pilgrims Trail. The faithful who visit this site near the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran can receive indulgence. It’s customary to climb the Holy Stairs on your knees and pray. If you can’t do it, use the four additional staircases to see the chapel.
  • At the top of the last step is a private oratory used by the Popes until the Renaissance. The main altar contains a box with the bones of at least 13 saints.



Afterwards, visit the 4th-century Lateran Basilica, which you can find near the Lateran Palace. It’s the oldest of the four papal basilicas and one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome with the unique title of archbasilica. Yes, that’s right, the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran is the oldest public church in Rome and the oldest basilica in the Western world.


17. Santa Croce in Florence

If you’re on the hunt for stunning churches in Italy, don’t overlook 13th-century Santa Croce in Florence. This minor basilica, situated just 800 meters from the Duomo, stands as the largest Franciscan church in the world. Legend has it that Italian friar Francis of Assisi founded the Basilica of Santa Croce. And guess what? Some of Florence’s wealthiest families paid for the construction of this massive building.

churches in Italy - Santa Croce in Florence, the largest Franciscan church in the world.

 The exterior of the Basilica of the Holy Cross is a perfect example of Gothic architecture. Step inside, and you will see the chapel in Renaissance design and works of Renaissance art.



Now, get this: The Santa Croce complex contains more than 4,000 works (spanning from the 13th and 20th centuries). It houses 16 chapels, adorned with outstanding frescoes by Giotto and his pupil Taddei Gaddi in the Bardi Chael and the Peruzzi Chapel. Other famous artists whose works you can find at the Santa Croce are Donatello, Bronzino, Brunelleschi, and Vasari.

Santa Croce Florence interior

Did you know that the Basilica of Santa Croce contains tombs and monuments of famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli? There’s also a striking tomb dedicated to the famous poet Dante Alighieri, but it remains empty. Why, you may ask?  This is due to the Florentines’ exile of Dante in the 14th century. After that, he lived and died in Ravenna. The people of Ravenna refused to return his body to Florence, and it remains in Ravenna.


What also makes the Santa Croce complex stand out is the Pazzi Chapel in the first cloister. Filippo Brunelleschi’s domed chapel is a perfect example of the early Renaissance style and one of Florence’s icons. Also, don’t miss badly damaged 13th-century Cimabue’s Crucifixion, which is among the highlights of the collection.



As of May 2024, it is not possible to visit the Bardi Chapel with Giotto’s frescoes due to ongoing restoration works. For the latest updates, please visit their official website.


Now you know what the famous churches in Italy are!

famous churches in Italy

Which one do you like the most? If you enjoyed this post about the famous churches in Italy, please share it below to extend its reach. Thank you for reading and your support!


Save this post about 17 must-visit churches in Italy, so you won’t lose it!

free travel planner for travel around the world quiz



best piazzas in Italy

historic cities in Europe

best Mediterranean cities

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *