A beautiful cathedral
Built 700 years ago, it is one of the larger cathedrals in Rome, and a good tourist attraction, considering there are over 600 throughout Rome. About 150 years ago there was a fire which destroyed the roof, the only wooden part of the structure. It was rebuilt and expanded, with a courtyard added and a nice art on the roof.
Aside from it's splendid stone front with pillars, there is a massive mosaic on top of the building, which from the ground looks like a magnificent fresco of Jesus, when in fact it's all stones.
On the front is a beautiful large gold/bronze set of church doors. This is the Porta Sancta, one of four sacred doors in the world. They are only opened every 25 years, by the Pope himself during the Jubilee year, with a hammer. During that year, they remain open and anyone who walks through is granted a Plenary Indulgence (like the movie Dogma).
Inscribed on the door is this (in Latin)
AD SACRAM DAVLI CVNTIS VENIENTIBUS AEDEM SIT PACIS DONVM PERPETVOQUE SALVS
Within is a special altar that is used only by the Pope on his visits, and on the walls going all the way around is a mosaic of every Pope that ever lived. At the front is a mosaic of Jesus on a throne, and a small Pope the size of a mouse kissing his feet. Humble little guy. On the side is an inscription in Latin saying "Pio IX Pontifici Maximo."
The basilica is built upon a Pagan Cemetary, and on the outside walls you can see some headstones that the builders took and pressed into the stone walls. You can walk around and see some of them, many are weathered. On the property is a monastary, where less than 2 dozen monks live. You will see them in various places, including the gift shop and courtyards.