The most eye-catching buildings in Piazza del Popolo are the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto.
The churches stand at the end of Via del Corso, central Rome’s most concentrated shopping destination.
However, the hidden gem in this piazza is actually the plainer-looking basilica to the north of the square: Santa Maria del Popolo.
Del Popolo = of the people. I feel like that’s appropriate, because beautiful things shouldn’t be locked away all the time.
What good is art if it can’t be enjoyed by the people? And for free, thank you very much.
Raphael was commissioned to create a tomb in the quiet church for a famous benefactor, but the artist died young – long before he could complete the chapel.
The unassuming church was partly designed by Bernini, as well. And let’s not forget that Bramante designed the apse.
Translation: some very important artists and architects did some very important stuff here.
But the highlight for me is the small chapel in the back, to the left.
There you will find three paintings.
The center painting was done by Annibale Carracci, one of Caravaggio’s rivals and a Baroque master.
However, it is the moody light and dark that made Caravaggio less popular in the 1600s that now makes the artist the more famous of the two.
His illumination of faces, and emphasis on details, make the art glow.
To the right, if you tilt your head, is The Conversion of St. Paul.
To the left, The Crucifixion of St. Peter.
Both are incredibly executed, and much better in person.
So the next time you need a break from all that shopping, make sure to get your art fix at Santa Maria del Popolo.
Santa Maria del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo, 12