San Paolo Fuori le Mura ☆☆

The facade, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Rome, Italy (Photo by Berthold Werner)
The facade

St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls is one of the four great basilicas of Rome

One of Rome’s four grand grand pilgrimage basilicas, St. Paul Outside the Walls used to be translated as "St. Paul Without the Walls"—a name that, as a kid living in Rome, I got a real kick out of and was therefore sorely disappointed to discover it wasn't an open-air church.

Sadly, the original basilica burned down in 1823, but it has been faithfully reconstructed using as many elements as possible from the original structure.

The Byzantine doors, with incised bronze panels from the 11th century, were badly damaged in the fire, but survived to be preserved on the inside of the west wall, between the central and south portals.

The altar is said to mark the spot of St. Paul's burial (an AD 1st-century tomb discovered underneath would seem to support this tradition), and sheltering the altar is a late 13C ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio.

Nearby is a weird, giant marble candlestick carved in the 12th century with a whirl of medieval scenes.

The restored apse mosaics were executed by Venetian craftsmen in the 1220s.

The one part of the church to survive the fire almost intact is still its greatest draw, the lovely and peaceful early–13th century cloisters.

The cloisters' columns are a cornucopia of variety, many twisted or paired and inlaid with gems, mosaics, or colored marble chips in glittering patterns.

Photo gallery
  • The facade, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Berthold Werner)
  • The nave, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
  • Mosaics in the apse, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
  • The cloisters, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Herbert Weber)
  • Medieval frescoes from the !2–13C in the Oratorio di San Giovanni, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Palickap)
  • The Byzantine doors from 1170, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • Detail of the Byzantine doors from 1170, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • A panel of the Byzantine doors from 1170, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • The tabernacle of the confession by Arnolfo di Cambio, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Fczarnowski)
  • The big mosaic of the facade, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Luca Camellini)
  • The entry courtyard, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
  • An AD 3C sarcophagus repurposed in 1124-30 as a burial coffin for Pietro di Leone Pierleoni, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Mac9)
  • Twisty columns in the cloisters, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Herbert Weber)
  • Ornate column in the cloisters, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Richardprins)
  • The paschal candlestick, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
  • Mosaics, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Kiss Tamás)
  • Touching the tomb os St. Paul, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
  • The chain that supposedly once imprisoned St. Paul, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo by Antoine Taveneaux)
  • Nuns in the church, San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Italy (Photo © Reid Bramblett)
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Tips

How long does San Paolo Fuori le Mura take?

You can wander the church in a quick 20–30 minutes—though budget another 20 minutes each way just to get out here—get the most out of the journey by taking the bus either there or back and stopping halfway at the fascinating Centrale Montemartini museum of antiquities.

Want to hear monks sing?

Lauds are sung at 6:35am and vespers at 6pm Mon-Sat (5pm Sundays) in the church, and complines at 9pm in the monastery cloisters.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).