Palestrina was born in the town of Palestrina, near Rome, then part of the Papal States. Documents suggest that he first visited Rome in 1537, when he is listed as a chorister at the Santa Maria Maggiore basilica. He studied with Robin Mallapert and Firmin Lebel. He spent most of his career in the city.
Palestrina came of age as a musician under the influence of the northern European style of polyphony, which owed its dominance in Italy primarily to two influential Netherlandish composers, Guillaume Dufay and Josquin des Prez, who had spent significant portions of their careers there. Italy itself had yet to produce anyone of comparable fame or skill in polyphony.
From 1544 to 1551, Palestrina was the organist of the Cathedral of St. Agapito, the principal church of his native city. His first published compositions, a book of Masses, had made so favorable an impression with Pope Julius III (previously the Bishop of Palestrina) that in 1551 he appointed Palestrina maestro di cappella or musical director of the Cappella Giulia, (Julian Chapel, in the sense of choir), the choir of the chapter of canons at St. Peter's Basilica. This book of Masses was the first by a native composer, since in the Italian states of Palestrina's day, most composers of sacred music were from the Low Countries, France, Portugal