St Peter’s Basilica with St Peter’s Square and magnificient Michelangelo Pieta Sculpture

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Papal Audience are held on Wednesdays if the Pope is in Rome, giving pilgrims and visitors the chance to “see the Pope” and receive the Papal Blessing or Apostolic Blessing from the successor of the Apostle Peter during their visit. Get tickets HERE

St Peter’s Basilica Rome is one of the Papal Basilicas and one of the four Major Basilicas. However, unlike all the other Papal Major Basilicas, it is wholly within the territory, and thus the sovereign jurisdiction, of the Vatican City State.

The St Peter’s Basilica Rome

St Peter’s Basilica Rome can host 20,000 people. It is 190 m long, the aisles are 58 m wide, the nave is 45.50 m high as far as the vault, the dome is about 136 m high as far as the cross. The interiors, characterized by huge mosaics, are sites of some of the most famous art works from all over the world, for example, Bernini’s baldachin and Michelangelo’s Pietà.

St Peter's Basilica with St Peter's Square and magnificient Michelangelo Pieta Sculpture

St Peter’s basilica hours

Every day: from 7.00 am to 7.00 pm (6.30 pm in winter)

St Peter’s basilica entrance fee 

There is also good news in that its free to enter the main St. Peter’s Basilica, though there are admission fees for a few parts (see below).

Top 15 recommended hotels near St Peter’s basilica in Vatican.

In the over 150 years required to complete the St Peter’s Basilica Rome, the most famous artists of the time directed the “Fabbrica di San Pietro”. Among these were:

  • Raphael Sanzio, who decided to transform Bramante’s Greek cross design with a Latin cross-like structure in 1514;
  • Antonio da Sangallo the Younger; and
  • Michelangelo who, during the pontificate of Paul III, decided to reuse the original Greek cross plan, designed the dome and supervised its construction until his death in 1564.
  • Over the course of the next thirty years, the “Fabbrica di San Pietro” was directed by Giacomo Vignola, and
  • then by the architects Giacomo Della Porta and Domenico Fontana, who completed Michelangelo’s plan of the dome around 1588. See our Top 15 catholic shrines around the world.

See more Italian Catholic shrines and Basilicas

See more European Catholic Shrines and pilgrimages

Saint Peter’s Basilica reached its present state thanks to Carlo Maderno, who went back to the Latin cross plan and defined the scenographic aspect of the façade. Work on the basilica was completed during the pontificate of Urban VIII in 1626.

But it was only between 1656 and 1667 that Bernini, commissioned by Alexander VII, planned and constructed the great colonnade in Saint Peter’s Square with the 1st century B.C. obelisk in the middle.

Originally set in the centre of Caligula’s Circus, where Saint Peter was martyred, it was moved to the present site in 1585 by Domenico Fontana, who was directed to do so by Sixtus V.

St Peter's Basilica with St Peter's Square and magnificient Michelangelo Pieta Sculpture

St Peter’s Basilica Square Rome

Designed and built by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, during the pontificate of Alexander VII (1655-1667), the square is made up of two different areas. The first has a trapezoid shape, marked off by two straight closed and convergent arms on each side of the church square.

The second area is elliptical and is surrounded by the two hemicycles of a four-row colonnade, because, as Bernini said, “considering that Saint Peter’s is almost the matrix of all the churches.

Iits portico had to give an open-armed, maternal welcome to all Catholics, confirming their faith; to heretics, reconciling them with the Church; and to the infidels, enlightening them about the true faith.”

The measurements of the square are impressive: it is 320 m deep, its diameter is 240 m and it is surrounded by 284 columns, set out in rows of four, and 88 pilasters. Around the year 1670, Bernini’s pupils built 140 statues of saints, 3.20 m high along the balustrade above the columns.

On either side of the obelisk, which was moved to the middle of the square by Domenico Fontana in 1585, are two great fountains built by Bernini (1675) and Maderno (1614). Below, at the foot of the staircase in front of the basilica, the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul seem to welcome visitors.

Of great interest is the Royal Staircase, which links the square to the Vatican Palaces. It was built between 1662 and 1666, and although it actually measures 60 metres, perspective devices, such as the progressive narrowing of the width and a reduced distance between the columns towards the top, make it look much longer.

The Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Pietà (1498–1499) is a work of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St Peter’s Basilica Rome. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist.

The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome.

The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal’s funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.

This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà is unprecedented in Italian sculpture. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism.

St Peter's Basilica with St Peter's Square and magnificient Michelangelo Pieta Sculpture

Saint Peter’s Treasury

After passing through the 18th century sacristy of the basilica – built with columns from the Villa Adriana in Tivoli – one enters St Peter’s Treasury, which contains church ornaments, statues, papal mitres and various objects, usually gifts of kings or princes.

Notable pieces include the monument to Sixtus IV (1471-1484), a work by Antonio del Pollaiolo, a 15th century Florentine artist. The sarcophagus shows the Pope surrounded by the virtues and the liberal arts. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later to become Pope Julius II) commissioned it in 1493.

Interior of the Saint Peter’s Basilica

The atrium (corresponding to the ancient portico of the early Christian basilicas) is considered one of the most remarkable works of Carlo Maderno and was built between 1608 and 1612.

The central door is by the Florentine sculptor Antonio Averulino, known as Filarete. It dates from 1455 and comes from the ancient Constantinian church. Saint Peter and Saint Paul are represented here with scenes from their martyrdoms.

The Holy Door stands on the right, cast in bronze by the sculptor Vico Consorti in 1950. This door is opened and closed in the Pope’s presence during every Jubilee Year.

On the far left of the vestibule is the equestrian statue of Charlemagne, crafted by Agostino Cornacchini (1725). On the right vestibule stands Bernini’s equestrian statue of the Emperor Constantine (1670).

The Latin cross structure of the interior dates back to the early 1600’s and was designed by Maderno, who completed the basilica and built the nave and the two aisles, forming a whole with the Michelangelesque central octagon. It is an immense and magnificent space, richly decorated with Baroque stuccos, mosaics and statues, almost overwhelming at first glance.
St Peter's Basilica with St Peter's Square and magnificient Michelangelo Pieta Sculpture

The visitor usually needs to pause for a moment before he can take in its vast size. Simply comparing the height of the holy-water fonts and their supporting puttos with that of the people around them can give an idea of the church’s proportions.

The Saint Peter’s Basilica is 187 metres long, 58 metres wide across the aisles and 140 metres wide at the transept: the maximum height of the vault in the nave is 46 metres (as high as a 15 storey building!).

The visitor should first walk down the nave, noting the marks on the floor indicating the comparative lengths of the largest churches in the world. He can then retrace his steps to the aisle near the entrance door.

The nave has huge, fluted and cabled pilasters (the lower part of the fluting is full). Each one has niches with 39 statues of saints who were founders of various religious orders and congregations. The vault was decorated with gold stuccos in 1780, under Pius VI.

The right aisle, facing the altar, contains many great artistic and religious works. Michelangelo’s Pietà is in the first chapel, shielded by thick glass.

This masterpiece dates from 1499, when the artist was only 24 years old. The Madonna’s youthful, sweet face expresses her submission to destiny, as she cradles the dead Christ’s limp body in her lap. Yet the rich drapery of her dress and veil suggest an extraordinary physical and moral strength, which contrasts with the delicate, 15th century features.

This is the only work signed by the artist, whose name appears on the belt.

The Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament follows next, with a tabernacle on the altar resembling Bramante’s Tempietto at Saint Peter’s in Montorio, on the Janiculum Hill. Bernini fashioned this gilded bronze tabernacle in 1674.

Two kneeling angels were added to it later on. At the end of the right aisle is the famous monument to Gregory XIII (1572-1585), completed by the sculptor Camillo Rusconi in 1723, with allegorical figures of Religion and Fortitude and a dragon, the heraldic symbol of the Pope’s family, below the sarcophagus.

Returning to the nave, one can see the famous statue of Saint Peter Enthroned, which most critics have attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302). Some scholars, however, date the statue to the 5th century.

One foot has been almost completely worn away by the faithful, who kiss it to show their devotion to the saint. Four huge, square pilasters mark where the longitudinal nave and transept meet.

Niches have been carved out of the pilasters’ oblique walls, containing four colossal statues which embody crucial moments of Christ’s passion:

  • St Longinus, the soldier who pierced Christ’s side with his spear and later converted to Christianity;
  • St Helen, Emperor Constantine’s mother, who brought the cross and nails of Christ’s martyrdom to Rome;
  • St Veronica, who wiped Christ’s face with a cloth on the road to Calvary;
  • St Andrew, Peter’s brother, who was crucified in Greece.

The first of these statues was executed by Bernini in 1638; the latter three statues were sculpted by his pupils. The papal altar in the middle of the church is surmounted by the famous gilded bronze baldachin, designed by a youthful Bernini between 1624 and 1632. It stands 29 metres high and was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644) to fill the “empty” space below the dome and create an upward movement.

The bronze used for the baldachin was probably removed from the Pantheon’s pronaos, a story which gave rise to a saying, “quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini” (“what the barbarians didn’t do, was done by the Barberini”).

The baldachin has four colossal, twisted columns, splendidly fluted and decorated with olive and laurel branches, ending in a composite capital. The covering has extremely elegant volutes and statues on each corner, and is crowned by a gilded bronze sphere.

Note the tassels with bees (an emblem of the Barberini family, symbolizing their industriousness), which almost seem to rustle in an imaginary wind. A gold dove inside represents the Holy Spirit.

Underneath this structure is the “Tomb of Saint Peter”, where, according to tradition, the remains of the Apostle are kept, making it one of the places most venerated by Christians. Recent archaeological evidence seems to confirm this tradition.

Above the baldachin is the majestic dome, with paintings on the inside, modelled between 1603 and 1613 after cartoons by Giuseppe Cesari. Along the base is a gold inscription in Latin, which reads, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and I will give you the keys to heaven.”

The monument to Clement XIII (1758-1769), in the right-hand transept, also deserves attention. It was built in 1784 by the greatest Italian neo-classical sculptor, Antonio Canova. It was commissioned in 1784 and was built using Bernini’s tombs as a model, with a portrait of the Pope above the sarcophagus, flanked by two allegorical figures:

Religion with a cross in its hand and the Spirit of death extinguishing the fire of life. Two lions watch over the tomb in turn. St Peter’s Chair is one of Bernini’s sculptural masterpieces. Inside the great oval window, shielded by a thin sheet of alabaster, is the Holy Spirit, portrayed as a dove. Around the window, an extraordinary cloud of angels and puttos surmount St Peter’s bronze chair.

Inside the Chair is a wooden throne, which, according to tradition, was used by the first Apostle. It was, however, actually a gift from Charles the Bald to the Pope in 875. It is flanked by St Ambrose and St Augustine, Fathers of the Latin Church, and by St Athanasius and St John Chrysostom, Fathers of the Greek Church. The work was finished in 1666 under Pope Alexander VII.

On either side of the Chair are the monuments to Paul III by Guglielmo della Porta (left), and to Urban VIII by Bernini (right). Another artistically relevant sculpture is Bernini’s last work, the monument to Alexander VII in the left transept, commissioned by the Pope himself when the artist was eighty years old.

The skeleton below the red drapery and the hourglass symbolize the passing of time and the inevitability of death. Along the left aisle is Antonio Canova’s monument to the Stuarts (1819), dedicated to the last descendents of the courageous English family, portrayed in profile below the bracket. The monument to Blessed Pope John XXIII (1958-63) is by the sculptor Emilio Greco (1964-1967).

Taking the Metro to Vatican City – visiting St Peter’s basilica

You can take the Metro red line (line A) out to either the Ottaviano stop or the Cipro stop – the former is closer to St Peter’s Basilica Rome, the latter is closer to the Vatican Museums entrance. Even if you don’t remember these station names, you’re in luck – they’re labeled as “Ottaviano-San Pietro” and “Cipro-Musei Vaticani,” so they’re hard to miss.

Both of these stations are about a 10-minute walk from their targets, but that’s as close as you’ll get using the Metro in Rome.Rome’s Metro is as easy as any subway to understand, but it’s far from being the best way to get around the city.

Every time they dig for a new line in Rome, they unearth a new ancient ruin – which is why Rome’s Metro is the same paltry two lines that it’s been for decades. Thankfully for those visiting the Vatican from central Rome, however, one of those lines will get you reasonably close to the Vatican.

Walking to Vatican City

Rome is a big enough city that it pays to get comfortable with public transport instead of relying on your own two feet for your entire trip, but if the weather’s glorious and you’re taking it easy walking across the city to the Vatican, by all means enjoy the journey.

Assuming your starting point is on the side of the Tiber that’s home to things like the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Termini Station, your first order of business is to begin heading west toward a bridge to get you across the river. There are lots of bridges that cross the Tiber, and many of them carry cars as well as pedestrians. From: www.italylogue.com

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St. Peter’s Square

Designed and built by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, during the pontificate of Alexander VII (1655-1667), the square is made up of two different areas. The first has a trapezoid shape, marked off by two straight closed and convergent arms on each side of the church square. The second area is elliptical and is surrounded by the two hemicycles of a four-row colonnade, because, as Bernini said, “considering that Saint Peter’s is almost the matrix of all the churches, its portico had to give an open-armed, maternal welcome to all Catholics, confirming their faith; to heretics, reconciling them with the Church; and to the infidels, enlightening them about the true faith.” Bernini had in fact designed a three-armed portico, but after Alexander VII’s death, construction of the portico was halted, and the third arm was never built. It would have enclosed the whole building and separated the ellipse from the “Borgo” quarter, thus creating a “surprise effect” for the pilgrim who suddenly found himself in the square. This effect was somewhat achieved by the buildings surrounding the square, the so-called “Spina di Borgo”, which naturally “closed in” the square. In 1950, Via della Conciliazione, a new, wide street leading to the Vatican Saint Peter’s Basilica, was opened. It amplifies the majestic view of Saint Peter’s dome, but it also profoundly modified Bernini’s original plan.

The measurements of the square are impressive: it is 320 m deep, its diameter is 240 m and it is surrounded by 284 columns, set out in rows of four, and 88 pilasters. Around the year 1670, Bernini’s pupils built 140 statues of saints, 3.20 m high along the balustrade above the columns. On either side of the obelisk, which was moved to the middle of the square by Domenico Fontana in 1585, are two great fountains built by Bernini (1675) and Maderno (1614). Below, at the foot of the staircase in front of the basilica, the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul seem to welcome visitors.
Of great interest is the Royal Staircase, which links the square to the Vatican Palaces. It was built between 1662 and 1666, and although it actually measures 60 metres, perspective devices, such as the progressive narrowing of the width and a reduced distance between the columns towards the top, make it look much longer.

The Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti

The Pietà (1498–1499) is a work of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist. The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal’s funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.

This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà is unprecedented in Italian sculpture. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism.

Saint Peter’s Treasury

After passing through the 18th century sacristy of the basilica – built with columns from the Villa Adriana in Tivoli – one enters St Peter’s Treasury, which contains church ornaments, statues, papal mitres and various objects, usually gifts of kings or princes. Notable pieces include the monument to Sixtus IV (1471-1484), a work by Antonio del Pollaiolo, a 15th century Florentine artist. The sarcophagus shows the Pope surrounded by the virtues and the liberal arts. Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later to become Pope Julius II) commissioned it in 1493.

Interior of the Saint Peter’s Basilica

The atrium (corresponding to the ancient portico of the early Christian basilicas) is considered one of the most remarkable works of Carlo Maderno and was built between 1608 and 1612. The central door is by the Florentine sculptor Antonio Averulino, known as Filarete. It dates from 1455 and comes from the ancient Constantinian church. Saint Peter and Saint Paul are represented here with scenes from their martyrdoms. The Holy Door stands on the right, cast in bronze by the sculptor Vico Consorti in 1950. This door is opened and closed in the Pope’s presence during every Jubilee Year. On the far left of the vestibule is the equestrian statue of Charlemagne, crafted by Agostino Cornacchini (1725). On the right vestibule stands Bernini’s equestrian statue of the Emperor Constantine (1670). The Latin cross structure of the interior dates back to the early 1600’s and was designed by Maderno, who completed the basilica and built the nave and the two aisles, forming a whole with the Michelangelesque central octagon. It is an immense and magnificent space, richly decorated with Baroque stuccos, mosaics and statues, almost overwhelming at first glance.
Saint Peter's BasilicaThe visitor usually needs to pause for a moment before he can take in its vast size. Simply comparing the height of the holy-water fonts and their supporting puttos with that of the people around them can give an idea of the church’s proportions. The Saint Peter’s Basilica is 187 metres long, 58 metres wide across the aisles and 140 metres wide at the transept: the maximum height of the vault in the nave is 46 metres (as high as a 15 storey building!).
The visitor should first walk down the nave, noting the marks on the floor indicating the comparative lengths of the largest churches in the world. He can then retrace his steps to the aisle near the entrance door. The nave has huge, fluted and cabled pilasters (the lower part of the fluting is full). Each one has niches with 39 statues of saints who were founders of various religious orders and congregations. The vault was decorated with gold stuccos in 1780, under Pius VI.
The right aisle, facing the altar, contains many great artistic and religious works. Michelangelo’s Pietà is in the first chapel, shielded by thick glass. This masterpiece dates from 1499, when the artist was only 24 years old. The Madonna’s youthful, sweet face expresses her submission to destiny, as she cradles the dead Christ’s limp body in her lap. Yet the rich drapery of her dress and veil suggest an extraordinary physical and moral strength, which contrasts with the delicate, 15th century features. This is the only work signed by the artist, whose name appears on the belt. The Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament follows next, with a tabernacle on the altar resembling Bramante’s Tempietto at Saint Peter’s in Montorio, on the Janiculum Hill. Bernini fashioned this gilded bronze tabernacle in 1674. Two kneeling angels were added to it later on. At the end of the right aisle is the famous monument to Gregory XIII (1572-1585), completed by the sculptor Camillo Rusconi in 1723, with allegorical figures of Religion and Fortitude and a dragon, the heraldic symbol of the Pope’s family, below the sarcophagus.
Returning to the nave, one can see the famous statue of Saint Peter Enthroned, which most critics have attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio (1245-1302). Some scholars, however, date the statue to the 5th century. One foot has been almost completely worn away by the faithful, who kiss it to show their devotion to the saint. Four huge, square pilasters mark where the longitudinal nave and transept meet. Niches have been carved out of the pilasters’ oblique walls, containing four colossal statues which embody crucial moments of Christ’s passion: St Longinus, the soldier who pierced Christ’s side with his spear and later converted to Christianity; St Helen, Emperor Constantine’s mother, who brought the cross and nails of Christ’s martyrdom to Rome; St Veronica, who wiped Christ’s face with a cloth on the road to Calvary; St Andrew, Peter’s brother, who was crucified in Greece. The first of these statues was executed by Bernini in 1638; the latter three statues were sculpted by his pupils. The papal altar in the middle of the church is surmounted by the famous gilded bronze baldachin, designed by a youthful Bernini between 1624 and 1632. It stands 29 metres high and was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644) to fill the “empty” space below the dome and create an upward movement.

The bronze used for the baldachin was probably removed from the Pantheon’s pronaos, a story which gave rise to a saying, “quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini” (“what the barbarians didn’t do, was done by the Barberini”). The baldachin has four colossal, twisted columns, splendidly fluted and decorated with olive and laurel branches, ending in a composite capital. The covering has extremely elegant volutes and statues on each corner, and is crowned by a gilded bronze sphere. Note the tassels with bees (an emblem of the Barberini family, symbolizing their industriousness), which almost seem to rustle in an imaginary wind. A gold dove inside represents the Holy Spirit. Underneath this structure is the “Tomb of Saint Peter”, where, according to tradition, the remains of the Apostle are kept, making it one of the places most venerated by Christians. Recent archaeological evidence seems to confirm this tradition. Above the baldachin is the majestic dome, with paintings on the inside, modelled between 1603 and 1613 after cartoons by Giuseppe Cesari. Along the base is a gold inscription in Latin, which reads, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and I will give you the keys to heaven.”
The monument to Clement XIII (1758-1769), in the right-hand transept, also deserves attention. It was built in 1784 by the greatest Italian neo-classical sculptor, Antonio Canova. It was commissioned in 1784 and was built using Bernini’s tombs as a model, with a portrait of the Pope above the sarcophagus, flanked by two allegorical figures: Religion with a cross in its hand and the Spirit of death extinguishing the fire of life. Two lions watch over the tomb in turn. St Peter’s Chair is one of Bernini’s sculptural masterpieces. Inside the great oval window, shielded by a thin sheet of alabaster, is the Holy Spirit, portrayed as a dove. Around the window, an extraordinary cloud of angels and puttos surmount St Peter’s bronze chair.
Inside the Chair is a wooden throne, which, according to tradition, was used by the first Apostle. It was, however, actually a gift from Charles the Bald to the Pope in 875. It is flanked by St Ambrose and St Augustine, Fathers of the Latin Church, and by St Athanasius and St John Chrysostom, Fathers of the Greek Church. The work was finished in 1666 under Pope Alexander VII.
On either side of the Chair are the monuments to Paul III by Guglielmo della Porta (left), and to Urban VIII by Bernini (right). Another artistically relevant sculpture is Bernini’s last work, the monument to Alexander VII in the left transept, commissioned by the Pope himself when the artist was eighty years old. The skeleton below the red drapery and the hourglass symbolize the passing of time and the inevitability of death. Along the left aisle is Antonio Canova’s monument to the Stuarts (1819), dedicated to the last descendents of the courageous English family, portrayed in profile below the bracket. The monument to Blessed Pope John XXIII (1958-63) is by the sculptor Emilio Greco (1964-1967).

 

History

During Nero’s great Christian persecution in 64 A.D., Saint Peter was martyred, crucified and buried in Caligula’s Circus, as one reads in the Liber Pontificalis (I, 118), “via Aurelia (…) iuxta palatium Neronianum, in Vaticanum” (In the Vatican, in Via Aurelia opposite Nero’s Palace). Eusebius of Caesarea (4th century) quotes a letter written by Gaius to Proclus, in which the presbyter invites his friend to Rome, claiming, “in the Vatican and in Via Ostiense, you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church.”

For this reason, the 2nd century aedicule which was intended to protect Saint Peter’s shrine, and which was discovered during the excavations in the Vatican necropolis, was called “Gaius’s Trophy”. After Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313 A.D.) Christians were allowed to construct places of worship. Constantine himself authorized the building of the basilica in 324. It was intended to enclose “Gaius’s Trophy” and to allow Peter’s tomb to become the centre of the structure.

Consecrated in 329, the great basilica appeared as a longitudinal building with a nave, four aisles and a transept. Outside, a staircase led to the four-sided portico in front of the basilica, known also as Paradise, with a fountain in the middle for the ablutions of the catechumens. Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in this basilica on Christmas eve in the year 800. Pilgrims gathered in the basilica from the early 14th century, having travelled on foot from all over Europe to reverence the tomb of the “Prince of the Apostles”.

When the Popes abandoned Rome during the Avignon schism (1309-1377), the basilica, which was one thousand years old by then, was showing signs of wear and deterioration. Although we have little information about these problems, we know for a fact that in the mid 15th century, Pope Nicholas V asked the architect Bernardo Rossellino to draw up a project for a new choir, outside the Constantinian apse. It was built to a height of about 1.5 metres.

By the early 16th century, the need to choose between restoring St Peter’s or rebuilding it completely was unavoidable, so much so that the new Pope Julius II, elected in October 1503, decided to entrust this task to Donato Bramante in 1505, one of the greatest architects of his time. Many of Bramante’s drawings can be found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

All of them have one feature in common: a square design with a Greek cross and four prominent apses. The square forms a cubical space and is covered in the centre by a hemispheric dome. According to Arnaldo Bruschi (1984), the structure has a precise symbolism, which can be “schematised – in accord with an ancient, mostly Byzantine tradition – as a cube (the world) with four extending arms (the four parts of the world), and a dome above it (heaven).”

Work on the first pylon began with great ceremony on 18th April 1506, and foundations for the other three pylons were laid the following year. Construction halted, however, when Julius II (1513) and Bramante (1514) died; by then the basilica had reached the top of the four pylons. Several other proposals for St Peter’s were drawn up over the next 40 years, in the midst of heated debate over whether the new St Peter’s should have a central or longitudinal plan. Bramante and other Renaissance architects preferred the central plan, but the longitudinal plan or Latin cross conformed more to ecclesiastic tradition and would also cover the entire area of the ancient Constantinian basilica.

As the four central pylons had already been built, Raphael (1514) and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1538) proposed a longitudinal plan, while Baldassarre Peruzzi (1520) favored a central plan. Finally in 1547, Pope Paul III commissioned Michaelangelo to propose a new design. His solution was to keep Bramante’s original plan, thickening the pilasters and the external walls and creating niches and ledges by chiselling out the walls.

A vast dome was to cover the central area, where the papal altar was to be placed. The building was finished, although the dome was not completed at Michelangelo’s death in 1564. His pupil, Giacomo della Porta, finished building it with a few changes, such as raising the curve of the calotte. The dilemma over choosing between a central or a longitudinal plan was not yet definitely resolved, however.

The Council of Trent, which ended in 1563, expressed a preference for longitudinal churches. Carlo Maderno was therefore asked to extend Michelangelo’s original plan. He achieved this by adding two bays, turning St Peter’s floor plan into a Latin cross. Maderno also designed St Peter’s “classical” façade, built between 1607 and 1612. Unfortunately it tended to hide Michelangelo’s dome and reduce its visual impact. Bernini’s square sought to resolve the problem with an optical effect that draws the dome forward.

Vatican Grottos

Positioned just below the Renaissance basilica and above Constantine’s 4th century basilica, the grottos contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating from the 10th century. The holiest place is Peter’s tomb, containing the “memory”, built in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine, on the spot were the Apostle’s tomb was venerated. In one of the chapels around the apse is a fresco by the 14th century Roman painter Pietro Cavallini. It is called the “Madonna della Bocciata”, because of Mary’s swollen face. According to an old legend, her face bled because a drunken soldier had thrown a bowl into the holy image after he lost a game of bowls. The monuments to Paul VI (1978) and Pope John Paul II (2005) are also in the grottos.

Taking the Bus to Vatican City
Rome’s bus system is efficient and cheap, and it gives those unfamiliar with the city the ability to look out the window for landmarks to assist with navigation. The network of buses runs throughout the entire city, making it the most far-reaching transportation system within the city, so you can get to the Vatican by bus from pretty much anywhere you are in Rome.

There are several bus lines that will get you to the Vatican.
Bus 64 – Most commonly used by visitors, notorious for pickpockets; connects with Termini station, Piazza Venezia, and Argentina
Bus 60 – Connects with Repubblica, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Venezia, and Argentina
Bus 40 – Express bus with limited stops; connects with Termini station, Piazza Venezia, and Argentina
Buses 62 and 40 both have stops between the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Piazza San Pietro, while bus 64 stops south of the piazza and Basilica. From any of the bus stops it’s a short walk to the Basilica or Vatican Museums. If you’re unsure where to get off, you can ask the bus driver to confirm it’s the right stop by saying, “Vaticano?” as you move toward the door. If the bus is extremely crowded, however, the bus driver may not be in any mood to play tour guide. If you’d prefer to take a tram to the Vatican, your best bet is probably to take tram 8 to the nearby Trastevere neighborhood and walk the rest of the way north along the river until you reach the Vatican.

Taking the Metro to Vatican City
Rome’s Metro is as easy as any subway to understand, but it’s far from being the best way to get around the city. Every time they dig for a new line in Rome, they unearth a new ancient ruin – which is why Rome’s Metro is the same paltry two lines that it’s been for decades. Thankfully for those visiting the Vatican from central Rome, however, one of those lines will get you reasonably close to the Vatican.

You can take the Metro red line (line A) out to either the Ottaviano stop or the Cipro stop – the former is closer to St. Peter’s Basilica, the latter is closer to the Vatican Museums entrance. Even if you don’t remember these station names, you’re in luck – they’re labeled as “Ottaviano-San Pietro” and “Cipro-Musei Vaticani,” so they’re hard to miss. Both of these stations are about a 10-minute walk from their targets, but that’s as close as you’ll get using the Metro in Rome.

Walking to Vatican City
Rome is a big enough city that it pays to get comfortable with public transport instead of relying on your own two feet for your entire trip, but if the weather’s glorious and you’re taking it easy walking across the city to the Vatican, by all means enjoy the journey. Assuming your starting point is on the side of the Tiber that’s home to things like the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Termini Station, your first order of business is to begin heading west toward a bridge to get you across the river. There are lots of bridges that cross the Tiber, and many of them carry cars as well as pedestrians.

from: www.italylogue.com

Posted in Europe, Italy and Top Shrines

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