Saint Peter’s Basilica Rome

Saint Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world and is located in the Vatican City in Rome, Italy. It is built at the exact spot where the Circus of Nero used to be and where the apostle (and very first Pope) Peter was crucified and buried. It is the first one of Rome’s 7 papal basilicas and is big enough to hold 60 thousand people. There are 395 statues, 44 altars and 35 mosaics to be admired inside Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Saint Peter’s Basilica Rome


St. Peter's Basilica Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica

The present version of the basilica was built between 1506 and 1626. The building’s architectural style is baroque. The present basilica replaces an earlier one, which had been commissioned by Constantin the Great and was constructed in 324.

Pope Nicolas V Bernardo Rossolino had already given orders to have this first, by then rather dilapidated church, restored. This came to nothing, however, and in 1506 Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante to demolish the basilica and design a new one.

When Bramante died, Raphael took over. He tore down Bramante‘s construction and changed the latter’s Greek cross into a Latin one. His successor Antonio da Sangallo, though keeping on to Raphael‘s floor plan, but had part of the new basilica restructured.

Michelangelo took over after Sangallo‘s death and, preferring Bramante‘s original idea, went back to the Greek cross. Everything had to be redone and, even though Michelangelo worked for free, this was extremely costly and the work had to be financed through the sale of indulgences.

Carlo Maderno was the final architect to work on the basilica and he had the nave lengthened, since the church had to become bigger than originally planned. Maderno was also responsible for the facade (but not for the bell-towers).

The facade is adorned with statues of Jesus, John the Baptist and all apostles (with the exception of Judas).

Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed most of the basilica’s interior.

Main Attractions

Michelangelo’s Piet√†

Michelangelo's Pieta - Saint Peter's Basilica Rome

One of the artist’s most famous sculptures can be found in the first chapel on the right upon entering the basilica. Michelangelo’s Piet√† is the only one the artist only one he ever signed, even though he considered his creation not yet finished. After the sculpture was attacked by a madman who thought he was Jesus, it was encased in a protective glass wall .

Saint Peter’s Dome

Dome - Saint Peter's Basilica Rome

Saint Peter’s Dome was designed by Michelangelo and has a height of 136m. 551 Steps will take you there, but you can also take an elevator for roughly two-thirds of the way. There is still an unwritten law in Rome that says buildings may not be taller than the highest point of this cupola. Unfortunately Michelangelo died before the dome was finished.

More attractions

The facade is 115 meters wide and is preceded by steps which were designed by Bernini. There are 13 statues on top of the attic. The central part of the facade is taken up by the Loggia delle Benedizioni. It is from here that the Pope addresses the crowd on special occasions. It is also here that the name of a new Pope is announced.

The doorknocker on the central one of the five entrances was made in the 15th centruy by Filarete.

The door on the right is the Holy Door, which is only opened when there is a Jubilee (generally once every 25 years).

The statue of the Emperor Constantine in the atrium was done by Bernini.

On the floor of the central nave, near the entrance, a porphyry disc can be seen. This is the Rota Porphyretica, In the year 800 Charlemagne kneeled on this disc when Pope Leo III gave him the imperial crown.

A bit further into the basilica the floor shows the lengths of the four biggest churches in the world..

Arnolfo di Cambio was responsible for the famous statue depicting a seated Saint Peter near the last column on the right.

The mosaics in the dome were made in 1605 by Cavalier d’Arpino. The dome itself is supported by four enormous columns with statues of saints.

Right underneath the dome is Bernini‘s famous baldachin with underneath it the Papal altar. Bernini worked on the baldachin from 1624 till 1633. He was helped by several famous masters, including his enemy Borromini.

Bernini also designed the funerary monument for Pope Urban VIII.

The tomb of Urban VIII was designed by Bernini. Guglielmo della Porta was responsible for the monument for Pope Paul III. The monument for Clement XIII was made by Antonio Canova (1784). The oldest funerary monument in the church is the tomb of Innocent VIII. It was made in 1498 by Pollaiolo.

The portrait of the Pope near the sarcophagus is by allegorical figures, such as “Religion”, which is holding a cross and a Genie quenching the flame of life. Two lions keep an eye on proceedings.

Antonio Canova also created the “Stuart Monument”.

Piazza San Pietro Rome

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