You have the chance of visiting the most important church in the world of the whole of Christianity. It all started at the beginning of the 15th century when Julius II decides to knock down the ancient Basilica dating back to the Constantine Era. It was completed a mere 100 years later, give or take a decade, to include the magnificent dome by Michelangelo and the baroque facade by Carlo Moderno. It was finally consecrated in 1626 and although the Basilica appeared imposing enough, none other than Gian Lorenzo Bernini was called upon to add to perfection. He must have enjoyed the Vatican’s cuisine a great deal because his work lasted for a brisk thirty years’! True, he did take his time over detail, but after all, the end result was that he managed to capture the exceptional symbolic importance the icon of the Catholic Church simply had to convey, turning it into the formidable spectacle it is today.
The Church is 186m long (two football pitches if you find that easier to relate to) whereas the dome extends to over 132m. The colonnade in the piazza outside, set into two semi circles erected by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, provide another great example of the symbolism we mentioned earlier: they seem to welcome and embrace the whole of man kind. The columns are 284 and the colonnade is “surrounded” by 140 statues of the Saints. The ellipse thus formed, is 240m wide and extends for over 340m… there is really plenty to see so you’re advised to take our word for it ..!
As you enter the St. Peter’s Basilica, just as you go through the central doors, you’ll immediately notice unless distracted, a large red marble circle inlaid into the floor. You’ll be looking at the rather famous “Rota Porphyretica” or “The Coronation Circle” if you prefer. Indeed Popes crowned Emperors on this very stone. On Christmas Eve of the year 800 it was to be Charlemagne’s turn to be crowned Roman Emperor at the hand of Pope Leo (795-816). Frederic I known as Redbeard and Frederick II were other ‘notables’ that followed in the centuries.
Going along the right-hand side of the Basilica towards the Altar of the Confession we find a bronze statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio dated circa 1300 although some have dated it as far back as the Vth century. Tradition has it that the right foot of the Saint’s statue should be touched in sign of worship and you’ll easily notice how worn down it has become so much so that it has been substituted twice over the years … we’re on our third foot at present! On June 29, being the recurrence of the Saint’s martyrdom, the statue is donned with Papal attire and the fithful pay their respects during this, solely roman, holiday. The treasures enclosed in this absolute Temple of Christianity are truly numerous: The Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Pope’s Tombs, The Relics of Peter the Apostle. These masterpieces all testify the spiritual events of time of the Vicars of Christ on earth.
A visit to the Vatican Museums is MANDATORY, it is the first public collection made available to the world by Pope Julius II in 1506. There are nearly thirty sections that span from the Egyptians to Contemporary Art. The museums take up an area of almost 2 kilometres and provide a ride back into history through the eyes of history’s greatest artists such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raffaello who have made this ‘treasure box’, held in the smallest State in the world, quite unique.
St. Peter’s Basilica – Opening Hours:
Winter period: 1 October – 31 March from 07.00 to 18.30
Summer period: 1 April – 30 September from 07.00 to 19.00
Tel: +39-06-6988 3731
NB – PROPER DRESS SHOULD BE WORN WHEN ENTERING THE BASILICA.