Michelangelo’s Frescos | Bernini’s | Emperor Constantine
St Peter’s Basilica -History
St Peter’s Basilica was built in the 4th century by the great Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It was built on the site where Peter The Apostle was cruelly killed by Emperor Nero who made the Christians responsible for the great fire of AD64. St Peter was believed to be the first Pope of the Christian Church. In the historical writings of Tacitus, he goes into graphic detail of the cruel reign of Emperor Nero and how the Christians were hunted and killed. Emperor Nero was so vile that he opened up his gardens an invited people to commit witness the cruelty. According to Tacitus writings, they arose a feeling of compassion as they realised what they were witnessing was pure cruelty.
It is believed the tomb of St Peter lies beneath the altar of the Basilica. Therefore, many popes have been buried in the tombs below.
St Peter’s Basilica – Revival
In the 1500s, Bramante was tasked with totally renovating Saint Peter’s Basilica as chief architect. The basilica was designed in a Renaissance style and the Dome was designed in a circular style. The Dome was supported by 4 pillars. After the death of Bramante, the Dome was later redesigned into an Oval shape by Michelangelo. Domenico Fontana and Giacomo della Porta completed the work.
The nephew of Domenico Fontana, Carlo Maderno, and Bernini would then complete the façade. They were also responsible for the detailing in the inside of the Basilica. Bernini also set out with the construction of four rows of semi-circular colonnades (284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters) in 1660, which symbolised the arms of the church stretching out to embrace the world. This also marked the transition to Baroque architecture with incredible creativity, harmony, and dimensions.
In the centre stands the imposing Vatican Obelisk which was originally taken by Emperor Caligula’s and placed in his circus. In 1586, Pope Sixtus V moved it to the front of the façade of the still under construction, St Peter’s Basilica. Made of a single block of red granite, the structure weighs 350 tons!
St Peter’s Basilica – Today
Besides, being of historical and religious importance, St Peter’s has influenced the lives of many people. Local and international talent has composed songs and movies.
- There are close to 10 million visitors a year
- Overlooks St Peter’s Square which can accommodate up to 80,000 visitors during the Papal Mass/Papal Audience!
- Continuous restoration of precious artworks
- Optical magic for the senses; what looks tiny from far is actually huge
- Vatican Necropolis tours are now open – only limited spots, so book early
St Peter’s Basilica – Surrounding Attractions
Visit the galleries in the Vatican Museums and discover the immense collection of artworks and sculptures. If you are into Renaissance Art, then this must be part of your itinerary. Recommended highlights include:
- Pinecone Courtyard
- Raphael’s Transfiguration
- The Spiral Staircase
- Apollo Belvedere
View Michelangelo’s frescos which adorn the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
These restaurants are all located within 500m of St Peter’s Basilica.
- Bono Bottega Nostrana
- Pizza Zizza Caffetteria Birreria Desserteria
- Station Pizza
- Capitan Cono
To purchase postcards, statues, religious books (available in many languages, paintings, books about the Popes and Vatican History, these are some streets you can visit which are close to St Peter’s Basilica.
- Galleria S. Pietro shop
- Via di Porta Angelica
- Galleria Savelli
- Book Shop Benedetto XVI
St Peter’s Basilica – FAQ’s
Does a dress code apply?
Yes. This is a sacred site. Shoulders and knees are required to be covered. Skirts, dresses and shorts are permitted, BUT, they must be below the kneecaps.
What are the mass timings?
Mon – Sat: 9:00am, 10:00am, 11:00am, 12:00pm and 5:00pm.
Sun: 9:00am, 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:10pm, 1:00pm, 4:00pm and 5:30pm.
Do I have to pay to climb the Dome?
Yes. It is €8 to climb up the stairs €10 if you use the elevator. Only cash is accepted.
April-September: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
October-March: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.