Discover St. Peter's, the largest Christian church in the world, a masterpiece of Italian art and symbol of the Catholic church

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St. Peter's Basilica is located in the small Papal State of the Vatican in St. Peter's Square in Rome, the majestic facade and its dome visible from every corner of the city make it one of the iconic places of the city of Rome. St. Peter's Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world, symbol of the Catholic Church and seat of the Pope. Considered a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance art, it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Rome, both for its religious value, which makes it an exceptional destination for pilgrims from all over the world, and for the artistic richness contained in its spaces.

St. Peter's Basilica is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this article you will discover everything you need to know to best visit St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, a detailed guide to the visit starting from the square, moving on to the interiors of the Basilica, the dome, the papal caves, including history, useful advice, and unusual suggestions to make your experience special and memorable. Continue reading and discover the Church among the churches of Rome, where you need to start.

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: the cradle of Christianity

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, colonnade

The history of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican dates to the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine decided to build a Basilica in the place where the remains of the apostle Peter lay. Only in 1506 Pope Julius II, patron of the arts, began work on a new Basilica to replace the previous one, the first project was entrusted to the architect Donato Bramante, but it was only Michelangelo Buonarroti, in 1546 who completed the project with several variations compared to the original project. Upon Michelangelo's death, the façade and the square remained to be completed, a job that was entrusted to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who also finished all the internal decorations of the church.

Over the last 100 years the official residence of the Popes has always been on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace, which overlooks St. Peter's Square, Pope Francesco, currently in office, has instead decided to elect Casa Santa Marta as his residence, the seat that hosted the cardinals for the conclave, deciding to live a more sober and less isolated life. When is it possible to see the Pope? Every Sunday at 12 a.m. the Pope looks out of the window of his study for the Angelus and the blessing, while every Wednesday the Pope holds an audience in St. Peter's Square. It is a unique opportunity to see the Pope close and listen to his words. Tickets for the Papal Audience are free, but if you don't know where to start and want to make your life easier you can choose a package that includes priority reserved entry to the audience and a guided tour of the Basilica.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, St. Peter's Square

Piazza San Pietro is a magnificent example of architecture and urban planning, it was designed and built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1657 and 1667. Arriving from Via della Conciliazione a wonderful oval square will open before your eyes, its surrounded by 284 columns and 88 pillars will which they support a continuous architrave, above which 96 marble statues stand. The Square is majestic and has an area of 35,000 square meters.

In the center of the square stands a 25-meter-high Egyptian obelisk, on the sides of which two fountains stand at a perfect distance. A curiosity not to be missed, between the obelisk and the columns, on the ground, you will find two marble discs that mark the foci of the ellipse, if you position yourself above them, looking at the columns, in a suggestive optical game, you will see only one row . The square, continuing towards the church, narrows becoming trapezoidal to accommodate the façade of St. Peter's Basilica, this point of the square is slightly uphill, we are on one of the 7 hills of Rome, the Vatican Hill and the effect of the Basilica is even grander.

The Basilica

St.Peter's Basilica in Rome

The St.Peter's Basilica in Rome is imposing and majestic, its total surface area is 23,000 square meters and can contain up to 60,000 faithfuls. The façade is preceded by a staircase and two statues depicting Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Once past the main facade to access the Basilica there are five portals with bronze doors. The door furthest to the right is the famous Holy Door, which is only opened on the Jubilee. The immense internal space is divided into 3 naves, the central nave is 90 meters long and alone takes up almost 2500 square meters and culminates beyond the dome in the grandiose Baldachin of Saint Peter by Bernini.

The floor is made of marble and there are some elements from the previous Basilica, such as the red porphyry disk on which Charlemagne knelt on the day of his coronation. Not to be missed is Michelangelo's La pietà in the first chapel on the right, protected by a glass case. We also invite you among the many attractions inside the Basilica to look for the famous bronze statue of St. Peter in the Chair, the work of Arnolfo di Cambio.

The dome

Dome, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

The surprising and magnificent dome of St. Peter's, called il cupolone by the Romans people, is one of the main symbols of the city of Rome. The dome was built in just two years by Giacomo della Porta under the direction of Michelangelo. From a structural point of view, it is made up of two overlapping caps, like those made in Florence by Brunelleschi. Eight hundred men worked to complete the dome, which was finished in 1593.

A truly unique experience is climbing to the top of the dome, it is possible to go up either on foot with a path of steps or via the lift. If you have strength, we suggest you go up on foot, along the staircase there are drawings with cantilevered planks, it's a real adventure that will leave you satisfied. From the top of the dome, you will have Rome at your feet, it is truly an exceptional panorama, the same one from which Anita Ekberg looked out in the film La Dolce Vita and on that windy day her hat blew off.

The papal caves

Access to the papal caves, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome,

To go down to the Papal caves you will find the access right in front of the papal altar dominated by Bernini's canopy, here enclosed by an elegant balustrade on which 99 votive lamps burn, there are stairs to go down to the lower floor. As soon as you go down you will see the niche of the pallium, this contains the wool stoles with cross embroidery that the Pope gives to the newly elected bishops to signal their bond with the apostle Peter, at the bottom of the niche there is a bronze trapdoor, which since its construction of the first Basilica gave access to the tomb of St. Peter.

It was Pope Pius XII who promoted archaeological research which over the course of ten years brought to light the floor of the ancient Constantinian Basilica and subsequently the remains of a Roman necropolis. This vast crypt is worth a visit and gives access to the mysteries on which St. Peter's Basilica is built.

St. Peter's Basilica: how to organize your visit

St. Peter's Basilica in Roma, how to organize your visit

To best organize your visit you should know that St. Peter's Basilica is open every day from 7am to 7.10pm. There are many celebrations planned inside the Basilica, both on weekdays and holidays, but they are located in the various altars and side chapels and do not hinder the visit. Whether you are interested in participating in a celebration or if you want to avoid it due to the higher influx of people, know that the celebrations that take place on the main altar are held on weekdays at 11am - 12pm and 5pm - 6pm, while on Sundays and public holidays at 9am - 10am - 12.30pm - 4pm and 6pm.

While access to the dome is open from Monday to Sunday from 7.30am to 6.30pm with last entry at 5.50pm, remember that for the ascent on foot you must not have significant physical problems, alternatively, an elevator is available. Especially for the summer, remember that the Basilica is a place of worship and follows a dress code. You cannot enter with bare shoulders and legs.

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: useful tips

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, last tips

To get to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome you have various options depending on where you start from, the closest metro stop is the Ottaviano station, on line A, bus 49 stops directly in front of the Vatican, while coming from Rome Termini in addition to the metro you can take buses 40 and 64. A great tip for you if you are on holiday in Rome for more than one day is to try the Visit Rome Pass, a single card with entry to more than 50 attractions, which also includes unlimited access to public transport.

If you are visiting St. Peter's Basilica, also include in your itinerary a visit to the Vatican Museums, a must for all art lovers, one of the most exceptional art collections on the entire planet, where you can admire unique masterpieces such as the Sistine chapel frescoed by Michelangelo and the wonderful rooms of Raphael. These were the final tips for your visit to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

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