The Basilica of San Pietro, known officially as the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican (Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano), is a Renaissance church in the Vatican City, located in Piazza San Pietro.
The Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest of the four papal basilicas of Rome, and is considered the largest church in the world both for its size and for its importance as the center of Catholicism.
However, it is not the cathedral church of the Roman diocese, since this title belongs to the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, which is also the mother of all the Catholic churches in the world.
On this site, there was another church built during the 4th century by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, where, according to tradition, the first apostle of Jesus, Saint Peter, was buried after he was crucified by the emperor Nero.
In the 15th century, under Pope Nicholas V, the Constantinian basilica underwent a radical transformation. The project was entrusted to the sculptor and architect Bernardo Rossellino, who covered the naves of the basilica with cross vaults, renovating also the apsidal part with the expansion of the transept, the addition of a choir and a dome.
The works began around 1450, but were stopped after the death of Pope Nicholas V. The works were partially resumed between 1470 and 1471, under the direction of Giuliano da Sangallo.
The construction of the current basilica began on April 18, 1506, under Pope Julius II. The work was entrusted to Donato Bramante, who was considered the most important architect of the time.
Bramante demolished the entire presbytery part of the ancient basilica, arousing permanent controversy regarding the new church. The death of Pope Julius II in 1513 and that of Bramante in 1514 caused a slowdown in the construction site.
Starting with 1514, the main architect of the basilica was Raphael, together with Giuliano da Sangallo and Fra’ Giocondo. After Raphael’s death, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger took over as the first architect, supported by Baldassarre Peruzzi.
During the Sack of Rome of 1527, the works were stopped and resumed only in 1538, under Pope Paul III, by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.
After the death of Sangallo in 1546, Michelangelo Buonarroti, at the time in his seventies, took over the direction of the works. Michelangelo started the grandiose dome, who was completed by Giacomo Della Porta between 1588 and 1590.
In 1603, Pope Clement VIII entrusted the direction of the construction site to Carlo Maderno. The work, which began in 1608, radically changed Michelangelo’s project.
The basilica of Maderno had a Latin cross plan, with three naves, with deep chapels inserted along the perimeter walls. The side aisles were covered with oval-shaped domes, characterized on the outside only by small lanterns. The facade of the basilica was built around the same time.
The Basilica of Saint Peter was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII on November 18, 1626.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
With 218 meters in length and 132 meters in height, the St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest buildings in the world. It has an area of about 23,000 square meters, and can hold about 60,000 faithful.
The facade, about 115 meters wide and 45 meters high, built by Carlo Maderno between 1607 and 1614, is articulated through the use of giant columns that frame the entrances.
The facade is preceded by two statues depicting Saint Peter and Saint Paul, sculpted by Giuseppe De Fabris and Adamo Tadolini in 1847. On top of the facade, there are the statues of Jesus, John the Baptist and eleven of the twelve apostles. On the sides of the statues, we can find two clocks added in 1785 by Giuseppe Valadier.
Preceding the five entrances to the basilica, there is a portico that extends over the entire width of the facade. The atrium is flanked by two equestrian statues – Charlemagne, on the left, by Agostino Cornacchini, and Constantine, on the opposite side, by Bernini.
The interior of the basilica is divided into three naves by sturdy pillars on which large round arches open. The central nave is covered by a large barrel vault and culminates, beyond the dome and behind the colossal Baldacchino di San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Chair), in the monumental Cathedra.
In the first chapel on the right, there is the famous Pietà by Michelangelo, a work of the master’s youth. Next, we have the Chapel of San Sebastiano, where is placed the large mosaic of the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, and the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, which houses the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament, work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
On the left nave, there is the Chapel of Baptism, designed by Carlo Fontana, the Chapel of the Presentation, and the Choir Chapel.
With more than 133 meters in height, 41.50 meters the internal diameter, 58.90 meters the external diameter, and 551 steps from the base to the lantern, the dome is the emblem of the basilica itself, and one of the symbols of Rome. Four immense pillars support the entire structure, whose weight is estimated at 14,000 tons.
The space under the dome is marked by the monumental Baldacchino di San Pietro, conceived by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and built between 1624 and 1633. Almost 30 meters in height, it is supported by four twisted columns and the ciborium of the old Constantinian basilica. In the center, stands the papal altar.
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest Metro station is Ottaviano, on the Metro Line A, locate about 950 meters away. The closest bus stop is Cavalleggeri/S. Pietro, located in Via di Porta Cavalleggeri, about 400 meters away, on the bus Lines 34, 46, 64, 98, 881, 916 and 982.
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