If you are planning to visit St. Peter’s Basilica together with the Vatican Museums, consider booking a tour. The waiting lines are enormous even at 09:00 AM.
History of St. Peter’s Basilica
Even if you are not religious, St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano) is a must do in Rome. The architecture will stunned you and if you climb the dome stairs, the views will leave you breathless.
Located in the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world. It is one of the four major basilicas in Rome along with the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul outside the Walls.
St. Peter’s Basilica is constructed on the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. The first temple on that place was built in the 4th century by imperator Constantine the Great. At the end of the 15th century after years of neglect during the period of the Avignon Papacy, the church desperately needed a restoration.
During the 16th century Pope Julius II decided to build a new church on the place instead of repairing the old one. He chose Donato Bramante as an architect and the construction began in 1506.
The church was planned to be in the form of a Greek Cross. After the death of Bramante, Raphael took over the guidance of the construction. He proposed a true Latin Cross form for the church.
The plan again underwent changes in the following years. In 1547 Michelangelo returned to the original form of a Greek Cross. Unfortunately Michelangelo couldn’t finish the project before his death in 1564.
Giacomo della Porta completed the dome in 1590. In the beginning of 17th century Carlo Maderno extended the edifice into the form of a true Latin Cross and finished the main facade. The latter is made of travertine stone and it is 114.69 metres wide and 45.55 metres high. The basilica was consecrated in 1626.
Masterpieces in St. Peter’s Basilica
To fully appreciate the treasures in the basilica, get an audio guide or book a walking tour. The latter includes a priority access that will cut hours of waiting time.
Bernini was entrusted with the interior of the basilica. Some of the masterpieces he designed are: the baldachin (a large bronze pavilion, beneath the dome), the throne of St. Peter and the tomb of Alexander VII. The throne of St. Peter is a large bronze throne, which enshrines a chair claimed to be used by the apostle.
One of the most famous monuments in the basilica is the Pietà. It is a marble sculpture of Mary holding the body of her dead son after the crucifixion. Michelangelo created the sculpture in 1499-1500. After a visitor vandalised this piece of art with a hammer by in 1972, it is now protected by a bulletproof glass.
Museo Storico Artistico
The museum contains religious jewelry, sacred relics and artifacts. The entrance is not free, but it’s totally worth it. Unfortunately no photos are allowed in the treasury.
The necropolis is under the basilica. There are more than one hundred papal tombs. Here you can also see the Saint Peter’s tomb, which is right below the main altar of the basilica. The necropolis can be visited only in a guided tour. You can find more information here.
St. Peter’s Square (Piazza di San Pietro)
It is constructed by Bernini between 1656 and 1667. The Egyptian obelisk (40 metres high) that you can see there, is known as “The witness” of the crucifixion of St. Peter.
This is the square where the papal audience takes place. You have a chance to see the Pope every Wednesday.
Climbing the dome stairs of St. Peter’s Basilica
The waiting lines for the cathedral and the cupola are one and the same. Go around 08:00 to escape the horde of tourists or book a tour that will give you a quick access.
The dome is 132.5 meters high and the view over St. Peter’s square is something to die for. The entrance is to the right of the basilica.
There are two options to climb it. You can take the elevator (7 EUR) to the roof level of St. Peter’s Basilica or you can climb 231 stairs (the cheaper option 5 EUR).
From the roof level to the top the only option is to take the stairs. The climbing of 320 steps is not so easy – the staircase is narrow, the walls are slanted and it can become crowded and stifling.
Tips for visiting
- The dress code is very strict in the basilica, so skip the shorts, bare shoulder tops and the miniskirts. You will be turned away at the entrance if you are not dressed properly.
- To enter the basilica you have to pass through airport style scanners and security.
- The waiting lines are enormous, so go early around 08:00 AM. At 11:00 AM the end of the queue will be reaching the opposite side of the square.
- If you consider climbing the dome, do it before visiting the basilica, because after that you will exit directly in the church.
- If you want to attend a papal audience you will need to reserve your ticket in advance. You can find more information here.
Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
Access: Metro station Ottaviano – line A
From April to September
Every day: 07:00 AM – 07:00 PM
From October to March
Every day: 07:00 AM – 06:00 PM
Web site: http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/index_it.htm
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