St. Peter’s Basilica: The Holiest Site of RomeRome, Italy
St. Peter’s Basilica, is a stunning building that dominates the skyline of Rome and has roofed many glorious moments in the history of Christianity. From the martyrdom of St. Peter to the lives of his successors who shaped the development of Rome, St Peter’s Basilica is brimming with stories and mysteries.
1. The PiazzaDesigned to foreground the splendor and power of the Church, St Peter’s square is a 17th-century masterpiece, inspired by the artistic genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Bramante, and Fontana.
2. The facadeThe facade of St. Peter’s Basilica is an example of the Baroque style. Resulting as a reaction to the iconoclasm of the Reformation, the Baroque compositions were meant to convey the Church’s spiritual message.
3. The Pieta, by MichelangeloOne of the most iconic sculptures created by Michelangelo, the Pieta, is the only artwork that has been signed by the High Renaissance Master.
The Martyrdom & the Basilica
The PiazzaUnder the rule of Emperor Nero, Peter was martyred by the Romans; he was crucified upside-down very close to where you are standing. His burial became a place of pilgrimage, even before the construction of the “first” St Peter’s Basilica commenced under the Roman Emperor, Constantine, in 319 AD and continued into the mid-fourth century. The great church was rebuilt in the 16th century, with work beginning under Pope Julius II and architect Donato Bramante, and continuing under the watch of a further 18 popes and a series of multiple architects.
An Epic Mistake
The facadeWhere are the bell towers? If you’re wondering whether why there’s something odd about the façade of the church as you face it, then you are you’d be right. Gian Lorenzo Bernini had originally built two immense towers on either side of the façade. The lofty project started in 1638 and in 1643, when it was almost complete, the construction of the right-hand tower stalled. The reason was the financial calamity provoked by the costly campaign realized by Pope Urban VIII against the powerful Farnese family. Yet, there was also another, quite disagreeable, complication. Two huge cracks appeared in Bernini’s unfinished towers and the facade to which they were attached. Eventually, they had to be demolished to save the entire structure from falling apart. Bernini was severely criticized for his terrible mistake and temporarily fell into disgrace. Yet, the great artist was only in his thirties at the time and eventually managed to overcome the humiliation producing many masterpieces throughout his career.
Fallin in Love with Marble
The Pieta, by MichelangeloMichelangelo, who sculpted the Pieta when he was just 23 years old, was born in a small Tuscan village in 1475. His father, Lodovico, was the magistrate of the village, but the family was from Florence, and they returned there when he was a baby. His mother fell seriously ill and finally died when he was 6 years old. Michelangelo, thus, was raised by a nanny and her husband, a stonecutter, on the hillsides of Florence, where his father owned a marble quarry and a small farm. It seems that his love for marble is related to these early memories as later he was to say, “I sucked in chisels and hammers with my nurse’s milk.”
Abigail Blasi is a travel writer specialising in Italy. She has written on Rome for Lonely Planet and multiple newspapers and magazines.
|Starting point||Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City|
|Finishing point||Underneath St Peter|
|Areas||Piazza Pope’s Secret Escape Route,Navicella Holy Door Pieta, Saint Sebastian & Saint John Paul II Altar of St Jerome, Baldachin, Cathedra of Saint Peter, Monument to Pius VII, Vatican Grottoes|
|Opening hours||St Peter's Basilica is open daily, April-Sept 7am-7pm and Oct-March 7am-6pm.|
|Directions to Starting Point||Take Linea A (red line) toward Battistini and exit at Ottaviano-S. Pietro. Walk south on Via Ottaviano toward St. Peter's Square. If you choose to go on foot from the city center, the most direct route is to cross the Tiber and walk straight up Via Conciliazione.|
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You can enjoy each multilingual tour by using your smartphone or tablet at your own pace even if you are offline. The interactive map on your screen will guide you step-by-step as you explore all points of interest along your route. Each stop comes with a selection of our signature stories allowing you to tailor the tour experience to your personal interests and schedule.
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