At the height of the Renaissance, in the early 16th century, Pope Julius II decided that the Catholic church needed a new basilica which would overshadow all other Catholic buildings in the world. Initially, Bramante was the main architect of the new building, but it was Michelangelo who made the fundamental design of the Saint Peter as we know it now. Later on, other architects added more elements like the enormous square inside the double-colonned portico - all together, they are what we know now as the Saint Peter. Construction eventually took some 120 years, until the basilica was consecrated in 1626. You can enjoy the Saint Peter basilica from the outside, from the inside and, if you are willing to walk stairs, from above, which will allow you views over the Eternal city, but also the Vatican Gardens and Saint Peters square.
While the main dome of Saint Peters basilica is visible from many parts in Rome, when you walk on its square, it disappears behind the façade of the basilica. Michelangelo intended the cupola to be seen from below, but the later additions now largely block the view. Nevertheless, it is thrilling to walk from the Castel d'Angelo towards the Saint Peter. A wide avenue, often filled with tourists, flows towards the famous landmark. Without noticing it, somewhere before entering the square you cross the Italian-Vatican border. As you enter the square itself, it opens up on both sides, an obelisk taken here by the Romans from Egypt in the middle, and double colonnaded porticoes topped by statues of saints mark the borders of oval Saint Peters square. While saints watch you from above the colonnade, you walk across the square and are screened before entering the basilica of Saint Peter itself. Once on its doorstep, and looking up, the size of the building starts to sink in. On the square, from a distance, visual effects make Saint Peters look almost modest, but once you look up the gigantic Corinthian columns, and the tall doors, you start to feel smaller and smaller.
This sense of smallness increases inside: the nave that seems endless, the incredibly width of the main nave and the enormous chapels on the side, the large decorations on the floor, all topped by the ceiling that is high above your head, make for a daunting experience. Apart from its size, Saint Peters also impresses by the elaborate and exquisite art everywhere. Statues, sculptures, golden angels, frescoes, altars, mosaics - most made by famous artists, make for a rich experience. Right in the middle of the basilica, you can find the tomb of Saint Peter, near the baldacchino over the papal altar, while at the very end, the dove of the Holy Spirit is easily recognized, as it lights up amidst the golden rays. Besides exploring the extremely rich interior of Saint Peters basilica, you can also go up the main dome, either taking stairs or an elevator for the first stage. You will walk into the dome from the outside; once inside, you will find yourself right at the base of the dome, close to the inscription of Matthew. You have awesome views of the basilica which suddenly appears far below you. Unfortunately, an iron fence blocks the view a little bit. You can still go higher: climbing another 320 steps, on stairs that are always narrower and where you sometimes have to walk in a slant way, will take you right at the lantern of the dome. You step out into the sun, and below you, spectacular views of Saint Peters square, and the city of Rome reveal themselves.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Saint Peters Basilica (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Saint Peters Basilica.
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