St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) and a large square surrounded by columns is the Vatican's religious center (Stato della Città del Vaticano).

Openwork Cathedral was built in the 17th century. grandees of the High Renaissance and Baroque: Bernini (Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini), Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti), Bramante (Donato Bramante), Rafael (Raffaello Santi). From then until now, the basilica is the most significant Catholic church on the planet, attracting millions of parishioners annually to services sent by the Pope himself.


In the 4th century AD under Emperor Constantine I (Latin: Flavius ​​Valerius Aurelius Constantinus), a Romanesque basilica was erected in Rome. Only a monument survived from the early Christian buildings, marking the middle of St. Peter's Square, located in front of the temple.

According to Christian chronicles, the apostle Peter (Greek Απόστολος Πέτρος) suffered a martyrdom around 64-67 AD in Rome. The first altar of the first basilica was erected over the grave of a follower of Christ in 313.

The Basilica of Constantine survived several reconstructions and by the 16th century was significantly dilapidated. Pope Julius II (lat. Iulius II) posed the most interesting task for Donato Bramante - to restore the ancient Christian church and, if possible, preserve its original potential. According to the architect, the updated basilica was to be a large cross crowned with a dome.

A spacious building with high arches was supposed to embody the heavenly lightness of the temple, but the death of Bramante in 1514 delayed the implementation of the project indefinitely.

During the life of Bramante in 1513, Rafael Santi became the second architect of the temple. Fra Giocondo was sent to help the famous master, and he, in turn, was succeeded by Giuliano da Sangallo. The history of the creation of the temple was overshadowed by an amazing fact: in 6 years of work on the project, three eminent masters died. Starting in 1506, St. Peter's Basilica received only the foundation and partially, the lower wall tier, which was later dismantled.

For 40 years, the blueprints of the cathedral were transformed on paper, changing the shape of the building from the Greek equilateral cross to the Latin and finally settled on the form of the basilica proposed by Antonio da Sangallo. In 1546, da Sangallo dies and Pope Paul III engages Michelangelo in the role of curator of the construction of the temple. Given the piling up of architectural ideas of his predecessors, Buonarroti decides to return to the original plan of Bramante, simplifying, and at the same time, strengthening the design.

The array of the basilica, it was decided to perform in the form of a central domed building, the entrance to which was hidden by a portico draped in columns, following the example of ancient temples. Also, according to the tradition of the ancient builders, the central entrance of the temple was located on the eastern side.

During the life of Michelangelo, construction progressed significantly, a dome drum was even built.

but the genius did not have time to complete his grandiose project, in 1564, death interrupted the writings of Buonarroti.

Giacomo de Porta (Giacomo Della Porta) continued to work on the cathedral, making its own adjustments to the plan of Michelangelo. Protobaroque style elements appeared, more elongated forms, which is especially noticeable in the drawings of the drum of the dome. Buonarroti's ideas were realized in their pure form only during the construction of the western part of the temple.

By 1588, Porte's business, in collaboration with Domenico Fontana, had implemented a preparatory plan for the construction of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. In subsequent 2 years, all the forces of engineers and builders were focused on creating the main arch of the temple. Already in May 1590, Pope Sixtus V held a solemn mass in the newly built cathedral.

During the summer months, a colonnade of 36 decorative columns was built, however, Sixtus V did not have time to admire the exterior of the churchhaving died in August 1590. A golden lantern in the shape of a ball and a large cross above the dome of the church were already installed under Clement VIII (Latin Clemente VIII).

The inspector of the next round of construction of St. Peter's Basilica was Pope Paul V (Paulus V). In 1605, he called on Carlo Maderno to revise the plan of the cathedral.

Greek cross, in the guise of a building embodied by Michelangelo, was turned into latindue to the elongation of the longitudinal part.

The side naves were also attached, so the temple turned into a three-nave basilica. Updated the church took on a completely different look from Michelangelo's original plan - today, standing in the center of the square near the obelisk, you will see only part of the dome, and when you come closer to the cathedral you might think that this is a palace, not a church.


St. Peter's Basilica is characterized by impressive parameters: about 211 meters in length and height, taking into account the dome - 132 m, the total area of ​​the temple - 23 thousand m2.

Such an impressive size of the cathedral allows it to leave far behind its closest competitors. Labels with the dimensions of other Catholic churches are printed on the floor so that visitors can appreciate the monumentality of the building.

An interesting fact: the second largest Catholic church - St. Paul's Cathedral (St Paul's Cathedral), located in London.


The modern facade of the cathedral was completed by the architect Carlo Modern in the 17th century. The baroque façade sheathed in travertine has a solid width of 118 m and a height of 48 m.

Classical columns support the attic, crowned with 13 statues. A five-meter statue of Christ, surrounded by John the Baptist and 11 apostles adorn the front of St. Peter's Basilica. Also, the facade of the temple is decorated with watches created in the 18th century by Giuseppe Valadier.

Behind the columns of the portico there are five gates leading inside the cathedral: the Gate of Death (Porta della Morte), the Gate of Good and Evil (Porta del Bene del Male), the Gate of Filaret (Porta del Filarete), the Gate of the Sacraments (Porta dei Sacramenti), Holy Gates (Porta Santa). The most notable of these are the Death Gate, created in the mid-20th century by sculptor Giacomo Manzu. It is through these wings that the Vatican sends its pontiffs to the last journey.

The central portal of the cathedral is decorated with two equestrian statues: Charles the Great, made in the 18th century. Augustino Kornachchini (Agostino Cornacchini) and Emperor Constantine, work Bernini (1670). Another pearl of the exterior of the temple is the fresco "Navicella" (Navicella degli Apostoli), painted by Giotto di Bondone (Giotto di Bondone), made in the 13th century.


St. Peter's Basilica has an impressive interior space that is divided between the three naves. Arched vaults with a height of 23 m and a width of about 13 m separate the central nave from the side. Gallery 90 m in length and an area of ​​about 2500 m2 begins at the entrance to the temple and rests on the altar. In the last arch of the central nave is a miracle a statue of St. Peter, cast in bronze, to which thousands of pilgrims rush.

The Vatican in the face of the cathedral has acquired a repository of the most valuable works of art, from the floor to the tip of the dome. The marble floors of the temple partially preserved the elements of the former basilica, reconstructed in the 13th century.

The disk of red Egyptian porphyry, on which Charles the Great knelt during his coronation in 800, as well as most of the rulers of Europe until the 15th century, attracts attention.

Many elements of the interior decor were created with the participation of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who spent 50 years of his creative life decorating the cathedral. One of his significant works is a statue of the Roman centurion Longinus. According to legend, the centurion, suffering from very poor eyesight, pierced the crucified Christ to make sure the death of the son of God. The blood of Christ fell into Longin's eyes and he immediately received his sight. After some time, Longin converted to Christianity, actively preached, and is now revered as one of the main Christian saints.

St. Peter's Basilica holds the tip of the spear of the Roman centurion as one of the relics.

Above the altar of the temple is another Bernini's masterpiece - an extensive canopy (kevorius), based on four figurine pillars. The canopy was created under Urban VIII, many decorative elements glorify the aristocratic genus of the pontiff. The fabulous cost of the master’s work was covered from the treasury of the Burberry family, but bronze and other building materials were taken without panting in the Pantheon (Greek πάνθειον).

And to this day in Rome there is a saying: "What the barbarians did not do, Bernini and Barberini did."

Above the canopy stands a chair dedicated to St. Peter, also created by Bernini.

If you walk along the central nave of the cathedral, you can admire the statues of saints in the niches: Theresa, Helena-Sofia Barat, St. Vincenzo de Paoli, St. John, St. Philip Neri, St. John-Battista de La Sale, St. John Bosco.

Right nave


In the right nave of the temple is the sculpture group "Pieta" (Mourning of Christ) by the young Michelangelo (1499).

To protect the work of art from the harmful effects of temperature fluctuations, dust, humidity, as well as negligent visitors, the statue is covered with a durable glass dome. In 1972, a religious fanatic seriously damaged a masterpiece with a hammer!

Monument to Pontiff Leo XII

Next to Pieta, there is a monument to Pontiff Leo XII by Giuseppe de Fabrice (19th century) and the monument to Christine, the Princess of Sweden, made by Carl Fontana in the 17th century.

Chapel of St. Sebastian

In the chapel of St. Sebastian (Cappella di San Sebastiano) you can admire the mosaic made by Pier Paolo Cristofari (Pier Paolo Cristofari), according to the sketches of Domenichino (Domenichino). The vault of the chapel is decorated with mosaics by Pietro da Cortona.

Tomb of Margraine Matilda of Canos

A unique monument is the tomb of Margraine Matilda of Canos, made by Bernini. Aristocrat was the first woman buried in the temple.

Holy Communion Chapel

The chapel of the Holy Communion (Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento) is decorated with a decorative lattice created from the outline of Francesco Borromini. Inside the chapel is a bronze work by Carlo Moderno, architecture of Borromini.

Left nave

Tomb of Alexander VII (lat. Alexander VII)

Bernini's last significant work adorns the tomb of Alexander VII of the Chigi family. Ensemble made of colored marble and bronze, depicts a praying pontiff surrounded by allegorical statues of Mercy, Truth, Justice and Prudence. In front of Alexander VII is a skeleton wrapped in a red mantle - a symbol of death.

An hourglass is in the skeleton’s hand - a metaphor for the pontiff’s end of earthly life.

The baroque ensemble is filled with theatrical drama and is full of secret meaning. So, one of the virtues is depicted standing on the globe. It is by no means accidental that the stone foot covers England. By the 17th century, the split between the Catholic and Anglican churches reached its zenith. The British monarchs of the Stuart family denied the crown in order to remain faithful to the Catholic faith. All this controversial situation was artistically beaten by Bernini in stone. The Stuart's tomb is now inside the cathedral to the left of the entrance.

Chapel of the Baptism

In the left nave is the chapel of the Epiphany (Cappella del Battesimo), designed by Carl Fontana and decorated with mosaics by Baciccio. Nearby is the tomb of Maria Clementina Sobieski, decorated by the sculptor Pietro Bracci in the 18th century. The Stuart memorial adjacent to her, authored by Atonio Canova (Antonio Canova, 19th century). An interesting work of the 15th century Florentine architect Antonio Pollaiolo is the tomb of the pontiff Innocent VIII.


The central space of the cathedral is limited by four pillars supporting the dome. This part of the temple was implemented in accordance with the ideas of Michelangelo.. In the heart of the church you can see many mosaic paintings made according to the sketches of Domenichino.

The Pius VII memorial, executed in the 19th century by a non-Catholic creator, Bertel Thorvaldsen, is especially awesome. St. Peter's Basilica has the Gregoriana Chapel (Gregoriana Cappella), which recalls who gave humanity the Gregorian calendar. Numerous tombs of pontiffs and richly decorated chapels make an indelible impression on the parishioners.


The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is a grandiose work of art. The maximum height is 133.3 m above ground level, the height inside the basilica is 117.57 m, the inner diameter is 41.5 m, and the total weight is 14 thousand tons! For several centuries, the image of the dome has been the emblem of the cathedral and one of the common symbols of the Vatican.

Michelangelo, who created the architectural plan of the dome in his work, was inspired by the Pantheon and Santa Maria del Fiore (La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence.

The high drum of the dome is designed to ensure the stability of a massive building. It stands out 16 windows, separated by columns, and exactly 16 stiffeners. From the inside, 4 powerful pillars give stability to the structure.

The cathedral houses mock-ups and sketches of the dome proposed for construction: Michelangelo, Sangallo and Bramante. All of them were based on a more rounded shape, tending to the parameters of an ideal ball. However, the construction of the vault was entrusted to Giacomo Porta, who implemented a slightly different model. Changes were made in order to provide greater reliability and stability to the dome, especially taking into account the fact that the structure came out 7 meters higher than originally planned.

Despite all the tricks of architects and builders, already in the 18th century, the dome began to collapse under its own weight and the influence of winds. Four strong chains pulled the arch to give it extra rigidity. Inside, the dome is decorated with mosaic paintings by Giovanni de Vecchi.

The Arch of Michelangelo is implemented according to the sketches of the master: a sphere that goes up, decorated with a caisson decor.

Tomb of St. Peter

In 1939, by order of Benito Mussolini, extensive archaeological research was carried out under the floors of the cathedral - an ancient necropolis was discovered, one of the burials of which had a special status. I managed to find out that in 1-2 centuries AD one of the graves was especially revered.

A thorough study of church chronicles and repeated excavations made it possible to assume with great probability that the tomb of the apostle rests in the ground beneath St. Peter's Basilica. What in 1968, Paul VI solemnly announced.

St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro)

The grandiose cathedral, built in the 16th century, required a corresponding frame. The Vatican ruled that the poorly planned rectangle of metropolitan land at the foot of the temple was supposed to take an elegant shape. In addition, it was necessary to equip the road from the Apostolic Palace (Palazzi Apostolici) to the basilica.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini created St. Peter's Square in 11 yearsstarting construction in 1656.

Bernini's architectural plan had two major elements: the oval plane of the square itself, surrounded by crescents of galleries and trapezoidal alleys leading to the square and the cathedral.

Aerial view of the square, alley and cathedral look like a key, for which they were called the "key of St. Peter." The oval of the square rests in a bowl of two galleries equipped with columns. A colonnade of 284 Doric columns and 80 pillars of travertine is crowned with an attic, on which 140 sculptures of saints and a dozen church emblems flaunt. On days of major Catholic holidays, St. Peter's Square accommodates about 400 thousand visitors!

Interesting Facts

  1. On the square of the cathedral there are 2 geometric centers from which all 4 rows of columns are hidden one after another.
  2. According to legend, the remains of Julius Caesar were stored on top of the obelisk, but when the obelisk was transferred in the 16th century, it turned out that there was nothing there.
  3. Italian police can only enter the cathedral by special invitation.
  4. Bernini spied on the idea of ​​building part of the square in the shape of a trapeze by Michelangelo.
  5. For more than 1000 years, the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica were not considered the center of Christianity - popes moved there only in the 15th century from the Lateran Basilica.
  6. By tradition, no building in Rome can be higher than the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.
Learn dozens of other interesting facts and details, and also climb to the highest point in Rome during an excursion to the Vatican at dawn with Arthur Yakutsevich.

Practical information

  • Address: Piazza San Pietro
  • Working hours: summer period (from April 1 to September 30) - from 07:00 to 19:00, winter period (from October 1 to March 31) - from 07:00 to 18:30.
  • Dome visit: summer period (from April 1 to September 30) - from 08:00 to 18:00, winter (from October 1 to March 31) - from 07:00 to 18:00.
  • Ticket price: fully walking ascent (551 steps) - 8 euros, elevator + hiking (320 steps) - 10 euros, children under 12 years old - free of charge.
  • Individual excursions:
  • Visiting the grave of St. Peter and the necropolis under the cathedral: valid after pre-booking by mail: [email protected] or by phone: +39 06 69873017. The price of an individual ticket is 13 euros. Opening hours: Mon-Fri: from 09:00 to 18:00, Sat - 09:00 to 17:00.
  • Vatican official website:

To visit the cathedral, dome and archaeological site, you will need to follow a dress code: long skirts and trousers, covered shoulders, hats, comfortable shoes.

How to get there

Read the article on how to get to the Vatican.

  • Metro: line A, Ottaviano stop (closer to museums)
  • by tram:No. 19, stop San Pietro 200 meters from the cathedral;
  • by bus: No. 23, 32, 81, 590, 982, N11, Risorgimento stop, No. 64 and 40 express routes from Termini Station to St. Peter's Basilica, No. 116, Terminal Gianicolo stop;
  • by regional train: Roma San Pietro station (closer to the square), the train runs from Roma Trastevere station, ticket 1 euro.

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