St. Peter's Basilica, situated in Vatican City, Rome, stands as an eminent and sacred marvel globally. It was constructed on the very grounds where St. Peter, the first pope and apostle of Jesus Christ, found his resting place. Over a century of labor culminated in the completion of the present basilica in the early 17th century, making it the largest church on Earth. Its grandeur is embodied in an ornate facade, a soaring dome, and an expansive interior graced with remarkable artworks, including the iconic Pietà by Michelangelo.
Moreover, this basilica serves as the final resting place for numerous popes, notably Pope John Paul II, and treasures precious relics such as the St. Peter's Chair and the Veil of Veronica. Today, it remains the spiritual nucleus of the Catholic Church, drawing countless visitors each year, all eager to witness its historical significance and splendor.
The two main highlights of St. Peter's Basilica are its historical significance as the final resting place of Saint Peter, the first pope and apostle of Jesus Christ, and the magnificent architectural masterpiece we see today. According to tradition, Saint Peter was martyred and buried in a humble grave in the Circus of Nero in the year 67 or 68 AD. Over time, Christians built a small shrine over his grave, and in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine ordered the construction of a church on the site, solidifying its importance.
The current St. Peter's Basilica that we admire today was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1506. This awe-inspiring structure was designed by renowned artists and architects of the time, making it one of the most iconic and impressive religious buildings in the world. Its grandeur and historical significance continue to be among the top highlights of St. Peter's Basilica.
Gianlorenzo Bernini, the master of the Italian Baroque, designed the canopy to highlight the main altar at St. Peter's Basilica, which is exclusively reserved for the Pope. In 1624, it was commissioned by Urban VIII, who belonged to the Barberini family, as an ambitious project.
The canopy has a unique design with spiraling columns adorned with vine leaves, suggesting movement and lightness. It stands at a height of over 28 meters and features beautiful statues of angels and putti atop it, culminating in a golden sphere with a cross. The coat of arms of the Barberini family is carved at the base of each of the four columns of the structure
Michelangelo's stunning masterpiece, the Pietà, can be found in the first chapel on the right side of the entrance. The sculpture was commissioned by Cardinal Jean Biléres de Lagraulas in 1498 as a centerpiece for his tomb. Within just two years, Michelangelo completed the sculpture, which is a depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling the lifeless body of Jesus.
The artist gave his interpretation of the traditional iconography by emphasizing the youth and innocence of the Virgin Mary. The statue bears Michelangelo's signature across the Virgin Mary's chest, added after he overheard visitors mistakenly attributing the work to another artist. This sculpture made Michelangelo famous and his future works didn't require his signature.
In the Chapel of Saint Sebastian, just a few steps from the Pietà, is an altar with a white marble inscription in red capital letters: SANCTVS IOANNES PAVLVS PP. II, Saint John Paul II. His 27-year-long pontificate made him one of the most popular popes ever. During his funeral in 2005, the crowd started chanting “Santo subito!” and he was canonized just 9 years after his death. His triple coffin was originally buried in the Vatican Grottoes but was moved to the Chapel of Saint Sebastian in 2011 and finally given a marble altar upon his canonization in 2014. People often come to pray here in his honor.
Just a few steps away from the Canopy, to the left of it, stands an unusual monument - the memorial to Alexander VII, considered to be the last great work of Gianlorenzo Bernini, although executed mostly by his assistants. The monument depicts the pope in prayer, surrounded by four statues representing the virtues he practiced: Charity, Prudence, Justice, and Truth. The last statue, representing Truth, stands on a globe with her foot on England, a nod to the pope's failed attempts to defeat Anglicanism. The monument's most striking feature is a winged skeleton, symbolizing death, holding an hourglass.
One of the main highlights of St. Peter's Basilica is the black bronze statue of Saint Peter, crafted by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 13th century. This remarkable artwork depicts Saint Peter seated on a marble chair, holding the keys to heaven in his left hand while offering a blessing with his right hand. Throughout the centuries, visitors to the church have engaged in a traditional practice of touching or kissing the statue's feet, particularly the right one, as they seek his blessing. This long-standing custom has led to noticeable wear and polishing of the foot over time.
Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome boasts Michelangelo's Dome, standing tall and elegant, which he gifted to the church. Though he passed away at the age of 89, the Dome of St Peter's Basilica was finally completed by Giacomo Della Porta and Domenico Fontana in 1590. The interior of the dome is even more impressive with its golden mosaics, depicting various figures such as the four Evangelists, holy figures, and angels. The dome culminates with a golden globe bearing a cross, which is similar to the one atop the canopy.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini's St. Peter's Altar is a magnificent masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and art that has been standing at the heart of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome for centuries. Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century, the altar is made of bronze and features a tabernacle surrounded by four twisted columns, each one weighing over 60 tons. It sits atop a marble platform adorned with beautiful carvings and sculptures, including the famous Bernini's Baldacchino. The St. Peter's Altar remains a symbol of the Roman Catholic faith and a testament to Bernini's artistic vision and skill.
St. Peter's Basilica is approximately 517 years old. Construction began on April 18, 1506, and it was completed in 1626. As of the current date in 2023, the iconic basilica in Vatican City stands as a symbol of Renaissance architecture and remains one of the most significant religious and historical landmarks in the world.
The best time to visit St. Peter's Basilica is in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds, and weekdays are generally less busy than weekends.
St. Peter's Basilica's opening hours are every day from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm, with extended hours during special events and holidays.
St. Peter's Basilica is located in Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by Rome, Italy.
St. Peter's Basilica is an impressive structure, with its length measuring about 730 feet (220 meters), its width spanning around 500 feet (150 meters), and its height reaching approximately 448 feet (137 meters) at the top of the dome. The basilica's vast interior can accommodate up to 60,000 people and features numerous ornate chapels, altars, and stunning artworks, making it one of the largest and most magnificent churches globally.