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Basilica of St. Peter
Basilica di San Pietro
St. Peter’s Square.
Take Linea A (red line) toward Battistini and exit at Ottaviano-S. Pietro. Walk south on Via Ottaviano toward St. Peter's Square.
Open daily. April-September 7:00-19:00h.; October-March 7:00-18:00h. Free entrance. The entrance is at the right side of the square by the colonnade, where there is a security check and X-ray machines.
The Dress Code is strictly enforced at St. Peter's Basilica. No shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts. This applies to both men and women. Even if one gets through security, that person will be turned away by the attendants at the door.
In 324 Constantine the Great built a basilica on the site of the tomb of St. Peter. At the end of the Middle Ages the church was quite dilapidated and in 1452 Pope Nicholas V decided that the church should be rebuilt. In 1506 Pope Julius II decided that Bramante would be given this task. Bramante envisioned a church with the shape of the Greek cross. Other artists and architects involved were Raphael, Peruzzi, Sangallo and Michelangelo. It was Michelangelo who planned the huge dome. In 1605 Pope Paul V wanted to change the Greek cross plan to the Latin cross and assigned Carlo Maderno to this task. He also designed the present façade. The basilica was consecrated in 1626 by Pope Urban VIII.
When one enters the church, one sees that it is the largest Christian church in the world and it is also the most impressive. The main nave is 212 meters long. There is enough space to hold 60,000 persons in the church. The dome is huge and is 132 meters high and 42 meters in diameter. Michelangelo was a genius to have been able to construct this. Michelangelo died in 1564 when only the drum of the dome was built. The dome was finally completed in 1590 by Giacomo della Porta. The church has very large decorations by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the greatest artists of all time. Below the dome is Bernini’s Baldacchino, which is a bronze canopy over the shrine of St. Peter. It is 26 meters high. The bronze used for this was taken from the ceiling of the Pantheon. In front of the papal altar is the burial crypt that marks the presumed grave of St. Peter. In the apse there is the Cathedra Petri, a great Baroque complex of gilt bronze that Bernini created to enclose the chair used by St. Peter.
On the right side of the entrance is the Chapel of the Pieta, which holds the statue created by Michelangelo of the Virgin Mary holding in her lap the dead body of Christ. Michelangelo was only 24 when he sculpted this statue, taking less than two years to complete it, and it made him famous and showed his genius. The sculpture is protected by a sheet of bullet-proof acrylic glass panel in front of the spectator because in 1972 a mentally disturbed man attacked the statue with a hammer. The sash that the Virgin wears on her chest is signed by Michelangelo and this was the only one of his works that he signed.
Many of what seem to be large paintings are really mosaics that reproduce the paintings. The high humidity in the church ruined many of the oil paintings and these were replaced with the mosaics. The floor of the church has a colorful marble pattern. Near the central door is a red porphyry disc and many emperors and kings were crowned while standing on the disc. There are also bronze markings that compare the size of the church with that of others, including the St. Paul's Cathedral in London and the Cologne Cathedral.
The entrance to the church is by St. Peter’s Square, which has a very large elliptical esplanade created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century. The border has massive colonnades. Above the columns is a balustrade that has 140 stautes of saints that were sculpted by Bernini and his assistants. In the middle of the square is an Egyptian obelisk and two fountains.
St. Peter's Square.
The façade of the basilica.
A closer view of the façade.
The body of Pope Innocent XI can be seen at one altar.
One font for holy water has these angels.
One of the small cupolas.
A crucifix at the façade of the church.
Statues of two saints that adorn the top of the colonnade.