A trip to Rome is not complete without visiting Saint Peter's Square (Italian: Piazza San Pietro) in the Vatican, perhaps one of the most famous outdoor landmarks in the world. The elliptical square was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a Baroque architect and artist, in the 17th century during the reign of Pope Alexander VII. It is estimated to hold up to 300,000 people at once.
More Information about the Saint Peter's Square
The globally renowned Saint Peter's Basilica faces the square, featuring its iconic dome designed by the great Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo. Visitors ascend a grand staircase with 15 steps leading from the square to the basilica's main entrance.
Two massive colonnades embrace the square, symbolizing the maternal embrace of the Church. The arcade consists of two Doric columns, with 284 columns and 88 pilasters. The optical illusion makes the colonnades appear as a single row when viewed from the centre of the square, symbolizing the unity of the Church.
Sign in to enjoy an ad-free experience and stay up-to-date with our latest features.
Inside the northern arcade is the Bronze Door, a massive bronze portal usually closed and only opened during jubilee years or special occasions. Pilgrims can cross the threshold of the Bronze Door as a spiritual renewal, seeking God's forgiveness and mercy.
At the top of the columns, you'll find 140 statues. These statues depict various saints and biblical figures from the Old and New Testaments. Their purpose is to welcome the faithful. They represent apostles, martyrs, prophets, Church doctors, and other prominent Christian figures. Each statue has unique characteristics and attributes that reflect the significance and life story of the individual.
While Bernini himself sculpted some of the statues, due to their large number, a talented team of sculptors worked on the project. Lazzaro Morelli, Vincenzo Felici, and Antonio Raggi were among the artists creating the figures.
The statues are renowned for their lifelike and dynamic qualities. Bernini's workshop was known for creating natural and emotionally charged sculptures, capturing the sense of movement and vitality in the figures. Some statues appear cheerful, peaceful, passionate, or emotional, depending on the saint or biblical event they represent.
Over the centuries, the statues have been restored multiple times to preserve their artistic and historical significance. Some of the original figures were replaced or relocated.
In the centre of the square stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk, which Emperor Caligula brought to Rome in 37 AD. Initially, it stood in the Circus of Nero, but in 1586, Pope Sixtus V had it moved to the centre of the square. At its top, you can see a bronze cross with the relic of the True Cross. The obelisk is approximately 25.5 meters tall from its base to the top of the cross and is one of the most towering ancient obelisks still in existence.
The Heliometer is an astronomical instrument located in the centre of the square. It was used to calculate the date of Easter based on the sun's position in the sky. It has a diameter of approximately 1.85 meters and is made of marble.
The square's paving stones gently slope toward the obelisk. This allowed rainwater to quickly drain away from the central area, helping to keep the square dry during wet weather.
Two beautiful fountains, each located on either side of the obelisk, were designed by Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, enhancing the charm of the square. The fountains depict various symbols and figures, including lions, dolphins, and other miniature decorations.
The fountain on the square's southern side is known as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or the Fountain of the Four Rivers. It was completed in 1651 and represents the four great rivers of the known continents: the Danube (Europe), the Nile (Africa), the Ganges (Asia), and the Río de la Plata (America). A figure in the design of the fountain personifies each river.
- The figure representing the Danube covers its face, symbolizing that the river's source was still unknown.
- The figure representing the Nile has a cloth over its head, as the source of the Nile was also unknown.
- The Ganges is depicted sitting on a crocodile, symbolizing the river's Asian location.
- The Río de la Plata reaches for a pile of coins, representing the wealth of America.
The Fontana del Moro, or the Moor Fountain, is on the square's northern side. It was completed in 1675. The central figure of the fountain is a Moor wrestling with a dolphin. The Moor is depicted in a dynamic and intense struggle with the dolphin, representing the power of water. Giacomo della Porta carved the figure in the late 16th century, but Bernini added the dolphin and some elements in the 17th century.
The square is a prominent venue for important ceremonies and events of the Roman Catholic Church. Its capacity to hold many people makes it suitable for papal audiences, blessings, and other major religious celebrations.
Saint Peter's Square has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times.
- Early Times: The area where Saint Peter's Square now stands had religious significance even in ancient times. Initially, it was part of a chariot racing stadium, the Circus of Nero, built by Emperor Caligula in the 1st century. In this circus, early Christians, including Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, were martyred, with Saint Peter crucified upside down near the circus in 64 AD.
- Constantine's Basilica: In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine the Great ordered the construction of a grand basilica on the site of Saint Peter's martyrdom, known as the Old Saint Peter's Basilica. The basilica became a significant pilgrimage site for early Christians and underwent various modifications and expansions over the centuries.
- Renaissance Renewals: By the late Middle Ages, the Old Saint Peter's Basilica had fallen into disrepair. In the 15th century, during the Renaissance era, Pope Nicholas V initiated a series of renovations, but these efforts were insufficient to restore the basilica to its former glory.
- Pope Julius II's Vision: In the early 16th century, Pope Julius II envisioned a massive basilica symbolising the Catholic Church's power and authority. He entrusted the task of designing a new basilica that would surpass the grandeur of ancient Rome to Donato Bramante, a renowned Renaissance artist and architect. This basilica would be built before the square.
- Michelangelo's Involvement: After Bramante's death, the project passed through several other architects, including Raffaello and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, before Michelangelo was appointed chief architect in 1546. Michelangelo modified Bramante's plan and designed the dome, which became one of the basilica's most iconic features. Therefore, the basilica was built before the square.
- Bernini's Square: In the 17th century, during the papacy of Pope Alexander VII, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was tasked with redesigning the square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica. Bernini created the vast elliptical square with the arcades. The construction of the court took place between 1656 and 1667.
Today, it remains one of the world's most significant religious and historical landmarks, attracting millions of visitors and pilgrims annually.
Save this link for later, or share it with your friends. Have a nice trip! Trekhunt team. ❤️