St. Peter's Basilica (Italian: Basilica di San Pietro) in Rome is one of the world's most iconic and significant Christian places. It is the most famous attraction in Vatican City. It is a stunning blend of Renaissance and Baroque styles. Spending an hour or two here will only allow you to dip your toes into its architecture and rich history, as exploring it would take more than a week.

The basilica serves as the venue for major papal ceremonies and events, including Masses, Easter celebrations, and other significant occasions.

It was designed by several renowned architects, including Michelangelo, Donato Bramante, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Where is St. Peter's Basilica located?

The Basilica is in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, in Rome. It has multiple entrances, some adorned with intricate patterns and statues. The main entrance, the central portal, is called "Porta Santa." It is typically closed and only opened during jubilee years.

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Did you know? If you go to the door of the headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and peek through the keyhole, you'll see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica perfectly framed. It's a unique sight because the dome aligns perfectly with the keyhole's frame.

The Interior of the Basilica

Give yourself time to admire the interior of the basilica. Every minute will be spent as there are so many "sights" to see.

  • Nave: The central nave is a vast space that stretches from the entrance to the main altar. Magnificent columns and arches line it, creating a sense of height and space. Look down and see the floor adorned with intricate marble patterns.
  • Side aisles and Ccapels: On the sides of the nave, you'll find several side aisles leading to various chapels, each dedicated to different saints or religious figures. These chapels are adorned with beautiful sculptures, paintings, and altars.
  • La Pietà: As you enter the building, one of the first things you'll notice on the right is Michelangelo's Pietà. This iconic marble sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus after the crucifixion with exceptional grace and beauty.
  • Baldacchino: Directly above the main altar, you'll find the massive Baldacchino, a 29-meter-high Baroque canopy designed by Bernini. It's impossible to miss.
  • Chair of St. Peter: Behind the main altar, you can see Bernini's monumental bronze statue, the Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter). The chair symbolizes the spiritual authority and teaching office of St. Peter, the first pope.
  • Dome: Let yourself be mesmerized by the colossal dome designed by Michelangelo. It consists of intricate mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Christ and various saints. The oculus at the top of the dome allows natural light to filter in.
  • Mosaics and Frescoes: The interior ceiling and walls are adorned with beautiful mosaics and frescoes depicting various religious themes and events from the Bible and the history of the Church.
Below the building, you'll find crypts and tombs. Many popes and religious figures' remains are preserved here.

Exterior of the Basilica

The exterior of St. Peter's Basilica is designed to inspire reverence and respect. Don't just focus on the interior; take in the exterior. It's a harmonious blend of Renaissance and Baroque elements.

  • Loggia: On the façade, you'll find the central balcony, the Loggia or Papal Balcony. It is from here that the Pope addresses the faithful.
  • Dome: The most prominent feature of the basilica is the spectacular dome designed by Michelangelo, which dominates the skyline of Rome. It can be seen from various points in the city and serves as a perfect landmark. This engineering marvel symbolizes the spiritual and secular authority of the Catholic Church.
  • Bell towers: St. Peter's Basilica has two bell towers on either side of the façade. Each tower is over 130 meters tall and houses bells that ring on various occasions and events.
  • Statues: Numerous statues adorn the exterior, depicting biblical figures, saints, and religious symbols.
  • Papal Coat of Arms: The current Pope's coat of arms is displayed on the external walls. These symbols change with each new papal election.


Its history is long and fascinating, as it is believed to be the burial place of St. Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ (the first Pope).

  • In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine ordered the construction of the original basilica on this site, completed around AD 349.
  • The original church underwent numerous renovations and transformations over the centuries. It became the centre of the Roman Catholic Church but showed signs of decline by the 15th century. By then, accommodating the increasing number of pilgrims was no longer deemed adequate.
  • During the 15th-century Renaissance, Rome saw a revival of interest in art, culture, and architecture. Popes such as Nicholas V and Julius II initiated various construction projects, including rebuilding St. Peter's Basilica, to match the significance of the Vatican.
  • In 1506, Pope Julius II entrusted architect Donato Bramante with creating a new plan for the basilica. Bramante envisioned an ambitious design that included demolishing the old basilica. He envisioned a colossal central dome surrounded by four arms. However, Bramante's plan was only partially realized due to financial constraints and the death of the Pope in 1513.
  • After Bramante's death, various architects continued the work, including Raphael and the younger Antonio da Sangallo. However, Michelangelo played a pivotal role in shaping the basilica. He redesigned the dome, making it more massive and harmonious with the rest of the building.
  • In the early 17th century, Carlo Maderno took over construction and expanded the nave to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the prominent Baroque architect and sculptor, contributed to the final appearance of the basilica by designing the impressive colonnade and the bronze baldacchin over the main altar.
Over the centuries, it underwent various restorations and renovations to preserve its structure and artistic and historical treasures.

Interesting Facts

  • Size and dimensions: It covers an area of approximately 23,000 square meters, making it the largest Christian church in the world. Its length is about 186.36 meters, and the width of the nave is about 58 meters.
  • Height: The dome's height from the basilica's floor to its roof is about 136.57 meters. It remains one of the tallest domes in the world and certainly the most elevated in Rome.
  • Michelangelo's Dome: Michelangelo was in his 70s when he took over the design and construction of the dome. Despite his age and limited architectural experience, he created one of history's most iconic and awe-inspiring domes.
  • Michelangelo's Pietà: Michelangelo's famous Pietà sculpture is the only artwork he signed. He allegedly did so after hearing rumours that another artist had created it.
  • Construction time: The construction of St. Peter's Basilica spanned several centuries. It took approximately 1,200 years from the initial construction under Emperor Constantine in the 4th century to its completion in the 17th century.
  • Baldacchino: The bronze Baldacchino above the main altar weighs around 330 tons and stands about 29 meters high.
  • Papal Tombs: St. Peter's Basilica houses the tombs of numerous popes, including Pope John Paul II, who was buried in the underground chambers of the Basilica in 2005.

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