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Visiting St. Peter's Square in Vatican CIty
4.5 (100%) 451 votes

Overlooked by St Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square was laid out between 1656 and 1667 to a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Seen from above, it resembles a giant keyhole with two semicircular colonnades, each consisting of four rows of Doric columns, encircling a giant ellipse that straightens out to funnel believers into the basilica. The effect was deliberate – Bernini described the colonnades as representing ‘the motherly arms of the church’.

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The Famous St. Peter's Square In Vatican

The Famous St. Peter's Square In Vatican

1. The History

1. The History

Before visiting and doing St. Peter's Square tours, it is important for visitors to learn about the history of the square. St. Peter's Square, known locally as Piazza San Pietro, was created in the seventeenth century by Bernini. The square, which is located in Vatican City and borders St. Peter's Basilica, is an architectural highlight. As soon as Alexander VII was elected as the new pope in April 1655, he commissioned sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create a new square in front of the St. Peter's Basilica. Following Alexander's detailed instructions, Bernini came up with an elliptical shaped square, 240 meters wide and 196 meters long. Construction of the square started in 1656 and was completed eleven years later, in 1667.

2. The Square

2. The Square

St. Peter's Square is bordered on two sides by semi-circular colonnades which, according to Bernini, symbolize the stretched arms of the church embracing the world. The colonnades were built in 1660 and consist of four rows of columns with in total 284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters. The columns are 20 meters high and 1.6 meters wide. 140 statues were installed on top of the colonnades, all created by Bernini and his students. They depict popes, martyrs, evangelists and other religious figures. To the left and right of the central obelisk on the square are circular marble plates which indicate the foci of the elliptical square. When you stand on either of these plates and look at the nearest colonnade, it will look as if there is only one row of columns instead of four. Bernini wasn't just a great sculptor and architect, he also knew his geometry. On special occasions such as the election of a new pope or on Easter, almost 400,000 people fill the expansive square. You will find many things to do at St. Peter's Square during your visit.

3. The Obelisk

3. The Obelisk

In the center of the square stands an Egyptian obelisk, 25.5 meters tall - 41 meters (135ft) including the pedestal. The obelisk was originally located at Heliopolis in Egypt and was built for Cornelius Gallus, the city's prefect. In 37 AD Caligula decided to transport the obelisk to Rome with a specially constructed ship. It was installed at the spina of the Circus of Caligula (later known as Circus of Nero), which was located in an area now occupied by Vatican City. In 1585 pope Sixtus V decided to have the obelisk moved to its present location in front of the then under construction St. Peter's Basilica, a distance of about 300 meters. The relocation was a daunting task however and even Michelangelo considered it impossible. Sixtus however persevered and commissioned Domenico Fontana with the transportation. It took 900 men and a reported 75-140 horses and even though the ropes were on the verge of breaking, Fontana succeeded on September 10, 1586 after an operation that lasted five months. Visiting the obelisk could be a nice thing to do at St. Peter's Square.

4. The Fountain

4. The Fountain

Next thing to do at St. Peter's Square is to visit its fountain. There are two small fountains within the elliptical piazza, each of which is equidistant between the obelisk and the colonnades. One fountain was built by Carlo Maderno, who had renovated the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in the early 17th century; Bernini erected a matching fountain on the north side of the obelisk, thereby balancing the piazza’s design. The paving stones of the piazza, which are a combination of cobblestones and travertine blocks arranged to radiate from the central “spoke” of the obelisk, also provide elements of symmetry.

5. St. Peter's Basilica

5. St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Square creates a magnificent entry point to the St. Peter's Basilica, which was built between 1506 and 1626 and borders the square to the west The basilica is the largest in the world. Its interior is decorated with magnificent monuments, many of which were created by the great Bernini. Make sure you climb all the way to the top of the basilica's imposing dome - designed by another great, Michelangelo, as it offers a magnificent view over the square. This is one of the best things to do at St. Peter's Square.

6. Best Views of St. Peter's Square

6. Best Views of St. Peter's Square

In order to see the symmetry of this architectural masterpiece firsthand, one must stand on roundel foci pavements located near the piazza’s fountains. From the foci, the four rows of the colonnades line up perfectly behind one another, creating an amazing visual effect. It is a must thing to do at St. Peter's Square.

Insider Tips

How to Get Tickets?

There is no admission fee to do St. Peter's Square tour. Visitors can just walk in and enjoy a day at the square without having to pay, it is a public square.

How To Get Around?

The only way to enjoy the things to do at St. Peter's Square is by walking. It is easily accessible even with wheelchair. There are few bus stops nearby but the best way to get around the area is by walking while enjoying the architecture around the square.

What Should I Wear?

The Vatican City, and particularly St. Peters Basilica, has a strict dress code. They dont allow shorts or bare shoulders for men or women, and women cannot wear miniskirts. It is not negotiable, so if you show up, with bare shoulders, you will be turned away. A normal T-shirt and Jeans are fine though. They also dont allow day packs, so you will have to park your pack somewhere. Jogging pants are sold at a stand around the corner, and those are acceptable as well.

Facts

Best Time to Visit

Try to avoid Wednesday mornings: it’s the day of the Papal audience. If the audience is held in St. Peter’s Basilica or in St.Peter’s Square - then it’s closed for visitors until 12:00 or even further. Avoid holidays and important religious dates, they attract more visitors to Vatican. During Christmas holidays Vatican is overcrowded the same way as it is during the peak months (April-May, August-October).

Currency

Euro

Will I Need a Guide?

No, you can get around easily and there are plenty of informations about the square on this website.

How To Get There?

Vatican City is on the west side of River Tiber while Rome's main sites—like the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Spanish steps—are on the east The easiest way to get to Saint Peter's Square is to take the Metro Line A to the Ottaviano “San Pietro” stop. You can also take a taxi and just tell the driver to go to Piazza San Pietro. If you do take a cab, make sure to ask for the price up front to avoid overpaying. However, the most spectacular way to arrive at St. Peter's Square is along the Via della Conciliazione, a long street that begins in the Castel Sant'Angelo.

Additional Info

It is true for any city, but you should always try to not look like a tourist As a foreigner you will stick out already, but don’t make it worse by being dressed in some gaudy outfit that shouts tourist Things like regular shirts and jeans are fine, or even shorts as long as you don’t head into a church in them. There are people looking for victims, and a lost tourist can be an easy victim of a mugging or theft. As much as possible, dress like the locals, and try to blend in. Also, it is important to always look like you know where you are going, whether you do or not. There are things that make you look like a tourist other than clothes, such as a lot of big cameras and looking at a lot of big maps. When you must consult your map, try to do it out of the middle of the street, so as to not draw attention.

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