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St. Peter's Basilica - A Vatican Highlight When In Rome

Jun 19, 2008
St. Peter's Basilica, otherwise known as Basilica di San Pietro has always been a tremendously popular attraction of tourists to Rome. Visitors to the site can happily pass a day taking in all there is to see there. Of the many popular locations in Vatican City, St. Peter's ranks high in popularity and number of visits by tourists.

The heart of the appeal of the site is the legend that Saint Peter himself was buried there even though there is no real proof of that idea. What we do know is that the basilica is located on the spot that was probably the Circus of Nero during the first century AD.

About 1000 years before St. Peter's was built, the site was dedicated for a basilica by none other than the Christian Roman Emperor Constantine.

Hundreds of years later construction started on St. Peter's Basilica using funds diverted from the holy war with the Turks by Pope Leo X.

But like most large scale construction efforts during this phase in history, it took decades to finish the church in the late 16th century and the project had many architects and was overseen by several Popes before it was done.

By medieval standards, St. Peter's is a tall church towering 445 feet from the floor of the church to the cross that is on top of that well known dome. Roman citizens are very familiar with that dome decorating the skyline of the city because it is a masterpiece of architecture in every respect. That dome was designed by the famous artist and architect from the Renaissance, Michelangelo. It was he who took the San Gallo double-shell design and perfected it to fit the needs of St. Peter's.

Even though Michelangelo was made the architect in charge of St. Peter's in 1546, the completion of the masterpiece came long after his death. With the passing of the great master, one of his students, Giacomo della Porta went on to complete the work in 1590. The design plans of the brilliant architects of St. Peter's are often utilized in other great buildings including the Capital Building in Washington DC.

That dome was a durable design and it was 200 years later that the first cracks showed up in the surface. To contain these cracks from doing any more damage, four huge chains of iron were attached to the inside of the shell. If you were to climb the winding stairs between the dome shells, you would still see those chains today.

That magnificent dome is not all there is to St. Peter's Basilica. The interior space of the basilica covers six acres and it can accommodate 60,000 worshipers. And there have been several occasions where it was called upon to host that many people. The many Popes who have used St. Peter's to minister to the church have drawn in such crowds.

The outer facade of St. Peter's that welcome visitors to the hall is quite large, measuring 377 feet wide and over 148 feet tall.

The basilica also hosts over 100 tombs of well known figures from history. You can feel history around you including the tomb of Queen Christina of Sweden. History tells us that she gave up her royal crown in 1654 so she could come to Rome and become a convert to Catholicism.

But there is no doubt that the most well known art work in St. Peter's is the awe inspiring "Pieta" by Michelangelo. But sadly it must be displayed behind protective glass because a lunatic tried to destroy it with an axe in 1972.

From the exterior of the basilica, there are a number of worthwhile historical things to look for.

For example, be on the look out for a number of ancient clocks including one with a bell that dates back to the late 13th century. But an artwork that is hard to miss is a huge Egyptian obelisk on display outside St. Peter's that dates back to Nero's Circus where it stood not far away during the same time period.

Look for the two fountains in the square of the basilica. The southern fountain was designed by the famous artist Bernini in 1675. Bernini made several contributions including the phenomenal Triumph of the Chair of Saint Peter which stands in the apse section of the basilica.

Your visit to Rome will take on new meaning if you allow at least a couple of hours to take your time and admire this awe inspiring example of Renaissance architecture in the Eternal City.
About the Author
For cheap accommodation in Rome, try the Vatican area. At Rome-Accom.com, we offer short term apartments in Rome for rental.
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