St. Peter’s Square, also known as Piazza San Pietro, is the famous 17th century square of Vatican City, the world’s smallest state. The square is not only the heart of this highly religious city, but also the home to the St. Peter’s Basilica, a prominent architectural masterpiece that is not to be missed by any tourist visiting the city.
The square is actually an historic site, where a number of Christian devotees including Saint Peter were persecuted and punished. The architect behind the St. Peter’s Square is the talented Gian Lorenzo Bernini, commissioned by Pope Alexander VII in April 1655. The skillful Bernini then designed one of his greatest creations; an elliptical shaped square which measures about 643 feet long and over 787 feet wide.
One of the striking features of the square is its semi-circular colonnades, which signify the outstretched arms of the church trying to embrace the world. The colonnades are made up of four rows of columns which are about 5 feet high and 66 feet wide. The columns are then adorned with 140 exquisite statues. These statues represent religious characters like martyrs, saints, popes and founders of the church.
The square also features travertine paved blocks and cobblestones that provide not only visual aesthetics but also symmetry. And it seems like perfect symmetry is the very reason why St. Peter’s Square is quite special. If you stand near the square’s fountains, on the roundel foci pavement; you will see the four rows of colonnades lined up one after another in a position that allows them to seemingly appear like one structure. From the square, you can see the Papal Apartments, which is the home of the pope and where he regularly addresses thousands of pilgrims.
At the center of the piazza lies the Egyptian obelisk standing proud at around 83 feet. The obelisk was originally from Heliopolis Egypt and was transported to Rome. Other attractions you will find within the square grounds are the Carlo Moderno fountain, situated to the right of the obelisk; and its identical fountain the Carlo Fontana. Under Bernini’s instructions, the Carlo Fontana fountain was installed on the left side of the obelisk to maintain visual balance.
St. Peter’s Square may have a couple of features that will captivate you, but the undisputed highlight of a visit to the square is the Basilica di San Pieto or St. Peter’s Basilica. Exploring this magnificent structure not only exposes you to the brilliant centuries old architecture but also to the wide range of priceless works of art that the Basilica houses. Some of the prominent art works stored here include the Pieta by Michelangelo and the Baldachin by Bernini. On your tour around the basilica, don’t hesitate to climb all the way of the top of the dome as you will rewarded by amazing views of the entire square.
St. Peter’s Square and Basilica are easily accessible via the city’s subway services. To get here, you will need to take Line A or the Red line going towards Battistini stop. You should get off at Ottaviano-S. Pietro and go south on Via Ottaviano leading up to the square. If you are coming from the city center, it is also possible for you to walk to the square by crossing the Tiber and passing through Via Conciliazioni.