St. Peter’s Basilica was originally the Circus of Nero and a cemetery. St Peter, one of the 12 apostles was martyred under the reign of Emperor Nero in 64 AD. In 306 AD, Emperor Constantine became the first Christian emperor of Rome and he decided to erect a basilica at Vatican Hill on St. Peter’s tomb.
Construction started in 319 AD took about 30 years to complete construction. While the basilica stood sturdy for over 1,000 years, it had started to deteriorate and due to serious concerns that it may collapse, Pope Julius II decided that it was beyond repair and that it would have to be demolished and rebuilt.
After the first Basilica was knocked down, the construction of the new basilica began in 1506 and it took over 100 years to rebuild the Basilica. It was consecrated on 18 November, 1626 and showcases the work and design of some of the most famous architects of the time - Bramante, Michelangelo and Carlo Maderno.
The St. Peter’s Basilica was designed to amaze, every nook and turn will leave you in absolute awe. Here’s are the main highlights of the Basilica.
Climbing to the top of the St. Peter’s cupola is a fascinating experience. It was started by Michelangelo, continued by Giacomo Della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno in 1614. Know that climbing to the top of the Cupola entails an extra admission charge. You can either take the stairs entirely to the top (551 steps) or take the elevator and then climb the remaining on steps (320 steps). There is a minor difference in the ticket for stairs only and lift + stairs. On your way to the top, you can stop at a terrace facing the interiors of the dome and enjoy the beautiful mosaics that deck the periphery. At the top you will be greeted by stunning 360-degree panoramic views of Vatican City and Rome.
The Central Nave is where you will find the main body of the Basilica. The Nave is about 46 meters (150 ft.) high and 187 meters (615 ft.) long. Charlemagne and other emperors were crowned on the red disc located at the entrance of this Nave. You will also find the measurements of the largest churches in the world printed in brass letters on the floor.
St. Peter’s Treasury is another section of the basilica that has an extra admission charge. Its exhibition contains, crosses, papal vestments (clothing), jewels, reliquaries church ornaments, statues and various other objects that were royal gifts from the past. It costs 5 euros for adults and 3 euros for children 12 and under.
The Vatican Grottoes is an underground graveyard that contains the tombs of many Vatican popes as well as members of the royal family from the 10th century. Entrance to the Vatican Grottoes is free. It is open daily from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the months of April to September and from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM from October to March. Ensure this is the last place you visit in St. Peter’s Basilica since you will be outside the basilica upon exiting the grottoes and you cannot reenter the Basilica with the same ticket twice.
Situated directly under the dome in stands this 29-meter high bronze canopy. Gian Lorenzo Bernini started work on the Baldachin in 1623 and took 11 years to complete this masterpiece.. The Baldachin is said to stand over the papal altar which is directly above St Peter’s tomb. Only the Pope is allowed to serve at the altar.
Created in 1300 by Arnolfo di Cambio, the statue of St Peter seated on a throne has been a part of the the Basilica since 1605. The tradition of pilgrims either touching or kissing the statue’s feet has caused the right foot to wear down.
Competing with David as Michelangelo's best-known sculpture, this poignant portrayal of Mary holding the body of the dead Christ can be found on the right as soon as you enter the chapel . Michelangelo is said to have carved this master sculpture when he was just 24 years old.
Locally known the as Piazza San Pietro, St. Peter’s Square is right in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. There are two stunning fountains on either side of the square. There is also a 40-meter high Egyptian obelisk which was brought to Rome in 37 B.C. At the front of the square you will be able to see the large statues of St Peter and St Paul.