Visit An Iconic Landmark in Vatican City | St. Peter’s Square
What is St. Peter's Square?
Set in front of St. Peter’s Basilica is a gorgeous piazza called St. Peter’s Square or Piazza San Pietro. Other than being an important historical landmark, the piazza is an architectural marvel with much to appreciate.
It spreads over a massive expanse of land, consisting of an endless line of Doric colonnades, beautiful statues, and other exquisite structures that make it one of the most incredible squares in the world.
Why You Should Visit St. Peter’s Square?
St. Peter’s Square is an ancient piazza that sits at the core of Vatican City. It is believed that the structure was built on the site where Peter the Apostle was killed. Both St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter's Square were named after Peter, who was considered to be the first Pope.
Being an important landmark in the city, this open space plays host to an array of religious and cultural events year round, including the Papal Audience. Every year, millions of people visit St. Peter's Square to honor its history, to attend events, or to simply admire its magnificence.
Things to do at St. Peter's Square
- Visit St. Peter’s Basilica: Step inside the most famous church in the whole world, located right behind St. Peter’s Square.
- Climb the Dome: Don’t miss out on a chance to get beautiful panoramic and aerial views of St. Peter’s Square from atop the dome.
- Send a postcard: Collect some stamps or send a postcard to a loved one from the Vatican City post office at the piazza.
- Go shopping: Take back a souvenir from any of the shops around the square.
- Attend a Papal Audience: Witness the Pope greet the general public on any Wednesday at around 10:30 am at St. Peter’s Square. This takes place when the Pope is in Rome.
- Stand in 2 countries at once: Vatican City is a sovereign city-state with one part of its borders at St. Peter’s Square. Find the border and in Italy and the Vatican at the same time!
- Walk down the Via della Conciliazione: Get the perfect pictures of the basilica as you take a walk down the beautiful Via della Conciliazione.
When was St. Peter’s Square built?
St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, was commissioned to be built by Pope Alexander VII, between 1656 and 1667. He wanted the people of the city to have a place to gather where they could witness the Pope giving his blessings. After Bernini’s work came to a standstill in 1667, his disciples continued to work on the construction of the square.
Who built St. Peter’s Square?
St. Peter’s Square was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, an exceptional Italian sculptor, and architect. Often regarded as the Shakespeare of sculpture, Bernini is credited with creating the Baroque style - a style that was prominent in the 17th and 18th century.
This style of sculpting used groups of figures to create one dynamic figure. Some of his notable works include sculptures like David, The Rape of Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, and Ecstacy of Teresa. St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica are other major creations of Bernini.
History of St. Peter’s Square in a Nutshell
Piazza San Pietro or St. Peter’s Square was designed by renowned sculptor Bernini under the direction of Pope Alexander VII. It was built between 1656 and 1667 on the site where the apostle Peter was killed and therefore named after him. It was also built as an addition to St. Peter’s Basilica, to highlight the magnificence of the cathedral. In fact, the colonnades of the square were built to symbolize the open arms of the ‘mother church,’ that is St. Peter’s Basilica. It almost embraces visitors as they enter the area.
Much like this, many structures that form a part of St. Peter’s Square have a unique history. The ancient Egyptian obelisk that lies at the center of the square, was brought from Egypt in 37AD by Emperor Caligula. Although many obelisks were brought to Rome, the one in St. Peter’s Square is the only remaining Egyptian obelisk.
There are two very similar fountains on either side of St. Peter’s Square. Out of the two, one was built by Carlo Maderno in 1614, and the other by Bernini in 1675. Bernini constructed the second fountain in a similar style to the first one in order to maintain a symmetrically aesthetic look.
Although St. Peter’s Square forms part of the Basilica, it is evident that it has its own rich history.
Design and Structure of St. Peter’s Square
Although called St. Peter’s Square, the piazza was constructed in an elliptical shape with a lot of intricate structures.
Four deep Doric colonnades make up the boundaries of St. Peter’s Square and form an elegant entrance to the Basilica. It is the most defining structure of the square with 284 columns and 88 pillars. Laid out in its elliptical manner, the colonnades are meant to embrace visitors with the “maternal arms of the Church.”
One of the most striking features of St. Peter’s Square is the tall Egyptian obelisk that stands at its center. Emperor Augustus had the obelisk moved to Alexandria, where it remained until 37AD. After this, Emperor Caligula commissioned for it to be brought to Rome and had it placed at the center of the Circus of Nero. It was shifted to its current spot in 1586 under the direction of Pope Sixtus V.
There are two almost identical fountains on either side of St. Peter’s Square. The first fountain was built in the year 1614 by architect Carlo Maderno, while the second one was built years later in 1675 by Bernini. Bernini constructed the second fountain in a similar style to Maderno’s.
The paving of St. Peter’s Square is varied using white lines made of travertine. These radiating lines were created in an elegant geometric fashion, giving the structure a neat look. A few circular stones were placed at the tip of the obelisk, having it act as the gnomon of a sundial. These stones were inscribed with the different zodiac signs so that at noon, the shadow of the obelisk is cast on the current sign.
Spina is the term given to median buildings that divide two or more roads. The buildings which divided the roads Borgo Vecchio and Borgo Nuovo, blocking the view of St. Peter’s Basilica from many points. Benito Mussolini decided to demolish the spine in 1936, creating a clear view of the Basilica from Castel Sant’Angelo.
Plan Your Visit to St. Peter’s Square
- St. Peter’s Square is a historic landmark with lots to see throughout the space. It helps to read about the structures within before going there for a more insightful experience.
- If you're planning on making it to an event at the piazza, we suggest booking your tickets in advance because there will be tons of people also securing their spot.
- To avoid large crowds on your visit, try heading to St. Peter’s Square either early in the morning or after sunset.
- Look out for the Papal audience dates to see if it coincides with your visit. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you!
- Lastly, Vatican City houses an array of historical sites. Combine your visit to St. Peter’s Square with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, and other landmarks inside the Vatican.
Frequently Asked Questions About St. Peter’s Square
A. St. Peter’s Square is one of the largest squares in the world, located in Vatican City.
A. St. Peter’s Square was built between 1656 and 1667.
A. St. Peter’s Square was designed by renowned artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
A. Take the metro line A and get off at Ottaviano. Alternatively, bus routes 40 and 64 will take you close to St. Peter's Square. If you're taking a train, get off at St. Pietro station. You can also take a taxi from any point around the city.
A. Many holy events take place at St. Peter’s Square including prayers, religious ceremonies, and the Papal audience.
A. The obelisk at St. Peter’s Square was brought to Rome from Egypt in 37AD by the Roman Emperor Caligula.
A. The best time to visit St. Peter’s Square is either early in the morning between 7AM to 9AM or in the evening around 6PM or 7PM. Keep in mind that St. Peter’s Basilica is only open between 7AM and 7PM every day and till 6PM during winter.