St. Peters Basilica - A Vatican Highlight When In Rome

By: Jillkammer
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 popular lore says that Saint Peter is actually buried here but that legend is not backed up by evidence. The real history of the location of St. Peter's is that it probably sits on the original Circus of Nero from the first century.

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.

But it was in the 16th century that Pope Leo X got the vision for what St. Peter's could be. He also knew how to divert funding to the effort by calling on zealous Christians to fund the crusades against the Turks and then quietly moved those funds to the building of this beautiful structure.

But as was the way with any very large and ambitious construction effort of that time, it took many, many years, many architects and many Popes before the job was done in the late 16th century.

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 so well constructed that two centuries passed before any stress cracks were found. When signs of aging did occur, four huge chains of iron were made and affixed to the inside of the pair of shells. You can see those chains still if you were to climb the spiral stairs that are there between the two shells of the dome of St. Peter's.

As wonderful as it is to admire the magnificent dome at St. Peter's, there is so much more to see here. The building itself is so large it covers close to six acres and at full capacity it can seat 60,000 people. And over the centuries, many Popes have packed the basilica out for special ceremonies or when they held mass at this revered site.

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.

It is said that over 100 tombs of legendary figures from history are buried inside the halls of St. Peter's Basilica. One notable example is Sweden's Queen Christina, who in 1654 gave up her royal post so she could have the freedom to become a Catholic.

There is no doubt that the most revered and valuable art work in the basilica is Michelangelo's Pieta. You will find it behind protective glass after a lunatic attacked it with an ax in 1972.

When you step outside of the basilica you can find quite a few famous historical works of art that are visible around the building.

If you look, you can find several very old clocks including one with a bell that goes back all the way to the thirteenth century. You also won't have to look too hard to find the large Egyptian obelisk that adorns the grounds that was brought here from where it originally stood outside of Nero's Circus in the 13th century.

As is true all over Rome, two wonderful artistic fountains can be found in the square outside St. Peter's. On the south side is a fountain made by the brilliant artist, Bernini who created it in 1675. Bernini also created the second fountain near the apse of the church, the Triumph of the Chair of Saint Peter which is not to be missed.

A trip to Rome would almost be incomplete without including at least a couple of hours to wander at your leisure taking in the majesty of this amazing display of outstanding architecture from the Renaissance period of history.
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