St Peter’s Basilica: history and trivia of one of the most famous symbols of Rome

St Peter’s Basilica is one of the many symbols of Rome. Majestic, elegant and towering, overlooks the near square and is admired even year by millions of visitors. Let us find out the history and some interesting trivia about this artistic and architectonic masterpiece.

August is about to end which, strange but true, this is also one of the best times to visit Rome. City of art par excellence, Italy’s capital city and cradle of roman civilisation, Rome looks best in the months of September and October (personally I adore it also around Christmas time, but maybe we can talk about that another time). Whether it is your first or hundredth time visiting it, it will continue to leave you breathless. Rome’s symbols, majestic and proud, will not bore you and I bet you get a little emotional every time you see the famous dome (or er Cuppolone which is how Romans refer to it) of the St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

There is nothing else to say. Looking at this enormous dome towering on the rest of the city is one of the most beautiful things to see when in Rome. An art and architecture masterpiece that for 400 years stands out in one of the most complex and amazing cities in the world. The dome is the most representative aspect of the whole basilica, the biggest of Rome’s four Papal Basilicas (together with San Giovanni in Laterano, San Paolo fuori le mura and Santa Maria Maggiore) and often referred to as the biggest church in the world.

A dive in the past and in the history of one of symbols of Rome

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Being a papal Chapel, and given its position within the Vatican City, right next to the Palazzo Apostolico, St Peter’s Basilica is a strategic point for all Catholic events and celebrations such as Easter and Christmas, but also for the proclamation of the Popes and the funerals of those who pass away. Every year, in fact, the adjacent square, holds the traditional Christmas nativity scene, transforming it in a truly magical place.

The construction of the current Basilica in the place where it is dates back to 1506 under the papacy of Pope Giulio II, to then end about 60 years later. Of course, over time, the conformation and the aspect of the Basilica have changes, thanks to the intervention of several artists that gave their contribution. The most famous one was Michelangelo that, at the ripe old age of 70 years took over the management of the Basilica’s construction works in 1546, designing what today is the symbol par excellence of St Peter’s Basilica: the dome.

Michelangelo’s dome and Bernini’s colonnade

As already mentioned, a lot of artists gave their contribution to make the Basilica of St Peter the masterpiece we know today. The famous and huge dome designed by Michelangelo overlooks the entire square below and it is visible from different spots around the city. Given its height of 130 meters, from its top – that one can reach through a staircase of 551 steps – it offers a 360° panoramic view of Rome, making it one of the best vantage points of the city. In fact, the story goes that in the past, in Rome, buildings were not allowed to be higher than the Dome, so that it would stay the highest point, symbolising God’s majesty.

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In front of the Basilica, there is St Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro), enveloped by Bernini’s famous colonnade, another of Rome’s most important symbols, at the center of which rises an Egyptian obelisk. The columns that surround the square are 284 divides in four rows, 88 pillars and 96 marble statues. The first project of the square designed by Bernini dates back to 1656 and over 400 years later is recognised as the real core of the Catholic Church.

Interesting facts on St Peter’s Basilica: from the story of via della Conciliazione to the keyhole

Today, St Peter’s Basilica is located at the end of Via della Conciliazione, a road that connects the city of Rome to the Vatican City. However, Via della Conciliazione is the result of a huge urban redevelopment that in 1936 brought to the demolition of the neighbourhood called “Spina di Borgo”, to symbolise the reconciliation between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See. The view of tourists and Roman citizens alike is one of a kind: a long road that ends with the beautiful Basilica, which at night is even more fascinating thanks to the lights that illuminate it.

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As previously said, the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica is visible from many points of the city and every time from a particular and different angle. The most charming has to be the keyhole. It is a very strategic point, not too tourist-y, from which one can marvel at the Dome from a keyhole. This famous keyhole is on the Aventino hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, in the highest part between Giardino degli Aranci and the villa of Malta’s priory. So, if you have planned a trip to Rome or you are already there, you will be able to live the thrill of spying on one the most envied beauties in the world and be left – yet again – breathless.

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