After we left the Vatican Museums, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we were already in the neighborhood, and visited the Basilica of Saint Peter. In order to gain access to the basilica, one must join the long line that seems to literally wrap around the Piazza di San Pietro. While there is no admission fee to visit the basilica, you must go through metal detectors and security screening, much like you do when boarding a plane. The line may seem long, and it is always this way, no matter what time of the day you arrive. However, it moves fairly quickly. We waited about forty minutes, before reaching the actual screening area, and when we joined the line, it was all the way on the other side of the piazza. Take the time that you spend in line, to enjoy the magnificent space you are waiting in!
Inside of the piazza, to the right of the entrance to the basilica, you will find a water fountain designed by Carlo Maderno, which dates from 1613. Like all fountains from that time, the one in the piazza has no pumps, and to this day, it is operated solely by gravity, the water being supplied by the ancient Roman aqueduct, the Acqua Paola.
The obelisk, in the center of the piazza, is known by the name of “The Witness,” as it stood not far from the spot where Saint Peter was crucified. Thus, the obelisk was witness to his death. It was brought to Rome, from Egypt, by Caligula in 37 AD. It is the second largest standing obelisk in the world!
Once through the security area, you are free to enter the basilica. One of the first things that catch your eye are the members of the Swiss Guard, in their colorful uniforms! The Papal Swiss Guard performs the function of protecting the Pope, as well as the Apostolic Palace, and they have been doing this since 1506, making them one of the oldest military units still functioning today.
The Basilica of Saint Peter is the largest church in the world. It was built over the burial site of Saint Peter, and thus, its name. While an older church dating back to the 4th century stood here before, the building we see now dates from 1506. The facade of the building was designed by Carlo Maderno.
The first space that one enters is the narthex, or the portico, with its elaborate stucco and gilt-vaulted ceiling.
The Basilica of Saint Peter is truly a beautiful place! Please don’t rush through it! Take your time! Stop to admire the priceless treasures that you will find yourself surrounded by. Visit the treasury! And if you have the stamina, climb the steps to the top of the dome! It is all worth it!
Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the artist responsible for the Baldacchino, which is said to be the largest piece of bronze in the world! It stands directly beneath the dome of the basilica, and over the altar, which was placed on top of the spot where Saint Peter is buried.
For me, one of the main highlights of visiting Saint Peter’s is the opportunity to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece, his Pietà. The first time that I saw it was many years ago. Since then, due to a madman attacking the sculpture with a hammer, it is now protected, behind glass. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful religious statues in the world! Not only is it incredibly moving, but it is also the only piece that Michelangelo ever signed!
Also not to be missed is the Monument to Christina of Sweden. The queen relinquished her throne, in order to embrace Catholicism. She spent the last years of her life in Rome, and upon her death, was buried in the crypt of Saint Peter’s. The monument in the basilica was designed by Carlo Fontana.
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, all of the paintings in the basilica were removed, and replaced with mosaic copies. So, what you see above the altars, when walking through the building, are mosaics, the original paintings now in the other churches, or in the Vatican Museums.
Behind the main altar is the Cathedra Petri, or the Throne of Saint Peter. The Cathedra is a wooden throne that Saint Peter used, when he was the Bishop of Rome. It is enclosed in an elaborate, gilt-bronze frame, designed by Bernini.
The statue of Saint Veronica holding her veil, with the image of Christ’s face, is by Francesco Mochi.
The statue of Saint Juliana Falconieri is by Paolo Campi.
Doing both, the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica, the same day is accomplishing a lot! After this, a walk in fresh air and sunshine felt just like what the soul and spirit needed!
For dinner, we met our friend, Chef Cristina Bowerman, at her newest restaurant in Rome, Romeo Chef & Baker. Romeo is a great place to go for dinner, or even for a drink, before or after dining. We started with a pizza in the section of the building that houses Giulietta, where you can get both, pizza romana (which I prefer), or pizza napoletana. After that, we sat down, in the Romeo section, where we dined on octopus, and a foie gras hot dog! Both were delicious! It was a perfect way, to end an amazing day in Rome!
Next up: We explore more of beautiful Rome, including the Chiesa del Gesù, and the Casa Professa del Gesù, where we visit the rooms in which Saint Ignatius prayed, lived, and died!
Note: This blog is written in English and Spanish, and the author takes no responsibility for the quality of any other translations which may appear. If you have enjoyed this post, please, check out our archives for more posts from Rome, as well as other Italian destinations. Grazie!