St. Peter’s Square, known locally as Piazza San Pietro, was created in the seventeenth century by Bernini. The square, which is located in Vatican City, borders St. Peter’s Basilica. As soon as Alexander VII was elected as the new pope in April 1655, he commissioned sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create a new square in front of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Following Alexander’s detailed instructions, Bernini came up with an elliptical shaped square, 240 meters wide and 196 meters long. Construction of the square started in 1656 and was completed eleven years later, in 1667.
St. Peter’s Square is bordered on two sides by semicircular colonnades which, according to Bernini, symbolize the stretched arms of the church embracing the world. The colonnades were built in 1660 and consist of four rows of columns with in total 284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters. The columns are 20 meters high and 1.6 meters wide. 140 statues were installed on top of the colonnades, all created by Bernini and his students. They depict popes, martyrs, evangelists and other religious figures.
On special occasions such as the election of a new pope or on Easter, almost 400,000 people fill the expansive square.
In the center of the square stands an Egyptian obelisk, 25.5 meters tall 41 meters including the pedestal. The obelisk was originally located at Heliopolis in Egypt and was built for Cornelius Gallus, the city’s prefect. In 37 AD Caligula decided to transport the obelisk to Rome with a specially constructed ship. It was installed at the spina of the Circus of Caligula, which was located in an area now occupied by Vatican City. In 1585 pope Sixtus V decided to have the obelisk moved to its present location in front of the then under construction St. Peter’s Basilica, a distance of about 300 meters. The relocation was a daunting task however and even Michelangelo considered it impossible. Sixtus however persevered and commissioned Domenico Fontana with the transportation.
In 1613 a fountain designed by Carlo Maderno was installed on the square, to the right of the centrally located obelisk. To maintain symmetry, Bernini decided to install an identical copy of the fountain on the left side. The fountain was created in 1677 by Carlo Fontana.
St. Peter’s Square creates a magnificent entry point to the St. Peter’s Basilica, which was built between 1506 and 1626 and borders the square to the west. The basilica is the largest in the world. Its interior is decorated with magnificent monuments, many of which were created by the great Bernini.
Location: Vatican City
Nearby sights: Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums
How to get there: Subway: Ottaviano San Pietro (A)
Nearby hotels: Residenza Paolo VI , Relais Vatican View , Borgo Pio Suites Inn