St Peter's Square

Guide, Map & Panoramas from Rome.

Photo By Peter Watts


Panorama taken near one of the colonnades in St Peter's Square in Vatican City. The picture shows one of the two fountains in the square and the massive obelisk with St. Peter's Basilica itself in the distance.


St Peter's Square - Rome visitor guide showing a virtual tour of 'St Peter's Square' linked to an interactive map with local and travel information. 360° panoramas from Roma.

Saint Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro) is also known as Saint Peter's Piazza and is the open space directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. Every Wednesday morning a congregation gathers here to hear a Papal address. Pilgrims also come to St Peter's Square to see the Pope from the balcony of the Papal residence to the right of the piazza. The dimensions of St. Peter's Square are almost identical to those of the inside of the Colosseum and it is estimated that 300,000 people could easily gather here without crowding. A great way to get a feel for the dimensions of Saint Peter's Square is to view it from the Cupola of St. Peter's Basilica - some 140m high.

St. Peter's Square was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini under the rule of Pope Alexander VI between 1656 to 1667. The piazza is partially surrounded by two curved, covered colonnades, each of which contains 4 rows of a total of 284 Doric style columns. On top of each colonnade are statues of 96 saints and martyrs.

The centre of the Piazza is dominated by a 25.5m tall red granite obelisk which dates from the 13th Century BC. This obelisk was originally brought to Rome from Egypt in 35 AD by Emperor Caligula and was moved to the current site in 1586 by the engineer Domenico Fontana during the rule of Pope Sixtus V. This task was an enormous undertaking requiring 900 men, 150 horses and 47 purpose-built cranes to complete. On the top of the obelisk was a guilt ball that was thought to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. When opened, the orb was found to contain nothing but dust and replaced with an iron cross which now oversees St. Peter's Square.

At the focal point of each of the curved colonnades are spectacular 2 fountains errected in 1614 and 1667. Between the obelisk and each fountain is a small round porphyry slab. Viewing the colonnades from these positions gives you the illusion that there is only one row of columns. The paving of the square is broken up by lines of travertine radiating from the centre. Around the obelisk are the markings of a compass. In 1817 circular stones were set to mark the tip of the obelisk at noon as the sun entered each of the signs of the zodiac, making of the obelisk a gigantic sundial's gnomon.

In all the colonnades of St. Peter's Square are a fantastic architectural achievement forming a large processional space without dominating St. Peter's Basilica itself. The curved colonnades form two arms embracing those visiting. From the far end of the Piazza three flights of steps ascend to the entrance of St Peter's Basilica, the focal point of the temporal jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church.

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