Built on a Necropolis

Beneath the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica lies an ancient necropolis, a burial ground dating back to Roman times. Tradition holds that St. Peter, one of Jesus’ apostles and the namesake of the basilica, was buried in this area. The basilica was constructed above the necropolis to honor the memory of St. Peter and, according to Catholic tradition, his final resting place is directly below the high altar.

Multiple Architects Left Their Mark

While the primary architect credited with designing St. Peter’s Basilica is Donato Bramante, several other renowned architects left their mark on the structure over the centuries. Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini all played significant roles in shaping the basilica’s final form. Michelangelo, for instance, designed the dome, while Bernini contributed the grand St. Peter’s Square and the bronze baldachin over the papal altar.

Dome Climb Offers Spectacular Views

Visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica have the opportunity to climb to the top of Michelangelo’s dome for breathtaking panoramic views of Rome. The ascent involves climbing 551 steps, and along the way, travelers can admire intricate mosaics and enjoy unique perspectives of the basilica’s interior. The effort is rewarded with a stunning view of the Vatican Gardens, the city of Rome, and the surrounding landscape.

St. Peter’s Square Obelisk Has a Twin

The obelisk that stands proudly in St. Peter’s Square is not a solitary monument. Its twin can be found in Piazza del Popolo, another famous square in Rome. The Vatican obelisk was originally located in Heliopolis, Egypt, and was later transported to Rome by Emperor Caligula. Pope Sixtus V arranged for its repositioning in St. Peter’s Square during the late 16th century.

The Only Renaissance Church with a Nave and Transept of Equal Length

St. Peter’s Basilica boasts a unique architectural feature among Renaissance churches – its nave and transept have equal lengths. Typically, Renaissance churches followed a Latin cross plan with a longer nave and a shorter transept. However, St. Peter’s design deviates from this convention, creating a sense of balance and harmony within its vast interior.

Swiss Guards: The World’s Smallest Army Guards St. Peter’s

The colorful and distinctive Swiss Guards, clad in their iconic Renaissance-style uniforms, are responsible for protecting St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican City. Established in 1506, the Swiss Guards are one of the oldest and smallest standing armies in the world. Despite their ceremonial attire, they are well-trained and equipped to handle security responsibilities for the Pope and the basilica.

Hidden Chapels with Unique Artworks

Amidst the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica, several chapels house lesser-known yet remarkable artworks. The Chapel of the Pieta, located to the right of the entrance, features a second version of Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament contains a tabernacle designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, showcasing his exquisite talent. These hidden gems provide visitors with an opportunity to discover less publicized but equally significant pieces of art.

St. Peter’s Baldachin: The Giant Canopy Over the Papal Altar

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterpiece, the St. Peter’s Baldachin, is an impressive canopy that stands over the papal altar beneath the basilica’s dome. Crafted from bronze, the baldachin is 96 feet tall and was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century. Its intricate details and spiral columns make it a symbol of Baroque artistry and a focal point within the basilica.

Underground Grottoes House Papal Tombs

Beneath St. Peter’s Basilica lies a complex network of grottoes that house the tombs of numerous popes. Visitors can explore this subterranean space, known as the Vatican Necropolis or Scavi, to witness the final resting places of pontiffs such as Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. The Vatican Necropolis offers a unique glimpse into the history of the papacy.

Statue of St. Peter: Tradition of Touching His Foot

A longstanding tradition among visitors to St. Peter’s Basilica involves touching or kissing the foot of the statue of St. Peter. This bronze statue, located in the basilica, depicts St. Peter seated on a throne. Over the centuries, countless pilgrims have revered this statue, and it is believed that touching or kissing St. Peter’s foot brings blessings and spiritual significance.

St. Peter’s Basilica, with its towering dome and vast interior adorned with masterpieces, is a symbol of artistic and spiritual grandeur. Beyond its surface beauty, the basilica holds a trove of secrets, hidden stories, and lesser-known details that add layers to its rich history. From the underground grottoes to the panoramic views from the dome, St. Peter’s Basilica invites visitors to explore not just its surface but the intricate tapestry of its past and present.