Saint Peter's Square was designed between 1656 and 1667 by GianLorenzo Bernini, who was also the final architect of St. Peter's Basilica.
The aim of the square was to provide a welcome to Roman Catholics as they came to the church and to impress non-Catholics enough so that they would consider converting.
saint peters square
Bernini designed the two colonnades on either side as arms embracing or hugging people as they arrived. They provide a psychological break to the city of Rome which is right outside.
city of saint peters
Since the Lateran Treaty signed with Mussolini's government in the 1930s, St. Peter's Square is actually not part of Vatican City but is part of the City of Rome.
The square is used most weeks during the summer on Wednesday mornings for Papal Audiences when chairs are laid out. During the winter or on bad weather days these audiences happen in the Audience Hall of Paul IV which is to the left of St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope also addresses the faithful on Sundays at Noon from his office, a less formal event, which can be seen by simply standing in the square.
Originally the square was bare and was flanked by buildings on both sides.
The first thing in the square was the central obelisk, which is over 3000 years old, and was one of the obelisks taken from Egypt by the Emperor Gaius or Caligula.
He placed it in the middle of his chariot racing track which he built on Vatican Hill in the 40s A.D. This was to the left of the current basilica. This stadium was repaired by Nero, who had Saint Peter executed in it around 67 A.D. Nero blamed the Christians for starting the Great Fire of Rome, three years previously, which had burned almost half the city. Peter was buried in a nearby cemetery which the basilica was built over. When Christianity became the State Religion of Rome in the late fourth century, the obelisk was ordered preserved as it was one of the last things seen by Saint Peter before he died.
st peter's square rome
It was not until 1586 that the Obelisk was moved directly in front of the church by Domenico Fontana, himself an architect of Saint Peters at the time. This in itself was a huge architectural triumph as the monolith weighs over 300 tonnes. The undeveloped square now had a centrepiece.
Fontana's Successor, Carlo Maderno, added the fountain on the right side of the square nearest the Papal Apartments.
Fountains were a symbol a baptism and if needed this water is potable although I would not recommend drinking it. Maderno's Successor, Bernini, moved this fountain in line with the obelisk and added a replica fountain on the other side. The three vertical elements in line were reminiscent of the spina, spine or halfway marker in the chariot racing track where Peter was killed.
bernini st peters
Bernini had two ideas when he planned the square. The first was the chariot racing track where peter was crucified and the second was the Keys to Kingdom of Heaven he was metaphorically given by Jesus [Matthew 16: 17-19]. If you look at an aerial photograph of Saint Peter's Square you can see a round circle (the chariot racing track) and a trapezoid connecting the square to the church; a circle on top on a square. If you look at the bottom of an old key you will see the same effect; a circle on top of a square. So the square looks like the bottom of a key and a chariot racing track at the same time.
st peter statue
There are 248 Doric columns in the two colonnades which extend out from the church like arms embracing or hugging visitors. The columns are arranged around in to rows of four. Bernini was such a genius a symmetry he put two circular markers on the square, exactly half way between the fountains and the obelisk, and if you stand on these foci spots and look at the columns they precisely line up. You can only see the first column in each row. Much of the travertine used in construction of the columns was recycled from Roman monuments including the Colosseum. The large space between the colonnade and the colonnade itself forms the only real open border the Vatican has with the city of Rome; the rest of the complex is walled.
Updated by Dara McCarthy on . Scroll to Top
My Tour reviews:
Dara was Great
Dara was great. We had to leave the tour early because our ship changed the departure time from the port city - move it up 1 hour. Dara gave us great directions on where to go to see what we wanted to see since we couldn't stay with the tour. He also was very informative while the hour or so we were with the tour.
5.0 Stars Jerry Parche
Dara was very informative
5.0 Stars Jeff Kennedy
Dara did a fantastic job. His sense of humor was a definite plus and kept us all engaged.
5.0 Stars Roger Koppy
It was a great tour except it was too long without being able to sit down or take breaks. (This is a criticism of the Vatican many people have - there should be more benches - Dara).
5.0 Stars Sheila Picard
Thank you for providing a wonderful tour of the Vatican - with special thanks to Dara who was an outstanding guide!
5.0 Stars Simon Harris
I don't know how people go to the Vatican without a guided tour. There is no other way of doing it. Our guide was incredibly informed and very intelligent. I learnt so much with this tour! He was amazing and there is no complaint to be made. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he ranks at a 10+. :-) Thank you for making our Vatican tour the best!
5.0 Stars Melissa Kelly
Tons of Sense of Humour
I love Dara's format of explaining with tons of sense of humour.
5.0 Stars Celina Tablante
Informative and Entertaining
The tour was great and we loved our tour guide. The tour was informative and entertaining. Our Vatican experience was greatly enhanced by having this tour and it was definitely worth it.
5.0 Stars Ryan
Brilliant Irish Wit
Dara was so knowledgeable about all aspects of the history, architecture and general elements of the Vatican. What we really appreciated were the background stories he shared about why things were done the way that they were as it really aided our understanding and appreciation. Our group included 2 teenagers, and all of us were pleased. There was so much to cover and he did it brilliantly. His brilliant Irish wit was greatly appreciated too! I can't imagine trying to do the Vatican on our own.
5.0 Stars Carrie
Dara was an Excellent Tour Guide
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Vatican and felt that we obtained a lot more information than we would have done on our own. Dara was an excellent tour guide who was well informed and able to deliver the information in an enjoyable way.
5.0 Stars Shirley Ryan
|Did you know?|
|The Vatican is not air-conditioned|
|There are very few seats|
|and few cafes|
|Tickets or Tour Booked|
|Knees & Shoulders Covered|
|Flash turned off Camera|
|Bottle of Water|
|Rested & Relaxed|