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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
My Tour reviews:
Dara was Outstanding
Dara was outstanding. The tour was sensational and met every expectation we had. Our two teenage boys where very impressed with the tour and thoroughly enjoyed Dara's commentary, humor and knowledge.
5.0 Stars Carolyn Wales
Very Knowledgeable and Spirited
He was very knowledgeable and spirited. Plus, what with the Obamas in town, we had to walk the entire way around to get to the Vatican when the tour was over. As an aside, my daughter and I waited in the Vatican for almost an hour as there was a rumor that Mrs. Obama was expected, but in the end, what with only 1 1/2 days in Rome, we left. Since we continued on to Florence, Bologna, and Venice, we never did find out if we had missed seeing her. But was there ever a lot of excitement in that area
5.0 Stars Dr Donna Ferrara
The tour was very good and Dara had the perfect combination of knowledge, respect and humour! It was good he had this as the tour is long but we knew it would be. The only aspect of the tour which saddened me and my friends (this has no reflection on Dara) when we entered the Sistine Chapel I could believe the noise, flash photography and uncovered arms!!) This is obviously a sign of the times but the Vatican should Not allow it. Vatican Tour was amazing and of course I will be recommending it.
5.0 Stars Anna Baker
Dara was Fantastic!
Dara was fantastic! Not only very informative but funny as well. He kept the group together well, he frequently asked if everyone was okay and we stopped for toilet breaks. The tour was so interesting and well paced. It was also great that Dara was able to talk and walk at the same time unlike the guide the following day!
5.0 Stars Natasha Thomas
Our tour guide was very informative and knew the history of all the statues and art paintings and frescoes on the walls and ceilings. We are very glad we took this guided tour. We would not have known what we were looking at. Excellent work to Vatican tour and guide. Thanks!
5.0 Stars Katherine R. Yazzie
Very Informative and Interesting
Dara was very informative and interesting. He made the tour very successful. We recommended that some collegues we were later meeting book their tour with you company.
5.0 Stars Steven Hardin
A Great Tour
The tour was great, after talking with others on our cruise we got the better deal as they went on the cruise sponsor tour. I do have 2 items to help with improvements. I know you may not be able to do this one and it may be out of your control, but benches would be great when listening to the information on the Sistine Chapel. The second, the guides need better microphone, when they turn their head the mic stays put and you lose volume. My party all agreed that it was a great tour. Debbie.
5.0 Stars Deborah Flanders
The Tour was Great
The tour was great. Dara was a great combination of knowledge and humor. Good pace. I would use your tour company again.
5.0 Stars Mike Marotta
The Tour was Excellent!
The tour was excellent! Very informative. Dara was an excellent tour guide - funny, knowledgeable and very friendly. This was the best tour we went on during our stay in Italy.
5.0 Stars Edvard Lauman
Informative and Interesting
Our tour was most informative and interesting. The guide kept the family entertained with facts of the origins to the many statues and artwork. Well worth the cost to cover such a magnificent papal residence.
5.0 Stars Gilbert & Luisa Rigon
|Where is Vatican City|
|Vatican City Map|
|Parts of the Vatican|
|St. Peter's Basilica|
|St. Peter's Square|
|St. Peter's Dome|
|My Vatican Tour Details|
|Skip the Line Tickets|
|Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's|
|Bathroom & Coffee Breaks|
|English Speaking Guides|