Built on Vatican Hill and beside the Tiber river, the location of St. Peter’s Basilica is highly symbolic, as this was the site where Saint Peter, the chief apostle, died as a martyr, and where he was buried. Saint Peter was the first ever Pope, so it made perfect sense to build the principal shrine of the Catholic church in this very position.
When you’re close to the front of the basilica, you will become very snap-happy with your camera or phone! The front façade is crowned with large statues of Christ, John the Baptist, and the Apostles (except for Saint Peter). On either side, are huge clocks supported by angels and decorated with ornaments and the papal crest. Below the clock on the left you can see the church bells.
The opulence of the interior is decorated with large monuments, including the enormous bronze baldachin that stands over the papal altar. This Baroque masterpiece is crafted from bronze that was taken from the ceiling and pediment of the Pantheon nearby in Rome. In front of the papal altar is the “Confessio” (a burial crypt) that marks the presumed grave of Saint Peter. It is encircled by a balustrade with ninety-five bronze oil lamps.
The “Confessio” is located right below the majestic dome. Look up and you’ll see the impressive colorful vaulting with sixteen ribs that are supported by four massive pillars. The triangular spaces where the pillars meet the dome are decorated with mosaics depicting the evangelists. Light enters through the lantern and the sixteen large windows below the cornice.
The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was deigned by Michelangelo, the same guy who also painted the Sistine Chapel nearby. He certainly was a busy fellow! Unfortunately for him, he died before he could complete the dome, so it was constructed according to his design templates by another artist. The final result is one of epic splendour – as you would expect coming from the brain of Michelangelo!
St. Peter’s Basilica is open from 7:00 to 18:00 every day, except on Wednesdays. Entrance is free, apart from the dome. Metro Line A will take you to Ottaviano Station, where you should alight for the basilica (about 5 minutes walk away). By foot, you’ll see the famous dome of St. Peter’s from far off, so its a natural landmark to head for.