St. Peter's Basilica - Vatican Museum

Museums and Galleries

St. Peter's Basilica is the main church for over a billion Catholics. Just imagine, more than 1 people around the world consider this place holy and want to get here. For comparison, Orthodoxy has about 000 million people. Therefore, if you are going to Rome, then visiting the Vatican with this cathedral is almost a necessity, even if you are not a Catholic - this is a world-class attraction.


In the 4th century AD under Emperor Constantine 1 (lat. Flavius ​​Valerius Aurelius Constantinus), a Romanesque basilica was erected in Rome. Of the early Christian buildings, only a monument has survived, marking the middle of St. Peter's Square, located in front of the temple.

According to Christian annals, the Apostle Peter (Greek Απόστολος Πέτρος) was martyred around 64-67 AD. in Rome. The first altar of the first basilica was erected over the grave of a follower of Christ in 313.

The basilica of Constantine went through several renovations and by the 16th century had fallen into disrepair. Pontifex Julius 2 (lat. Iulius 2) set an interesting task for Donato Bramante - to restore the ancient Christian church and, if possible, preserve its original potential. As conceived by the architect, the renovated basilica was to be a large cross crowned with a dome.

The spacious building with high vaults was supposed to embody the heavenly lightness of the temple, but the death of Bramante in 1514 postponed the implementation of the project indefinitely.

Even during the life of Bramante in 1513, Rafael Santi became the second architect of the temple. Fra Giocondo was sent to help the famous master, and he in turn was replaced by Giuliano da Sangallo. The history of the creation of the temple was overshadowed by an amazing fact: three eminent masters died in 6 years of work on the project. Starting from 1506, St. Peter's Cathedral received only the foundation and, in part, the lower wall tier, which was later dismantled.

For 40 years, the drawings of the cathedral were transformed on paper, changing the shape of the building from the Greek equilateral cross to the Latin one, and finally settled on the shape of the basilica proposed by Antonio da Sangallo. In 1546, da Sangallo dies and Pope Paul 3 engages Michelangelo to supervise the construction of the temple. Considering the heaps of architectural ideas of his predecessors, Buonarroti decides to return to Bramante's original plan, simplifying and at the same time strengthening the structure.

It was decided to make the massif of the basilica in the form of a central domed building, the entrance to which was hidden by a portico draped with columns, following the example of ancient temples. Also, according to the tradition of the ancient builders, the central entrance of the temple was located on the east side.

During the life of Michelangelo, construction advanced significantly, even the drum of the dome was built.

However, the genius did not manage to complete his grandiose project; in 1564, death interrupted the works of Buonarroti.

Giacomo Della Porta continued to work on the cathedral, making adjustments to Michelangelo's plan. Elements of the proto-baroque style appeared, more elongated forms, which is especially noticeable in the drawings of the dome drum. Buonarroti's ideas were realized in their pure form only during the construction of the western part of the temple.

By 1588, Porta Affairs, in collaboration with Domenico Fontana, had implemented a plan for the preparatory work for the erection of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. In the next 2 years, all the forces of engineers and builders were focused on creating the main vault of the temple. Already in May 1590, Pope Sixtus 5 held a solemn mass in a freshly built cathedral.

During the summer months, a colonnade of 36 decorative columns was built, however, Sixtus 5 did not have time to admire the exterior decoration of the church, having died in August 1590. A golden lantern in the form of a ball and a large cross over the dome of the temple were already installed under Clement 8 (lat. Clemente 8).

The inspiration for the next round of construction of St. Peter's Cathedral was Pope Paul 5 (Paulus 5). In 1605, he encouraged Carlo Maderno to redesign the plan for the cathedral.

The Greek cross, in the form of a building, embodied by Michelangelo, was turned into a Latin one, due to the elongation of the longitudinal part.

Side aisles were also added, thus, the temple turned into a three-aisled basilica. The renovated church has acquired a completely different look from the one originally conceived by Michelangelo - today, standing in the center of the square near the obelisk, you will see only part of the dome, and coming closer to the cathedral, you might think that this is a palace, not a church.

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St. Peter's Cathedral is distinguished by impressive parameters: about 211 meters in length and height, taking into account the dome - 132 m, the total area of ​​the temple - 23 thousand m2.

Such an impressive size of the cathedral allows it to leave far behind its closest competitors. Marks with the dimensions of other Catholic churches are applied to the floor so that visitors can appreciate the monumentality of the building.

Interesting fact: the second largest Catholic church, St Paul's Cathedral, is located in London.


The modern facade of the cathedral was completed by the architect Carlo Moderna in the 17th century. The Baroque façade clad in travertine has a solid width of 118 m and a height of 48 m.

Classical columns support an attic topped with 13 statues. A five-meter statue of Christ, surrounded by John the Baptist and 11 apostles, adorn the front of St. Peter's Cathedral. Also, the facade of the temple is decorated with a clock created in the 18th century by Giuseppe Valadier.

Behind the columns of the portico are five gates leading inside the cathedral: the Gate of Death (Porta della Morte), the Gate of Good and Evil (Porta del Bene del Male), the Gate of Filaret (Porta del Filarete), the Gate of the Sacraments (Porta dei Sacramenti), the Holy Gate (Porta Santa). The most notable of them is the Gate of Death, created in the middle of the 20th century by the sculptor Giacomo Manzu. It is through these wings that the Vatican sends its pontiffs on their last journey.

The central portal of the cathedral is decorated with two equestrian statues: Charlemagne, made in the 18th century. Agostino Cornacchini and Emperor Constantine, by Bernini (1670). Another pearl of the exterior of the temple is the Navicella degli Apostoli fresco by Giotto di Bondone, made back in the 13th century.


St. Peter's Basilica has an impressive interior space divided between three naves. Arched vaults, 23 m high and about 13 m wide, separate the central nave from the side naves. The gallery is 90 m long and with an area of ​​about 2500 m2 begins at the entrance to the temple and rests on the altar. In the last arch of the central nave is the miraculous statue of St. Peter, cast in bronze, to which thousands of pilgrims rush.

The Vatican, represented by the cathedral, acquired a repository of the most valuable works of art, from the floor to the tip of the dome. The marble floors of the temple partially retain elements of the former basilica, reconstructed in the 13th century.

Attention is drawn to the disc of red Egyptian porphyry, on which Charlemagne bowed his knee during his coronation in 800, as well as most of the rulers of Europe until the 15th century.

Many elements of the interior decor were created with the participation of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who spent 50 years of his creative life decorating the cathedral. One of his significant works is the statue of the Roman centurion Longinus. According to legend, the centurion, suffering from very poor eyesight, pierced the crucified Christ to make sure of the death of the son of God. The blood of Christ fell into the eyes of Longinus and he immediately regained his sight. After some time, Longinus converted to Christianity, actively preached, and is now revered as one of the main Christian saints.

St. Peter's Basilica holds the spearhead of a Roman centurion as one of the relics.

Above the altar of the temple is another masterpiece of Bernini - an extensive canopy (kevorium), based on four figured pillars. The canopy was created under Urban 8, many decorative elements glorify the aristocratic family of the pontiff. The fabulous cost of the master's work was covered from the treasury of the Burberry family, but bronze and other building materials were shamelessly taken from the Pantheon (Greek πάνθειον).

And to this day in Rome there is a saying: "What the barbarians did not do, did Bernini to Barberini."

Above the canopy stands the pulpit dedicated to St. Peter, also created by Bernini.

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If you walk along the central nave of the cathedral, then in the niches you can admire the statues of saints: Teresa, Helena Sophia Barat, Saint Vincenzo de Paoli, John, Saint Philip Neri, Saint John Battista de La Sale, Saint John Bosco.

Right nave


In the right nave of the temple there is a sculptural group "Pieta" (Lamentation of Christ) by young Michelangelo (1499).

To protect the work of art from the harmful effects of temperature fluctuations, dust, humidity, as well as careless visitors, the statue is covered with a durable glass dome. In 1972, a religious fanatic severely damaged the masterpiece with a hammer!

Monument to Pontiff Leo 12

Next to Pieta is a monument to the pontiff Leo 12 by Giuseppe de Fabrice (19th century) and a monument to Christina, Princess of Sweden, made by Carl Fontana in the 17th century.

Chapel of Saint Sebastian

In the Cappella di San Sebastiano, you can admire the mosaics made by Pier Paolo Cristofari, based on the sketches of Domenichino himself. The vault of the chapel is decorated with a mosaic by Pietro da Cortona.

Tomb of Margrave Matilda of Kanos

A unique monument is the tomb of Margrave Matilda of Canosskaya, made by Bernini. The aristocrat was the first woman buried in the temple.

Chapel of the Holy Communion

The Chapel of the Holy Communion (Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento) is decorated with a decorative lattice, created according to the sketches of Francesco Borromini. Inside the chapel is a bronze work by Carlo Moderno, architecture by Borromini.

Left nave

Tomb of Alexander 7

Bernini's last significant work adorns the tomb of Alexander 7 of the Chigi family. The ensemble, made of colored marble and bronze, depicts the praying pontiff, surrounded by allegorical statues of Mercy, Truth, Justice and Prudence. In front of Alexander 7 is a skeleton wrapped in a red robe - a symbol of death.

In the hand of the skeleton is an hourglass - a metaphor for the end of the earthly life of the pontiff.

The baroque ensemble is full of theatrical drama and full of secret meaning. So, one of the virtues is depicted standing on the globe. It is by no means accidental that the stone foot covers England. By the 17th century, the split between the Catholic and Anglican churches reached its climax. British monarchs from the Stuart family abdicated the crown in order to remain faithful to the Catholic faith. This whole controversial situation was artistically played by Bernini in stone. The Tomb of the Stuarts is now inside the cathedral to the left of the entrance.

Chapel of the Epiphany

In the left nave is the Baptism Chapel (Cappella del Battesimo), designed by Carl Fontana and decorated with Baciccio mosaics. Nearby is the tomb of Maria Clementina Sobieski, decorated by the sculptor Pietro Bracci in the 18th century. Adjacent to it is the Stewart Memorial, by Antonio Canova, 19th century. An interesting work of the Florentine architect of the 15th century Antonio Pollaiolo is the tomb of the pontiff Innocent 8.


The central space of the cathedral is bounded by four pillars supporting the dome. This part of the temple was realized in accordance with the ideas of Michelangelo. In the heart of the church, you can see many mosaic paintings made according to Domenichino's sketches.

Of particular awe is the memorial to Pius 7, made in the 19th century by a non-Catholic creator - Bertel Thorvaldsen. Peter's Basilica has the Gregorian Cappella, which commemorates the one who gave humanity the Gregorian calendar. Numerous tombs of the pontiffs and richly decorated chapels make an indelible impression on the parishioners.


The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is a grandiose work of art. The maximum height is 133,3 m from the ground level, the height inside the basilica is 117,57 m, the inner diameter is 41,5 m, the total weight is 14 thousand tons! The image of the dome has been the emblem of the cathedral for several centuries and one of the most common symbols of the Vatican.

Michelangelo, who created the architectural plan of the dome, was inspired by the Pantheon and Santa Maria del Fiore (La Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence.

The high drum of the dome is designed to provide stability to the massive building. It has 16 windows separated by columns and exactly 16 stiffeners. From the inside, the stability of the structure is given by 4 powerful pillars.

The cathedral contains models and sketches of the dome intended for construction: Michelangelo, Sangallo and Bramante. All of them were based on a more rounded shape, tending to the parameters of an ideal ball. However, the construction of the vault was entrusted to Giacomo de Porta, who implemented a slightly different model. The changes were made in order to provide greater reliability and stability to the canopy, especially considering the fact that the structure went 7 meters higher than originally planned.

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Despite all the tricks of architects and builders, already in the 18th century the dome began to collapse under its own weight and the influence of winds. Four strong chains pulled the vault to give it additional rigidity. From the inside, the dome is decorated with mosaic paintings by Giovanni De Vecchi.

Michelangelo's vault was realized according to the sketches of the master: a sphere extending upward, decorated with a coffered decor.

Tomb of st peter

In 1939, by order of Benito Mussolini, extensive archaeological research was carried out under the floors of the cathedral - an ancient necropolis was discovered, one of the burials of which had a special status. It was possible to find out that in the 1-2 centuries AD. one of the graves was especially revered.

A careful study of church chronicles and repeated excavations made it possible to assume with a high degree of probability that the tomb of the apostle rests in the ground under St. Peter's Cathedral. What Paul 1968 solemnly announced in 6.

St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro)

The grandiose cathedral, built in the 16th century, required an appropriate frame. The Vatican decreed that the poorly planned rectangle of the capital's land at the foot of the temple was to take on a graceful shape. In addition, it was required to equip the road from the Apostolic Palace (Palazzi Apostolici) to the basilica.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini created St. Peter's Square in 11 years, starting construction in 1656.

Bernini's architectural plan had two major elements: the oval plane of the square itself, surrounded by crescents of galleries and trapezoidal alleys leading to the square and the cathedral.

From a bird's eye view, the square, the alley and the cathedral look like a key, for which they were named “the key of St. Peter”. The oval of the square, rests in a bowl of two galleries, equipped with columns. The colonnade of 284 Doric columns and 80 travertine pillars is crowned with an attic, on which 140 sculptures of saints and a dozen of church coats of arms flaunt. On the days of major Catholic holidays, St. Peter's Square accommodates about 400 thousand visitors!

Interesting Facts

  1. On the square of the cathedral there are 2 geometric centers from which all 4 rows of columns are hidden one after another.
  2. According to legend, the remains of Julius Caesar were kept at the top of the obelisk, but when the obelisk was moved in the 16th century, it turned out that there was nothing there.
  3. The Italian police can only enter the cathedral by special invitation.
  4. Bernini got the idea to build part of the square in the form of a trapezoid from Michelangelo.
  5. For more than 1000 years, the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica were not considered the center of Christianity - the popes moved there only in the 15th century from the Lateran Basilica.
  6. Traditionally, no building in Rome can be taller than the dome of St. Peter's.


  • International name: St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Phone: 39 (06) 6988 4676.
  • Working hours: summer period (from April 1 to September 30) - from 07:00 to 19:00, winter period (from October 1 to March 31) - from 07:00 to 18:30.
  • Website:
  • Visiting the dome: summer period (from April 1 to September 30) - from 08:00 to 18:00, winter (from October 1 to March 31) - from 07:00 to 18:00.
  • Ticket price: fully hiking (551 steps) - 8 euros, lift + hiking (320 steps) - 10 euros, children under 12 years old - free.
  • A visit to the tomb of St. Peter and the necropolis under the cathedral: permissible after preliminary reservation of seats by mail: or by phone: +39 06 69873017. The cost of an individual ticket is 13 euros. Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 09:00 to 18:00, Sat - 09:00 to 17:00.

Getting there

Address: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City

  • by metro: line A, stop Ottaviano (closer to the museums)
  • by tram: # 19, stop San Pietro 200 meters from the cathedral;
  • by bus: no. 23, 32, 81, 590, 982, N11, stop Risorgimento, no. 64 and 40 express routes from Termini station to St. Peter's Basilica, no. 116, stop Terminal Gianicolo;
  • by regional train: Roma San Pietro station (closer to the square), the train runs from the Roma Trastevere station, the ticket is 1 euro.

Online ticketing