The Gem of the Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest sites in the world. Until 1990 it was also the largest church ever existed because it covers 22,300 square meters and is 136,6 meters high. It is situated in the Vatican City, an independent state inside Rome where the residence of the Pope is. That’s why the basilica remains the most famous touristic destination in Rome that is visited by 20,000 people a day in the high season.

History

The place on the Vatican Hill originally was the Circus of Nero and the cemetery. During the reign of Constantine, the first basilica was built in 349 due to the supposed buried site of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’s twelve disciples. The basilica stood for more than 11 centuries and witnessed lots of important events. For instance, the coronation of Charles the Great which started a new era of Roman history took place there in 800. In 1506 Pope Julius II decided to rebuild the basilica because of the deterioration and the possibility of collapse and ordered a project from Bramante. The construction lasted for more than 120 years and mostly it was managed by Michelangelo and his pupils. All great architects and artists of that period of time participated in the creation of the interior. In 1626 the basilica was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII.

Must See

St. Peter’s Basilica holds a rich collection of various pieces of art starting from the sculptures and ending with the mosaics. The most impressive objects are the 29-meter high bronze Bernini’s Baldachin and the Pieta by Michelangelo which depicts the body of Jesus and his mother Mary. Another well-known holy relic is a bronze sculpture of St Peter created in 1300 by Arnolfo di Cambio. The statue is decorated with the expensive clothes during the St. Peter’s day and pilgrims usually kiss its right foot.

The St. Peter’s Cupola

The Dome is a fascinating part of St. Peter’s basilica which was inspired by the Duomo in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The diameter is 42 meters, so it is one of the largest domes in the world. The project was created by Michelangelo, but the construction mostly occurred after his death. The dome was completed within 71 years and it became the symbol of the unity and strength of the Catholicism. You can climb the dome for observing the 360-degree views of Rome at the top. It costs 8 euros for taking steps all the way or 10 euros for partly taking a lift. The climbing lasts about an hour and can be oppressive for some visitors because of a narrow spiral staircase in the end. However, it’s worth it as it provides an unforgettable experience.

Going Down Stairs

There are two underground levels of the basilica called the Vatican Grottoes and the Vatican Necropolis. The first one is a vast graveyard which houses the tombs of 91 popes and some kings and queens. The second level was built in the 4th century along with the first basilica and it houses the St. Peter’s Tomb. While the Vatican Grottoes are free to enter and are open every day, the Vatican Necropolis has the additional charge of 13 euros and requires the reservation for the chosen date. Send an email at scavi@fsp.va in order to organize the visit. You should keep quiet on both underground levels and photography isn’t allowed there.

Listen to the Pope’s words

On Wednesdays Pope holds the audiences in the basilica except the end of July and August. You can freely listen to them on St. Peter’s square, but there are thousands of spectators and it’s better to go there early in order to find some free seats. By the way, St. Peter’s Basilica is closed during the speech, so plan your visit of the Vatican City thoughtfully.

Be Prepared For Possible Queuing

Despite the fact that the entrance to the basilica is free, you’ll join the queue snaking around the St. Peter’s Square in order to pass the airport style scanners and security. If you are going to visit the basilica in the high season, be prepared to spend about 45 minutes in the line.

Tours

There are different options of exploring the splendid St. Peter’s Basilica. The entrance is free, but you can pay some money and get extra features. Instead of just walking around and observing the pieces of art you may borrow an audio guide and listen to a tour in English, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Russian, Polish, Japanese or Chinese. Right before the basilica you’ll meet a queue which I’ve mentioned earlier, however, fast tracks or skip the line tickets exist. If you are going to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel too, then it’s better to buy the tour including all these sights as it ends in the St. Peter’s Basilica and you’ll skip all queues outside. All these tickets are available online or offline in various travel agencies near the Vatican City.

How to Get to St. Peter's Basilica

There are different ways how to get to the basilica. Walking from the central districts will take you just 15-20 minutes. Moreover, it’s a great opportunity to walk along lots of nice streets and embankments and cross old bridges. Nevertheless, if you are tired of travelling by foot, you can take the bus 64, 62, 40 or 81 as all of them stop off at the Vatican City. In case you are travelling from a remote area the metro is available. The station is called Ottaviano (Line A) and it’s a ten-minute walk from there to the basilica.

A Strict Dress Code

Every day many tourists aren’t allowed to go inside the basilica due to their appearance. You mustn’t wear tops, miniskirts or shorts there as the shoulders and knees must be covered. Besides, you should put on closed shoes and put off any hats before the entering. Therefore, think about the outfit before the visiting.

Practical Information

St. Peter's Basilica Works:

October 1 – March 31: 7:00 – 18:30

April 1 – September 30: 7:00 – 19:00

The Dome's Working Hours:

October – March: 8:00 – 17:00 

April – September: 8:00 – 18:00 

The Vatican Grottoes:

October – March: 7:00 – 17:00

April – September: 7:00 – 18:00



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