St. Peter's Square in Rome - A Giant Keyhole

Officially, St. Peter's Square in Rome is located not in Rome, or even in Italy, but on the land of the Vatican city-state. Designed by Bernini in 1657, St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro in Italian) represents the front gate to the Vatican City. When going towards the cathedral, St. Peter's Basilica, it's enough to cross a narrow white line with columns along the outer perimeter of the square and you end up in the Vatican. Make half a step back - and you are in Italy again. 

The square is named after Peter - one of the 12 apostles, disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. Every day tens of thousands of tourists come here from all over the planet, and up to 150 thousand Christian believers gather on the square to hear Papal blessings. St. Peter's Square in Rome is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the whole world but fewer people know about many interesting "little" places located there, on the square itself.

History of St. Peter's Square in Rome

In the beginning of our era, the valley near the Vatican Hill was occupied by the Garden of Wipsania Agrippina. Emperor Nero erected in the garden a circus used for performances and public executions. In the year 64, according to the annals, Nero ordered execution of a large number of Christians - they were accused of arson in the city of Rome. One of them was apostle Peter who was crucified on the cross head down. The apostle then was secretly buried next to the circus in the cemetery. 

A hundred years later, a small chapel was erected on the burial place of St. Peter, which became the place of a mass pilgrimage of Christians and the center of the future Necropolis. For many years all subsequent Christian burial places were located around it until the construction of Basilica of Constantine in 319-326.

In 15th century, Pope Nicholas V decided to turn a large open space in front of the basilica into a square as part of the general reorganization plan. His successor decided to completely rebuild the Basilica of Constantine as well, ordering its demolition and construction of a new cathedral, known later as St. Peter's Basilica. For about a century, while re-building was underway, the space in front of the newly erected basilica was a huge construction site. Only in 1657 the square began to acquire its representative monumentality. 

In the end, the architect’s plan determined the current appearance of the square. The space in front of the basilica was divided into two parts: the first part in the form of an inverted trapezoid created the effect of an expanding perspective as a kind of invitation to enter the bosom of the Church; the second, oval-shaped, part with an elliptical colonnade symbolized the embrace of the Church gathering all Christians together. 

From a bird's eye view, the entire esplanade is seen as a giant keyhole, the key to which is stored in St. Peter's Basilica. 

Fountains of St. Peter's Square in Rome

No less interesting are two almost identical fountains that adorn the square. At first glance it seems that they are made by the hand of one master, but this is not so. The fountain "Antika" on the left side has been here since 1490. After St. Peter's Square was framed by a colonnade, according to the Bernini project in 1677, another fountain was erected, which was practically no different from the first one. The only difference between the two medieval masterpieces is the papal symbols imprinted on them.

Egyptian Obelisk

In the center of the square stands a stele of red granite. The only Egyptian obelisk that has not been destroyed since ancient times previously adorned the circus of Nero. The unique work associated with its relocation during the reconstruction of the square was carried out under the lead of an outstanding engineer and architect Domenico Fontana. Such an extraordinary event for those times was immortalized on one of the frescoes of the Apostolic Library in the Vatican.

Bronze Gate and the Place of Assassination Attempt

The Bronze Gate in the colonnade leads to the Apostolic Palace and the residence of the Pope. In the daytime, the gates are open and guarded by the Swiss Guard (Papa's bodyguards). Next to the Bronze Gate is another unique point on the square - the place of the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, which occurred on May 13, 1981. That place is marked by a red square stone mounted in the pavement.

Apostolic Palace and Residence of the Pope

The building, located in the immediate vicinity of the square, to the right of the Basilica, houses the Apostolic Palace, the place of residence and work of the Vatican’s government, including the Pope’s residence, who occupies the entire upper floor. On Sundays, at noon, the Pope conducts public prayers from the balcony of his residence, the Pope holds public prayers and blesses the people gathered in the square.

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