The Obelisk was brought from Egypt under the reign of Caligula for use in his circus in 37 BC. It was there that St Peter was killed. The Obelisk is 25 meters high and was moved to its present location in 1586. It is said that moving the Obelisk took 4 months.
I found it particularly interesting that there are so many Egyptian obelisks in Rome. It seemed that there was one in front so many of the major sites, much more so than other major cities.
Before I went to St. Peter’s, I had always thought that there was just one row of Doric columns around the square, but in fact there are four. From most places in the square, you can see the four rows of columns – but on either side of the central obelisk you will find a porphyry disc in the ground which, if you stand on it, it creates the illusion that there really is only one row of columns.
These two magnificent colonnades were designed by the master sculptor Bernini in the mid-1600s in the shape of an ellipse contain 284 Doric columns and 88 pilasters. At the top of the two colonnades are 96 statues of saints and martyrs. The two colonnades meet at St. Peter’s Basilica at the triple staircase and the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, providing a striking entryway into this favorite church. Of course, you cannot enter St. Peter’s Basilica from here directly – you have to go through the security process to the right of the church first.
I highly recommend viewing St. Peter’s Square and the colonnades from the dome. The view from above really puts Bernini’s work into perspective and you can see this wonderful piece of architecture from a whole new level.
The obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square was brought from Alexandria for Augustus in AD 37 and it is believed that this obelisk was in Caligula’s circus (Circus of Nero). It is a plain obelisk and has no hieroglyphics on it. The obelisk is 25.5 meters (83.6 feet) tall.
The obelisk came to St. Peter’s Square in 1586 under the order of Pope Sixtus V. It took 900 men, 150 horses, and nearly 50 cranes to move the obelisk from the circus to the square.
Around the base of the obelisk is a mariner’s compass and shows the names of the four winds. At the top of the obelisk is a cross, but this has only been since it was placed in the center of St. Peter’s Square (1586); prior to that there was a globe on top of the obelisk. The globe can be seen in the Capitoline Museums.
Designed by Bernini in the mid-1600s, St. Peter's Square is civic architecture at its finest. You can think of the square as enveloped in two large arms that reach out from St. Peter’s Basilica – these arms are made up of the semi-circular colonnades of 284 columns. On top of the two “arms” are statues of 96 saints and martyrs.
It is from the square that you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. On the right side (if you are looking at the church), you will see the security lines. You cannot climb the stairs in front of the Basilica from the square – you will see the barriers in place. On either side of these stairs are two very large statues – the one of the right side is St. Paul and on the left is St. Peter (Peter’s statues almost always have him holding a set of keys).
Warning! As you approach St. Peter’s Square, you will begin to be approached by countless people trying to sell you sunglasses or trinkets, give you guided tours, asking you for money, and other things. The closer you get, the most frequent the requests (we counted 10 such requests to us personally in less than a block and passed so many others that were trying to deal with other people). Before heading towards this area, be sure you have secured your valuables away from pickpockets and be firm when saying ‘no’ to these people. Simply keep walking – don’t stop – don’t make eye contact. Sometimes it is hard to be rude, but these people are simply out to take your money. Avoid them when possible, ignore them when approached. Politeness does not work here and your first ‘no’ is not always adhered to (neither is your second or third ‘no’ as sometimes they will simply follow you for sometime hoping you’ll buy whatever it is they are selling to get rid of them).
The fountain in St Peter's Square is the work of Carlo Maderno (1613) and is 8 meters high. The second fountain was by Bernini, the architect of St Peters' Square, to create appropriate balance in the "square." Interestingly, the second fountain (the one on the left) wasn't built until 1675.
The photo gives you a better idea of the colonnade, there are in fact 4 rows of columns!
Everybody that comes to the Vatican will come here. Perhaps everybody will be amazed at the size of St. Peter's Square, I know I was! Even though I had seen it many times on Television, this square still took my breath away. I stood there and tried to imagine the Pope and 400,000 people in the crowd.
It was amazing!
This Square came about when Alexander VII was elected as the new pope in April 1655.
Construction of the square started in 1656 and was completed twelve years later, in 1667.
St. Peter's Square is bordered on either side by semi-circular colonnades which are meant to symbolize the stretched arms of the church embracing the world. The colonnades were built in 1660 and consist of four rows of columns which look like one row from certain angles, and has 140 Statues on top of the colonnades, depicting popes, martyrs, evangelists and other religious figures.
At the center of the square stands an Egyptian obelisk, made of red granite and supported by bronze lions, altogether, 41 meters to the cross on its top. The obelisk was originally erected at Heliopolis by an unknown pharaoh of the Fifth dynasty of Egypt (c. 2494 BC – 2345 BC). During its history, the obelisk has been successfully moved 3 times.
What about the beautiful Fontana Fountain, installed in the square in 1613.
Last, but not least, was the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica), which was built between 1506 and 1626. You can climb all the way to the top of the imposing dome of the basilica, just imagine the views.
All seemed so impressive! Just make sure you walk around everywhere, look up, look around, and look in every nook and cranny!
The magnificent square was designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini during the years 1657-67.
As you come into the square you are just struck by how enormous it seems. It is wide open and airy, giving a sense of grandeur and balance. If you take a closer look at the Doric columns you will notice that there are several (4) rows of them, which at first i thought was an optical illusion.
On top of that columns are the statues of 140 saints.
Saint Peter's Square is located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica.
The open space was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII.
The colossal Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep, frame the trapezoidal entrance to the basilica and the massive elliptical area which precedes it.
At the center of the ovato tondo stands an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 25.5 meters tall, supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms in bronze, in all 41 meters to the cross on its top.
The paving is varied by radiating lines in travertine, to relieve what might otherwise be a sea of cobblestones.
You can watch my 2 min 06 sec Video Rome Vatican St Peter's square out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
A couple of steps across the virtual border and you're into Vatican City, of course after passing by countless souvenir stores in Via della Conciliazione. Hub of the Catholic Church, the Vatican City territory is the smallest country in the world and the remnant of the former Papal State that was annexed to Italy on September 20th, 1870.
St. Peter is a magnificent baroque piazza of elliptical shape, with peripheral columns centered around an obelisk, and two fountains. The "square" then extends towards the impressive Basilica's facade. As one can imagine, plenty of visitors at all time and difficult to manage on Sundays when the Pope addresses the faithful pilgrims from a window.
Saint Peter's Square - Piazza San Pietro, is located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the papal enclave within Rome.
The open space which lies before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt, designed so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the facade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace.
The colossal Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep, frame the trapezoidal entrance to the basilica and the massive elliptical area which precedes it. The colonnades define the piazza.
At the center of the ellipse stands an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 25.5 meters tall, supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms in bronze, in all 41 meters to the cross on its top.
The obelisk, of the 13th century BC, was moved to Rome in AD 37.
The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since ancient Roman times.
The Apostolic Palace, also called the Papal Palace or the Palace of the Vatican, is the official residence of the Pope in the Vatican City.
The palace is a complex of buildings, comprising the Papal Apartments, some of the Catholic Church's government offices, a handful of chapels, the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library. In all, there are over 1,000 rooms with the most famous including Raphael's Rooms and the Sistine Chapel with its renowned ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo (restored between 1980 and 1990).
On Sundays at noon, the pope usually (if he's in town) appears at the second window from the right of the Apostolic Palace, to pray the Angelus and bless the crowd in the Square. Benedict XVI has continued this tradition.
St Peter's Square is in itself a destination - the piazza del duomo of all piazze in all Italy! From the dramatic architecture to scenes of pilgrims and tourists and Michelangelo-clad Swiss guards, it's worth at least an hour of "loitering."
Some favorite scenes:
Picture 1 - the dramatic facade of St Peter's Basilica with the obelisk marking the site of St Peter's crucifixion;
Picture 2 - a nun praying the rosary while listening to the Pope's message during a public audience day;
Picture 3 - an interesting contrast to the nun in picture 2, a fashionably dressed tourist;
Picture 4 - a team of Rome's caribinieri looking dapper in their uniforms; and
Picture 5 - again, interesting contrast with the Swiss guard clad in a Michelangelo-designed uniform from the Renaissance age.
The square, as mentioned earlier, was the work of the great Bernini. It is massive in its proportions and is usually a hive of activity. I have at times visited the Square when it was being prepared for some event or celebration which loomed in the very near future. I was there the day before the canonisation of Jose Maria Escriva and there were dozens of workers setting out chairs and arranging electrical speakers and the like. This is not an usual happening here at St Peter's.
To see the square in all of its glory however, it is best to climb at least to the roof of the basilica but better yet, the top of the Cupola. It is an amazing sight.
The Egyptian Obelisk stands 40 meters in height. It lies at the center of the piazza.
According to history, St. Peter requested to be crucified upside down as he is not worthy of being crucified in similar way as with Jesus Christ. It happened at the Circus of Nero in ancient Rome, the Obelisk was a silent witness to the execution of St. Peter.
That would be the reason why it's called "The Witness".
People gather around the Obelisk, sitting around its base after maybe a tiring tour of the basilica.
Would you believe, I thought those guys in colourful uniforms were just normal Italians made to dress like that to compliment the total Vatican atmosphere, just like those ones I saw in Prague's Mala Strana area. Seriously...don't blame me and my naiveté.
Surrounding the entrance of the St. Peter's Basilica are men wearing those colourful blue-red-yellow uniforms are the Papal Swiss guards, and the only swiss guards still in existence.
Founded in 1506, the swiss guards are responsible for the security and safety of the pope. There are about a hundred Swiss Guards today. Swiss Guard are veterans of the Swiss Army between 19 and 30 years of age, must be Catholic, good family background and not married. They take oath of loyalty to the pope.
But honestly, they do compliment the Vatican and the whole atmosphere.
Piazza San Pietro was laid out by Bernini in 1656 - 67 for Pope Alexander VII. It is keyhole shaped and formed by the wings of the double-colonnades symbolising the outstretched arms of Mother Church embracing and protecting the congregation. In the center are fountains by Maderno and della Fontana, and an Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in AD37.
Between the obelisk and each fountain is a round marble slab, from where the spectator obtains the illusion that each colonnade has only a single row of columns.