st peter's square

Saint Peter's Square was designed between 1656 and 1667 by GianLorenzo Bernini, who was also the final architect of St. Peter's Basilica.

The aim of the square was to provide a welcome to Roman Catholics as they came to the church and to impress non-Catholics enough so that they would consider converting.

  • piazza di san pietro
  • vatican st peters
  • obelisk vatican
  • st peter statue vatican
  • st peters place
  • berninis colonnade
  • the swiss guard
  • st peters mall
  • rome square
  • colonnade architecture

saint peters square

Bernini designed the two colonnades on either side as arms embracing or hugging people as they arrived. They provide a psychological break to the city of Rome which is right outside.


city of saint peters

Since the Lateran Treaty signed with Mussolini's government in the 1930s, St. Peter's Square is actually not part of Vatican City but is part of the City of Rome.


vatican square

The square is used most weeks during the summer on Wednesday mornings for Papal Audiences when chairs are laid out. During the winter or on bad weather days these audiences happen in the Audience Hall of Paul IV which is to the left of St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope also addresses the faithful on Sundays at Noon from his office, a less formal event, which can be seen by simply standing in the square.


vatican obelisk

Originally the square was bare and was flanked by buildings on both sides.

The first thing in the square was the central obelisk, which is over 3000 years old, and was one of the obelisks taken from Egypt by the Emperor Gaius or Caligula.

He placed it in the middle of his chariot racing track which he built on Vatican Hill in the 40s A.D. This was to the left of the current basilica. This stadium was repaired by Nero, who had Saint Peter executed in it around 67 A.D. Nero blamed the Christians for starting the Great Fire of Rome, three years previously, which had burned almost half the city. Peter was buried in a nearby cemetery which the basilica was built over. When Christianity became the State Religion of Rome in the late fourth century, the obelisk was ordered preserved as it was one of the last things seen by Saint Peter before he died.


st peter's square rome

It was not until 1586 that the Obelisk was moved directly in front of the church by Domenico Fontana, himself an architect of Saint Peters at the time. This in itself was a huge architectural triumph as the monolith weighs over 300 tonnes. The undeveloped square now had a centrepiece.

Fontana's Successor, Carlo Maderno, added the fountain on the right side of the square nearest the Papal Apartments.

Fountains were a symbol a baptism and if needed this water is potable although I would not recommend drinking it. Maderno's Successor, Bernini, moved this fountain in line with the obelisk and added a replica fountain on the other side. The three vertical elements in line were reminiscent of the spina, spine or halfway marker in the chariot racing track where Peter was killed.


bernini st peters

Bernini had two ideas when he planned the square. The first was the chariot racing track where peter was crucified and the second was the Keys to Kingdom of Heaven he was metaphorically given by Jesus [Matthew 16: 17-19]. If you look at an aerial photograph of Saint Peter's Square you can see a round circle (the chariot racing track) and a trapezoid connecting the square to the church; a circle on top on a square. If you look at the bottom of an old key you will see the same effect; a circle on top of a square. So the square looks like the bottom of a key and a chariot racing track at the same time.


st peter statue

There are 248 Doric columns in the two colonnades which extend out from the church like arms embracing or hugging visitors. The columns are arranged around in to rows of four. Bernini was such a genius a symmetry he put two circular markers on the square, exactly half way between the fountains and the obelisk, and if you stand on these foci spots and look at the columns they precisely line up. You can only see the first column in each row. Much of the travertine used in construction of the columns was recycled from Roman monuments including the Colosseum. The large space between the colonnade and the colonnade itself forms the only real open border the Vatican has with the city of Rome; the rest of the complex is walled.



My Tour reviews:

Italy Tour Helpful and Informative
Dara was very helpful and informative. He knew each room and detail and I am glad that he was our tour guide. He had a nice personality and I was amazed with his ability to keep counting our group to make sure all were together before we moved forward. I have already recommended your tour to other people as I traveled in other parts of Italy.
5.0 Stars Audrey Ferrante
Vatican Tour A Great Tour
The tour was great, after talking with others on our cruise we got the better deal as they went on the cruise sponsor tour. I do have 2 items to help with improvements. I know you may not be able to do this one and it may be out of your control, but benches would be great when listening to the information on the Sistine Chapel. The second, the guides need better microphone, when they turn their head the mic stays put and you lose volume. My party all agreed that it was a great tour. Debbie.
5.0 Stars Deborah Flanders
General Tour Excellent Sense of Humour
Very informative and Dara has an excellent sence of humour.
5.0 Stars Billy Kane
General Tour Tour was good
Tour was good. Dara was informative and accomodating
5.0 Stars Nancy Stanton
Italy Tour The Most Enjoyable Tour
This was the most enjoyable tour of our entire two week vacation to Italy. The guide was quite knowledgeable and interjected fun facts and humor which made it even more engaging for our children - ages 20, 17 & 15. He was always respectful of the faith and reminded us of the rules - which from the noise level in the cathedral, other tour guides must not have been as informative.
5.0 Stars Mike Howard
Vatican Tour Dara was an Excellent Guide
Dara was an excellent guide. His tour was very informative without being too 'heavy' and included just the right amount of humour. I'm sure we learnt a great deal more from Dara than if we simply read the guide books. The whole tour experience was incredable and helped to make our brief holiday to Rome a great success. Well Done!!
5.0 Stars Alison and Alan Twyford
General Tour Thoroughly Pleased
Thoroughly pleased with the entire experience.
5.0 Stars Christy Turner
Vatican Tour Incrediby Informed
I don't know how people go to the Vatican without a guided tour. There is no other way of doing it. Our guide was incredibly informed and very intelligent. I learnt so much with this tour! He was amazing and there is no complaint to be made. On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), he ranks at a 10+. :-) Thank you for making our Vatican tour the best!
5.0 Stars Melissa Kelly
Vatican Tour Dara was Great!
skipping the lines is a BIG DEAL! vatican has too many visitors. would reccomend this tour. Dara was great.
5.0 Stars Nina from Dubai
General Tour Very funny and Entertaining
Dara was fantastic!! Really informative, considerate of everyone on the tour. Aware that it was a long tour with a lot of walking and was always aware of the groups comfort and needs. He was also very funny and entertaining, I would highly recommend him!
5.0 Stars Tracey Herbert
Did you know?
The Vatican is not air-conditioned
There are very few seats
Few bathrooms
and few cafes
Vatican Checklist
Tickets or Tour Booked
Knees & Shoulders Covered
Flash turned off Camera
Bottle of Water
Rested & Relaxed