About St. Peter’s square
St. Peter's Square, also known as the "Piazza San Pietro" is the gateway to the Vatican and is located in the heart of the city. Right in front of the square is located the St. Peter's Basilica, the world's second-largest Catholic church.
The Basilica and the Square, are both named after "Saint Peter", an apostle of Jesus, considered to be the first Pope. The Vatican City and the St. Peter's square holds much importance to the pilgrims of the Catholic faith.
The Vatican became the primary papal (Pope's) residence in 1378. It is one of the highlights of the square since visitors can see the papal apartments as well as the place from where the pontiff addresses the crowd. If you are in the city, you may also get a chance to see the Pope's weekly blessing that takes place at the square.
The design of the square resembles that of a keyhole. The square measures around 320 by 240m and has double-collonaded wings; the design represent s the 'motherly/maternal arms of the church' embracing and protecting the brethren.
At the centre of the square is an ancient Egyptian obelisk (tapered monolithic pillar). The entire square is opulent with its splendid architecture, including the Basilica. It also has a rich history that goes back a thousand years, making it one of the most visited places.
How to Reach St. Peter’s square
Once you are at either of the two airports, you will have to get to Termini station. The airport provides drop services, check those out.
Now that you are at Termini, you have two options:
1. Metro directions: Ottaviano and Cipro are two metro stations near the Vatican Museum entrance. You can take the A-line (orange line) from the Spanish Steps or Termini Train Station, going towards Battistini to get off at either of these stops.
2. Bus directions: If you plan to take a bus, go outside the Termini train station and get on bus #64. The last stop on the bus is P.za Stazione S. Pietro bus station and takes about 20 minutes. From here, it's another fifteen-minute walk to the Vatican Museum entrance.
Another option is to get on bus #81 from the Colosseum area (the bus stop is right outside the metro station – B line). The end stop for this bus is in Piazza Risorgimento. The Vatican Museum entrance is a five-minute walk from here.
If you want to take a taxi/ rental, you can either arrange it at the airport or from any other place (tourist attraction) for booking. A taxi ride shouldn't cost more than 20-25 euros.
When you get in a taxi, ask the driver to take you to the Vatican Museums entrance correctly, or else they'll take you to St. Peter's Basilica.
You also have the option of booking an Uber. *charges would vary and depend upon the location.
Best Time to Visit St. Peter’s square
The best time to go to the Basilica is either early in the morning, between 7 am to 9 am, or in the evening, 1-2 hours before closing (6:00 pm winters/7:00pm all year). You should also check the Saint Peter's Basilica website for current hours and other information to plan the visit accordingly.
That being said, you can visit the square at any time of the day and all year round. You can visit the Vatican city during its peak months May - August or From October- April which is comparatively considered off-season.
What Not to Miss at St. Peter’s square
1. St. Peter's Basilica: The church has beautiful architecture, paintings and statues. Get a tour of the Basilica to know about the history of the place. Go and pray at the church to get in touch with your spiritual self and witness the Mass at the world's oldest church.
Interestingly, the Basilica that stands in the square now is the new St. Peter's Basilica which was re-built in place of the old Basilica.
2. Cupola; dome: The dome on top of the Basilica is an attraction in itself. Climb up the stairs for a breath-taking view of all of Vatican City. You can climb all the (500+) stairs or can take a lift ride halfway by paying a few extra bucks. Once halfway, you would have to climb the remaining stairs. At the top, you have the view of the city, the square, fountains, souvenir shops and even a café.
3. Colonnades: The colonnades are a wonder to behold. Observe the gigantic Doric columns, atop these columns, are 140 statues of several saints carved by various artists. The placement of the saint statues are a representation of the "Church Militant, those fighting the battle of earthly life, can "lookup" to those members of the Church Triumphant, the saints".
Observe the Doric columns and the 140 statues of Saints on them. Walk around the colonnades.There is a post-office here, from where you can buy stamps and send postcards.
4. Obelisk: The symbol of 'worldly power', the obelisk pre-dates the Basilica and even the Piazza and has a profound history. The obelisk was the focal point of the design of the entire Piazza. To appreciate the full geometric visual effect of the colonnade, look for marble markers between the obelisk and each fountain and stand on them to get the perspective.
It also doubles as a sundial clock, with the marble lines running around and the shadow cast by the obelisk, you can stand and guess the time.
5. Attend a general audience: Want to get the Pope's blessings or just want to get a glance of him. You can do it by being a part of the general audience where the Pope addresses the people gathered at the square.
It begins at 10:30 on Wednesdays when the Pope is in the city. There are no charges, however, if you want to get good seats, book tickets online or come in super early. You should also check the details online before going and plan accordingly.
6. Via Della Conciliazione: The way to the Basilica is a short walk, and the pathway is a dream to walk on, especially in the evening when it lits up. While walking in the Piazza, you can also spot the Swiss guards in their Renaissance-style uniforms guarding the holy ground.
7. Sistine chapel: It was built as a private chapel for Pope Sixtus IV in the years 1473-1481 by Giovannino de' Dolci. The chapel is particularly famous for its ceiling paintings, especially the 'Last Judgement'.
The art is the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti and was created in the years 1508-1512 and, in 1534-1541. The painting is worth all the hype for its intricate details and the fresco technique used. The chapel also has more equally astonishing wall paintings.
8. Vatican museums: Founded in the eighteenth century by two Popes; Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799) opened the museums of art collections for the public. The museum's collection goes back further, in the year 1480 the Roman statu,'The Apollo of Belvedere' was discovered and it still is one of the key highlights of the museums. Apart from this, the museum has some remarkable Roman and Greek classic antiques as part of the display.
9. Vatican gardens: The Gardens of the Vatican city, also known as 'Giardini Vaticani'. These gardens cover half of the Vatican City in about 57 acres of land. These gardens are the perfect blend of history, art, and faith. The Vatican Gardens are made up of thriving grounds, shrines of popes, Renaissance-style fountains and cavern, orchards, as well as ancient monuments and sculptures.
The gardens are private so if you want to visit, you would have to opt for a tour of it. The gardens also have the governor's palace situated, right behind the Basilica which is well in view from the gardens.
10. Castel Sant' Angelo: Castel Sant'Angelo, situated on the right bank of the Tiber river, the fortress has had different roles over the years. It was a mausoleum, then made into the papal residence, and was also used as a barrack and now it is made into a national museum. A great place to geek on history.
The interiors are beautiful and well decorated. It also has a prison, torture chambers, spiralling corridors as part of the architecture. At the top of the fortress, from the terrace, you can look at a statue of an angel, built by the eighteenth-century Flemish sculptor Pieter Verschaffelt.
11. Ponte Sant' Angelo: Also, called the bridge of the Holy Angels, it was the connecting way to the Basilica in the olden days. The bridge is connected to the Castel Sant' Angelo over the Tiber river and is ornamented with ten statues of angels (were added later), designed by Bernini.
At the end of the bridge are two figures of apostles Peter and Paul. The bridge is now a major attraction, and tourists pass here on their way to the Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican city.
Other places to visit:
- Palazzo Altemps
- Villa Farnesina
- Vatican city
- Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
- Vatican Necropolis
- Cortile Della Pigna
- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
And so many more. You will find innumerable attractions both within and around the Piazza San Pietro.
Other Essential Information About St. Peter’s square
1. Location: Piazza San Pietro
Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
2. Opening Hours: You can visit St. Peter's Square anytime unless the Piazza is closed for a ceremony. However, the Basilica has fixed visiting hours From 7:00 am to 7:00 pm every day and until 6:00 pm during winters. (except on Wednesdays; during the papal audience; if any, the Basilica remains closed until noon).
3. Entry fee: The entrance to the square is free of cost all year round.
The Basilica’s dome can also be visited and has a fee attached(from October to March every day from 8:00 am to 4:45 pm and until 5:45 pm from April to September); for which entrance fee is charged. There is a fee charged for the tour of the museum as well.
4. Distance from Nearest Airport: Rome has two airports. The major airlines use Leonardo da Vinci Airport (at Fiumicino), while Ciampino Airport handles budget airlines. Depending on which flight and which airport you are at, you can get to St. Peter's square.
Ciampino is the closest airport from Rome and is attached to the city. It is well connected by trains, buses, and taxis from the city centre. The distance to the Piazza is around 24km.
5. Rome Airport: Leonardo Da Vinci International (FOC) is also well connected by all means of transportation. It is around 30km from the Piazza San Pietro and will take approximately 30-35 minutes to get there.
History of St. Peter's Square
The "Piazza San Pietro" was designed by sculptor and architect "Gian Lorenzo Bernini", per the directions of Pope Alexander VII in the year 1656. The construction of the square was carried out between 1656 and 1667.
The square was made to compliment the worth of St. Peter's Basilica. The design of the Piazza is an elliptical which is embraced by four rows of Doric columns arranged in a colonnade on two sides. These double colonnades are a symbol of welcoming arms of St. Peter's Basilica, Christianity's Mother Church.
These colonnades have 140 statues of saints, martyrs, popes atop which were created in 1670 by the disciples of Bernini. The square was designed around a 385-tonne Egyptian obelisk, it was brought to Rome by Caligula around 37 BC and was placed in (now the square) in 1586.
The obelisk has two fountains on either side, within the Piazza. Carlo Maderno built one of the fountains in the year 1614, and in the year 1675 Bernini erected another similar looking fountain. The construction of the square was carried out between 1656 and 1667.
Architecture of St. Peter's Square
The Piazza was built in the year 1656 in line with the Basilica. The design of the square is what one must say, a proportional masterpiece. The entire square was built around the Egyptian obelisk in the middle. The square has these simple yet majestic Doric columns made of Roman travertine, in colonnades on two sides, making it appear like a semi-circle.
These colonnades have statues on them, representing saints. There are two identical-looking fountains on either side of the obelisk. On the other hand, The Basilica's making took place in the year 1506, under Pope Julius II and got completed in the year 1626.
The Basilica's design was a combination of Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles; it also has Renaissance sculptures that are well admired by art enthusiasts and history lovers alike. The design, construction and decoration of Saint Peter's is an endowment of some of the greatest artists of the day, including the likes of Alberti, Raphael, Bramante, Michelangelo, and Bernini.
Tips for visiting St. Peter's Square
1. It is always a good idea to book the tickets in advance and here is no exception. You should book tickets online for the museum tour and well in advance, to avoid standing in the queue. You can do it for any other activity as well; it is just a hassle-free option.
2. Spend time on the internet and do plenty of research about the Piazza and the places around.
3. It is a more convenient and pocket-friendly option to use public transportation to get to places.
4. If you want to avoid big crowds, refrain from going to the Basilica at peak hours, instead choose to go either earlier (morning) or late (evening- before closing).
5. Visit the Vatican city, in the off-season. It is a good option since there would be less to almost no crowds, comparatively cheaper rates and enough time to explore the city is a bonus.
6. Look for short-cuts, like from the Sistine Chapel you can enter the Basilica without taking a long route. It is especially helpful during peak hours.
7. Be well fed before you commence your exploration because you may or may not get time to eat throughout the day. Also, since food, metal tools like knives and scissors etc. are also not allowed.
*Vatican Dress Code: Remember to follow and respect the Vatican dress code. Cover your shoulders, avoid wearing short clothes and hats; all these are not allowed as it is a holy place. It gets hot in Rome during summers (may-august); we recommend wearing summer-appropriate clothes and carry scarves to wrap around.