VISITING SAINT PETER’S BASILICA
The history of the world’s smallest sovereign state and for centuries the most powerful, is entwined with that of Rome, the city surrounding it. Located across the Tiber river from Rome’s historic center, St. Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest church and an important symbol of Christendom (although many don’t know that the official seat of the pope is actually the Basilica of St John Lateran!). The church’s location, on the Vatican Hill, is highly symbolic, marking the place where Saint Peter, considered the first Pope, died a martyr and was buried in 64 AD. Only recently it has been found a tomb underneath the basilica, that after much excavation archeologists think could really be the tomb of St Peter. The presence of Saint Peter’s tomb, located under the altar, as well as those of other pontiffs have attracted over the centuries crowds of pilgrims. Certainly, this remains a sacred site for Christians all over the world, and “on this rock” the popes built a stupendous basilica. It took over a hundred years to build the church as it is today (1506-1615) and the work of some of the most brilliant and talented architects of the Renaissance, such as Bramante, its first chief architect, Michelangelo, who designed the impressive dome, Maderno who built the facade, and Bernini, who drew up plans for St. Peter’s Square and adorned its colonnade with statues. But Bernini also failed in his attempt to build two tall bell towers on the sides of the church. He miscalculated the weight of the towers and he had to demolish the one he had already built, jeopardizing his entire and brilliant career. Our Vatican tour will introduce you to the many art treasures housed in the church, whose 185 meters long and 46 meters tall nave can accommodate up to 60,000 people. They include the magnificent Pietà, a cornerstone work of Renaissance sculpture completed when Michelangelo was only 24, the richly adorned Chapel of the Sacrament, and, under the magnificent 119 meters tall dome, Bernini’s impressive bronze baldachin which hosts the Papal altar.