Rich in history, architecture and art, Saint Peter’s Square inspires awe and reverence in those
who come to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The impressive elliptical plaza was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1656. Bernini was
commissioned by Pope Alexander VII to build a square that would enable huge crowds to
see the Pope and receive his blessing. Over 350,000 people may fill the square during special
occasions such as Easter Mass and the Papal Conclave, when a new pope is elected.
The ground of the square is paved with Cobblestones and is divided into 8 triangular shaped
sections by travertine lines. Circular stones were added around the obelisk in 1817 turning St.
Peter’s square into a huge sundial with the obelisk serving as its gnomon.
Station 2 – the Obelisk
At the center of the square stands a 25.5 meter tall ancient Egyptian obelisk, 41 meters high
including its added base. This obelisk is over 4000 years old and was brought to Rome from
Alexandria by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD.
The obelisk was removed from the “Circus of Nero” in Rome and placed at the center of the
square under the order of Pope Sixtus V in 1586. The re-erection of the obelisk required a work
force of some 900 men and almost 100 horses and took over a year to complete.
On opposite sides of the obelisk are two identical fountains. The fountain on the left, when
facing St. Peter’s Basilica, was designed by Carlo Moderno in 1613. The second fountain was
added later in 1677 by Bernini who copied Moderno’s fountain as to keep the symmetry of
Saint Peter’s Square.
Station 3 – the Colonnades
Encompassing Saint Peter’s Square are two colonnades which were designed by Bernini to
symbolize the embracing maternal arms of the Catholic Church. The colonnades are comprised
of four rows of columns, each column with 1.5 meters in diameter and 20 meters high.
On the ground, between the obelisk and each fountain, are marble discs marking the geometric
“foci” of the elliptical shaped square of St. Peter’s. When standing on these discs, the columns
of the colonnades appear perfectly aligned so that only the closest row of columns can be seen
– indicating once again the architectural brilliance of Bernini.
Adorning the rooftop of the colonnades are 140 statues of various saints consisting of former
popes, martyrs, evangelists and other Christian figures. The statues were created by Bernini and
his students over a span of some 40 years.
Station 4 – St. Peter’s Basilica
Regarded as one of the holiest sites in the Catholic faith, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest
and most beautiful churches in the world. The basilica was erected upon the site traditionally
regarded as the burial place of Saint Peter, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ.
Saint Peter is considered to be the first Bishop of Rome and as such the first in the Papal
lineage. A statue of St. Peter holding a key stands on the left side of the entrance to St. Peter’s
Basilica and represents the keys of Heaven which were instilled to him by Jesus, as it is written
in Matthew 16:17-19:
The central balcony on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica is known as the “Loggia of the
Blessings” for this is where newly elected popes give their first blessing after "Habemus Papum"
is announce, declaring that a new pope has been chosen.