Although the Colosseum and Piazza Navona are two of the favorite tourist attractions in Rome, the Basilica of St. Peter and Vatican City are the main focus for pilgrims such our group. We were very fortunate that our hotel, the Hotel Columbus, was right on Via della Conciliazione just a couple block from St. Peter’s.
At the center of the piazza stands an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 83 feet tall, supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms in bronze, in all 134 feet to the cross on its top. The obelisk was originally erected at Heliopolis, Egypt, by an unknown pharaoh. The Emperor Augustus (c. 63 BC – 14 AD) had the obelisk moved to the Julian Forum of Alexandria, where it stood until 37 AD, when Caligula ordered the forum demolished and the obelisk transferred to Rome. He had it placed at the center of the Circus of Nero, where it would preside over Nero’s countless brutal games and Christian executions. It was moved to its current site in 1586 by the engineer-architect Domenico Fontana under the direction of Pope Sixtus V; the engineering feat of re-erecting its vast weight was memorialized in a suite of engravings. The Vatican Obelisk is the only obelisk in Rome that has not toppled since ancient Roman times.
The facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, designed by Maderno, is 376.3 fee) wide and 149.4 feet high and is built of travertine stone, with a giant order of Corinthian columns and a central pediment rising in front of a tall attic surmounted by thirteen statues: Christ flanked by eleven of the Apostles (except St. Peter, whose statue is left of the stairs) and John the Baptist. The inscription below the cornice on the 3.3 feet tall frieze reads “IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII” or “In honor of the Prince of Apostles, Paul V Borghese, a Roman, Supreme Pontiff, in the year 1612, the seventh of his pontificate”.
These views from the top of St. Peter’s is from a trip in 2005.
The colossal Bernini colonnades, four columns deep, frame the entrance to the basilica and the massive elliptical area which precedes it. The piazza’s long axis, parallel to the basilica’s façade, creates a break in the forward movement toward the Basilica that is characteristic of a Baroque monumental approach. The colonnades define the piazza. The elliptical center of the piazza encloses the visitor with “the maternal arms of Mother Church” in Bernini’s expression.
After the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981, Vatican officials were evaluating the possibility of placing a plaque, or some visible sign, in St. Peter’s Square in the area where the Pope had been shot, in remembrance of a painful page in the history of the Church but also as testimony of divine protection. John Paul II, convinced that the Virgin Mary had protected him on that day, immediately expressed the desire that an image of the Madonna be placed in the square. This mosaic is the latest artistic addition to St. Peter’s Square. (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/inside-story-of-marian-mosaic-told-on-bl.-john-paul-iis-birthday/)
As our tour group left the piazza headed for the Vatican Museums, we followed along the outside of the Vatican walls.
So, next stop is the Vatican Museums.
Details from WikiPedia except where otherwise noted.