Pay a visit to the pope at one of the world’s most famous squares.
No visit to Rome is complete without first stepping foot in another country! Vatican City is the world’s smallest microstate and St. Peter’s Square is the perfect introduction to it. Come join millions of other visitors in exploring everything this monumental piazza has to offer.
- Be welcomed into the piazza by Bernini’s stunning colonnades.
- Marvel at the ancient Egyptian obelisk featured at the center of the square.
- Pay a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, the most important church in Christendom.
What to see and do
St. Peter’s Square is one of the biggest and most beautiful ones in the world. Here’s everything you shouldn’t miss:
The Shape and the Paving
St Peter’s Square is quite unique because it consists of two different shaped parts: the main body of the piazza which is elliptical, and the trapezoidal section in front of the basilica.
Bernini designed the trapezoidal section out of necessity because he lacked space, but today it’s considered a “masterpiece of the Baroque theatre” because it creates a heightened perspective for visitors leaving the basilica.
The square which is paved out of cobblestones (like most of Rome) is also decorated with lines of white travertine in a geometric pattern, giving the piazza a harmonic look.
Years later, stones inscribed with the zodiac signs were added around the base of the obelisk, turning it into a sundial’s gnomon. At noon, the shadow marks the current zodiac sign.
The centerpiece of the square is an Ancient Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome in the year 37 CE by Emperor Caligula. Initially placed at the Center of the Circus of Nero, it was moved to its current location in 1586, by orders of Pope Sixtus V.
The obelisk was actually moved to the Vatican almost one hundred years before the current square was built. So, rather than the obelisk being placed on Bernini’s piazza, Bernini’s piazza was designed around the obelisk.
On either side of the obelisk sit two large fountains. The first also preceded the square and was built by architect Carlo Maderno. It has an octagonal base, a large basin, and a mushroom-like cap from which spouts the water. It was built on top of a restored aqueduct.
The other fountain, built by Bernini years later, was designed to resemble its companion in order to make the piazza look symmetrical, though it’s very different from Bernini’s usual elaborate style.
The colonnades are arguably the square’s most impressive feature. Built around the elliptical shape of the piazza, the colonnades are four rows deep and built on a massive scale. Bernini purposely chose to use the most simple style, the Doric order, so that the columns wouldn’t clash with the more elaborate ones on the facade of the basilica.
Topping the colonnades are 140 larger-than-life statues. They represent various Saints and Martyrs and took over ten years to complete.
The colonnades were designed to look welcoming. According to the architect who designed them, Bernini, they were meant to embrace visitors into the “maternal arms of the Church”.
St. Peter’s Basilica
No visit to St. Peter’s Square is complete without a visit to the basilica it was designed for. St. Peter’s Basilica is not only the largest church in the world, but it’s also the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
Although the building itself is an incredible work of art in it’s own right, the inside is also filled with artistic and architectural masterpieces by artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo.
If you’re at the piazza at Easter, Christmas, or occasionally on Wednesday mornings, you may even get to see the Pope waving from the balcony of the facade.
St. Peter’s Square is located in the Vatican City, to the North of Rome’s city center. It’s easily accessible by public transport.
Metro: Line A – Ottaviano-S. Pietro or Cipro
Bus: Lines 40, 46, 64, 23, 98, 280, 881, 916, and 982 all stop nearby.
Tram: 19 – Piazza del Risorgimento
Train: San Pietro
Did you know that: (5 Interesting Facts!)
- This gigantic square is 320m in length and 240m in width, and it can hold a whopping 300,000 people.
- The obelisk at the center of the square is the only obelisk in Rome that hasn’t been toppled over since ancient times.
- The 500-meter road known as Via della Conciliazione that connects St. Peter’s Square to Castel Sant’Angelo was commissioned by Fascist dictator Mussolini in the 1930s. It offers a spectacular and unblocked view of the church, though many historic buildings were torn down to create it.
- The Vatican City has its very own post office on the square where you can send a letter to a loved one using a unique Vatican stamp.
- The square has a total of 284 columns and 88 pilasters.
- During the 17th century, Pope Alexander VII commissioned the construction of a new piazza. It had to highlight the magnificence of the St. Peter’s Basilica, and be able to hold a great number of people.
- The square was built between 1656 and 1667 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, under the watchful eye of the pope.
- After Bernini completed the project his disciples continued to work on it, adding the statues of the saints in 1670.
- In 1675, Bernini returned to build the second fountain to match Carlo Maderno’s one from 1614. He died just five years later.
- Today, the square is visited by millions of pilgrims and tourists a year and it is also the site of Papal Audiences.
Address: Piazza San Pietro | Saint Peter's Square, Piazza San Pietro , 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City · view larger map