About St Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is one of the most important Christian sites in the world and is a church (rather than a cathedral) with a long and illustrious history.
Also known as the ‘Papal Basilica of Saint Peter’ and in Italian as ‘Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano’, St Peter’s Basilica sits over the site of the tomb of its namesake.
St Peter was one of the twelve apostles in Christianity and is believed to have been crucified at the Circus of Nero, on which St Peter’s Basilica was constructed. At that time, the Circus of Nero also had a cemetery.
The first basilica to be built over the Circus of Nero was constructed in 324 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Visitors to St Peter’s Basilica can still see the shrine in his honour. The saint himself is thought to be buried under the Papal altar.
The current form of St Peter’s Basilica began to form in the fifteenth century and was expanded and added to by various popes and architects over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Whilst much of the building was designed by Bernini, the most celebrated architectural aspect of St Peter’s Basilica is probably its vast dome. Designed by Michelangelo in the mid-sixteenth century, but not finished until after his demise, the dome of St Peter’s rises a magnificent 448 feet in height.
Inside St Peter’s Basilica, visitors can view a wealth of historical art, mostly Renaissance, and the tombs of popes such as Pope Pius XI (d.1939), Pope John XXIII (d. 1963) and Pope John Paul II (d. 2005). Many of their tombs are located in the basilica’s Grottoes.
Some of the highlights in respect of the artistic masterpieces at St Peter’s Basilica include Michelangelo’s statue Pieta, Arnolfo di Cambio’s Statue of St. Peter Enthroned, the foot of which pilgrims traditionally touch and Bernini’s golden Monument to Pope Alexander VII.
St Peter’s Basilica is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Historic Centre of Rome. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.