The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, or simply St. Peter's Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.
Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines.
Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Jesus's Apostles and also the first Pope. Saint Peter's tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period, and there has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, which would replace Old St. Peter's Basilica from the 4th century CE, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.
We went up in the dome: first we took a lift to the roof-level, saving 320 steps, but then walked another 221 steps to the very top.
Beneath the basilica are over 100 tombs, with 91 popes. The most recent interment was Pope John Paul II, on 8 April 2005.
To the east of the basilica is the Piazza di San Pietro, (St. Peter's Square). The present arrangement, constructed between 1656 and 1667, is the Baroque inspiration of Bernini who inherited a location already occupied by an Egyptian obelisk which was centrally placed, (with some contrivance) to Maderno's facade. The obelisk, known as "The Witness", at 25.5 metres (84 ft) and a total height, including base and the cross on top, of 40 metres (130 ft), is the second largest standing obelisk, and the only one to remain standing since its removal from Egypt and re-erection at the Circus of Nero in 37 AD, where it is thought to have stood witness to the crucifixion of Saint Peter.
Read more about St. Peter's Basilica (link opens in a new window).