World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article
 

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City

St. Peter's Square (Borgo.

At the centre of the square is an Egyptian obelisk, erected at the current site in 1586. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the square almost 100 years later, including the massive Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep, which embrace visitors in "the maternal arms of Mother Church." A granite fountain constructed by Bernini in 1675 matches another fountain designed by Carlo Maderno in 1613.

St. Peter's Square is located in Vatican City
St. Peter's Square within Vatican City

Contents

  • History 1
    • Colonnades 1.1
    • Obelisk 1.2
    • Paving 1.3
    • Spina 1.4
  • Gallery 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

History

The open space which lies before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt, designed "so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the façade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace" (Norwich 1975 p 175). Bernini had been working on the interior of St. Peter's for decades; now he gave order to the space with his renowned colonnades, using the Tuscan form of Doric, the simplest order in the classical vocabulary, not to compete with the palace-like façade by Carlo Maderno, but he employed it on an unprecedented colossal scale to suit the space and evoke a sense of awe.

There were many constraints from existing structures (illustration, right). The massed accretions of the Vatican Palace crowded the space to the right of the basilica's façade; the structures needed to be masked without obscuring the papal apartments. The obelisk marked a centre, and a granite fountain by Maderno[1] stood to one side: Bernini made the fountain appear to be one of the foci of the ovato tondo[2] embraced by his colonnades and eventually matched it on the other side, in 1675, just five years before his death. The trapezoidal shape of the piazza, which creates a heightened perspective for a visitor leaving the basilica and has been praised as a masterstroke of Baroque theater (illustration, below right), is largely a product of site constraints.

St. Peter's Square and Basilica, 1909
St. Peter's Square and Basilica, 1909

Colonnades

St. Peter's Square colonnades

The colossal Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep,[3] frame the trapezoidal entrance to the basilica and the massive elliptical area[4] which precedes it. The ovato tondo's long axis, parallel to the basilica's façade, creates a pause in the sequence of forward movements that is characteristic of a Baroque monumental approach. The colonnades define the piazza. The elliptical centre of the piazza, which contrasts with the trapezoidal entrance, encloses the visitor with "the maternal arms of Mother Church" in Bernini's expression. On the south side, the colonnades define and formalize the space, with the Barberini Gardens still rising to a skyline of umbrella pines. On the north side, the colonnade masks an assortment of Vatican structures; the upper stories of the Vatican Palace rise above.

Obelisk

At the center of the ovato tondo stands an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 25.5 metres tall, supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms in bronze, in all 41 metres to the cross on its top. The obelisk was originally erected at Heliopolis, Egypt, by an unknown pharaoh.

St. Peter's Square obelisk

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 on the spina which ran along the centre 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. During the Middle Ages, the gilt ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar.[5] Fontana later removed the ancient metal ball, now in a Rome museum, that stood atop the obelisk and found only dust. Christopher Hibbert (page 178) writes that the ball was found to be solid. Though Bernini had no influence in the erection of the obelisk, he did use it as the centerpiece of his magnificent piazza, and added the Chigi arms to the top in honor of his patron, Alexander VII.

Paving

The paving is varied by radiating lines in travertine, to relieve what might otherwise be a sea of cobblestones. In 1817 circular stones were set to mark the tip of the obelisk's shadow at noon as the sun entered each of the signs of the zodiac, making the obelisk a gigantic sundial's gnomon. Below is a view of St. Peter's Square from the cupola (the top of the dome) which was taken in June, 2007.

View of Rome from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica, June 2007
View of Rome from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica, June 2007

Spina

St. Peter's Square today can be reached from the Great Jubilee of 1950.

St. Peter's Square (facing St. Peter's Basilica), and the obelisk from the Circus of Nero
St. Peter's Square (facing St. Peter's Basilica), and the obelisk from the Circus of Nero

Gallery

See also

References

  1. ^ It was set up in 1613 by order of Paul V
  2. ^ The actual foci are marked in the paving by roundels of stone six or seven metres beyond the outer ring of the compass rose centered on the obelisk, on either side. When the visitor stands on one, the ranks of columns line up perfectly behind one another. (Touring Club Italiano, Roma e Dintorni).
  3. ^ There are 248 columns and 88 pilasters; 140 over lifesize saints crown the cornice; the coats of arms are of Alexander VII.
  4. ^ The ovato tondo is 240 metres across.
  5. ^ Touring Club Italiano, Roma e Dintorni, which furnishes the statistics in these notes.

Further reading

  • Hibbert, Christopher, 1985, Rome: The biography of a city, London, Penguin.
  • Norwich, John Julius, ed. 1975 Great Architecture of the World ISBN 0-394-49887-9
  • Touring Club Italiano, Roma e Dintorni

External links

External video
Bernini's St. Peter's Square, Smarthistory
  • stpetersbasilica.info Pages for all 140 Colonnade Saints
  • Great Buildings On-line: Piazza of St. Peter's
  • Video of St. Peter's Square
  • Roberto Piperno, "Piazza di S. Pietro": engravings by Vasi
  • Mary Ann Sullivan, "St Peter's Piazza, Vatican City"
  • St. Peter's Square 360° Panorama
  • Vatican City, Piazza San Pietro VR panorama (Java) with map and compass effect by Tolomeus
  • Vatican City, Piazza San Pietro QTVR fullscreen panorama hi-res (11 Mb) by Tolomeus
  • Obeliscus Vaticanus LacusCurtius.com, The Vatican Obelisk, retrieved September 4, 2006
  • The legend of the cry of Bresca Legendary Rome
  • Rome, Nova Online, Mysteries of the Nile, A World of Obelisks: Rome pbs.org, retrieved September 4, 2006
  • St. Peter's Square 3D via Microsoft Photosynth, retrieved June 12, 2007 (dead link)
  • St. Peter's Square, Bernini's Fountain

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 


Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.