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Saint Peter's Square


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One of the most important squares in the world... you can't miss it!

Translated by Alison Isherwood — 13 days ago

Original text by Nuri Mercury

Some of the most visited destinations in Rome are the square and basilica of Saint Peter. Although I have already mentioned these places before, in this blog I will talk about them in more detail. And now I will tell you about my visit to Saint Peter’s Square.

A bit about its history…

Constructed by the architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Saint Peter’s Square (in Italian: Piazza di San Pietro) was inaugurated in 1667 and it is one of the most impressive squares in the world due to its great vastness. It measures 320 metres long and 240 metres wide. In the beginning, the square was rectangular, but Bernini made it so that it was oval.

Furthermore, the Saint Peter’s Square project arose with the objective of being able to receive vast numbers of faithful and pilgrims.

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(Photo credits: https://arteazucarera.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ktuxnu5bxo9zjgcxy5mmwv72.jpg?w=700 )

What is there to see in Saint Peter’s Square?

There are three elements that stand out here: the columns, crowned with more than one hundred statues of saints (one hundred and forty, to be precise), its fountains and its obelisk. The statues and fountains are from the 17th century. The obelisk, for its part, is imagined to be muuuch older and that it is not Italian, nor European for that matter.

The photo is from one of the two fountains in Saint Peter’s Square. I noticed that there were a lot of dragons in this area. You’ll notice a sculpture carved into the fountain and, when you walk along Via della Conciliazione (Street of Reconciliation), you’ll see two more fountains with dragons… I wondered what they represent, why these figures…

The latter was brought from Egypt and was brought to Rome in 37 A. D. . It would be fair to ask… what on earth is an Egyptian obelisk doing in the middle of an important Christian square?! Would it not make more sense to have a cross, an image of Christ, or another clear symbol of Catholicism?!

Well, although you may not believe it, this obelisk represents (to a degree) a homage to the martyr Saint Peter. And that, previously, this obelisk was in the location of Saint Peter’s assassination and crucifixion. In fact, they say that this obelisk is the ‘silent witness’ of the event. So, in homage to him, Pope Sixtus V ordered it to be placed in the middle of the square.

Finally, enough with the names, dates and facts! And on to my visit to this place, what I saw, what I liked, and what impressed me :)

My visit to Saint Peter’s Square…

We are here, having left the Vatican Museum and after having seen the very famous Sistine Chapel. I think that a visit to the Vatican is incomplete without going to Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica. The square is very close to the Vatican Museum, less than ten minutes by foot.

I heard it is said that the most spectacular way to get to the famous Saint Peter’s Square is through the Via della Conciliazione. The large street starts at Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II (Vittorio Emanuele II’s bridge) and takes you directly to the square. This way, getting closer to the square bit by bit, I bet is very impressive. However, my mum and I got there another way.

When my mum and I were still in the Vatican Museum, and they directed us to the exit (or, more correctly, when we were already there), I heard a girl saying to her mum that she was going to ask a guard how to get to Saint Peter’s Square… so I followed behind her to listen to the instructions from the police :p When I arrived, the policeman was already half-way through explaining, so I asked the girl as soon as she left (she must have thought: “Ah, another that came for the same thing” hahaha x) ).

In any case, I had already looked at a map and I had seen that it was not difficult to get there. So, less than ten minutes later, we came to an arch through which we could see some of the characteristic white columns of the square.

This is the arch that I am talking about. It looks to me as though it forms part of the fortification of the Vatican City. I remember feeling quite emotional when I saw the columns… I already knew that Saint Peter’s Square was only a few steps away from us! :)

By the way, on the walk there we came across a roasted chestnuts vendor. As we were already hungry again (We had eaten a slice of pizza at midday… and it was already four in the afternoon! ) we bought a small portion for five euros (at least I think this is what it cost). They were very tasty.

There was a souvenir stall by the arch, before reaching Saint Peter’s Square.

Anyway, the point is that we reached the arch that I mentioned earlier and we passed through it. I had seen photos of Saint Peter’s Square, and television transmissions of masses. I had in my mind the idea that it was a huuuuge oval square… but when we arrived, what a surprise we had! There were fences everywhere that meant you couldn’t freely circle the square :(. Furthermore, this gave the impression that the square wasn’t really that big (when, really, it is! ).

Oh well, apart from this ‘visual defect’, I couldn’t help but be amazed by this place that I had heard people talk about so many times… and I could not have imagined that I would visit it one day! And, even better, with my mum :)

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The famous fences that I mentioned before… it’s such a shame that they hadn’t tried to look for a nicer design, something more aesthetic!

In addition to the tall, white columns, the first thing we saw was a beautiful fountain. It called my attention to it because of the way the water fell, and the waves that formed. After taking photos, I stayed there for a good while just looking at it. I was hypnotised and, had it not been for my mum having already left to who knows where, I would have been able to stay for muuuuuuch longer :P It is so relaxing to listen to water falling and to watch its movements… in short, if you wanted to meditate for a while (and the background noise didn’t annoy you too much), Saint Peter’s Square could be a good option for doing so hahaha.

I remember that we were a bit perplexed because we saw various queues of tourists, as well as some kind of metal detector. For a moment, I thought that we had to pay to enter. Out of curiosity, we moved closer and joined one of the queues. We realised that you didn’t have to buy any kind of ticket. It was just security control.

After passing through the controls, we took the path that led us to Saint Peter’s Basilica. There I once again saw more queues waiting to enter. And again I wondered if we had to pay, although I told myself it would be terrible of the authorities of the place…

The entrance to Saint Peter’s Basilica… can you see the vast amount of people in the background? Well, thinking about it… it might be nothing in comparison to the wave of people that come in summer or for the important masses that attract thousands and thousands of faithful! :O

Fortunately, it was not so busy and, in fact we didn’t have to wait as long as I’d thought (and feared! ). We entered much more quickly that I’d hoped. I won’t tell you now what I saw in Saint Peter’s Basilica (as I will do so in another post; ) ), but we were there for nearly two hours inside. When we finally left, it was already dark! Although it was not so late, as it was winter, the sun set quite early.

Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica at night… I liked how these places looked even more at night! :)

This gave us the opportunity to see Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica in a different light. I think their nocturnal illuminations increased the beauty of this space. Especially the basilica. I really liked how this great temple looked with the black background of the night. I also really liked how the fountains looked when we saw them at night time. And, just as before, I spent a long while just watching the movements of the water.

By the way, I forgot to mention that, as it was Christmas, there was a huge nativity scene in Saint Peter’s Square, just in front of the obelisk. I believe it to be the largest nativity scene that I have seen in all my life! :O

Interesting facts…

  • As I’ve said before, the idea of Saint Peter’s Square was conceived for receiving a great number of parishioners. For this reason, it is used to give masses which have so many attendees that they cannot all fit in Saint Peter’s Basilica (and that is great! ). In this way, Saint Peter’s Square has received up to more than two hundred and fifty thousand people!
  • Can you imagine what might be the link between Saint Peter’s Square and the Place de la Concorde in France? Well, the famous French square is a copy of Saint Peter’s Square! It has the same design: a central obelisk and two lateral fountains. (Although, I sincerely prefer the fountains at the Place de la Concorde: grenn, with gold detailing and statues of tritons, sirens and other marine elementos. Dearest Vaticans… sorry! :p )
  • Originally, the obelisk in Saint Peter’s Square was located in another part in the city of Rome. There was a legend that said that when the Pope ordered that it changed location to the great square, he also ordered that everybody be silent… otherwise the person that spoke would be excommunicated. However, there was a man that disobeyed this order to warn that one of the ropes supporting the obelisk… was about to snap! As his disobedience meant that the obelisk did not fall and break into a thousand pieces, the Pope pardoned the man.

How much does it cost?

Well, to look you don’t have to pay, so you could go to see Saint Peter’s Square without having to pay a single euro. It is one of the most beautiful destinations in Rome, and one which you can enjoy completely free of charge; ). The only thing is that you will have to pass through the metal detectors, queue and all that.

We went at 4 pm and we didn’t have to wait long to enter. So, I would consider this a good time to go to this place (at least in the time period that we went, at the start of January… I don’t know what it’s like in the summertime). Furthermore, if you enter Saint Peter’s Basilica and spend long enough there that it’s already dark by the time you leave, you will see the nocturnal illumination of the two monuments. In any case, I think that you should visit this space both in the day time and in the night time, because both perspectives are worth it.

Where can you eat?

As expected, being such a busy area, there are various restaurants and cafeterias in the surrounding area. I saw four or five in the Via della Conciliazioni. But none of them convinced or persuaded me to enter. Furthermore, they have elevated prices. For example, there was a souvenir shop that sold bracelets ‘Made in China’… for five or six euros! Knowing this, I believe you’ll have an idea of the prices in that area.

For this reason, I would advise you to look up on the internet a restaurant in the outskirts before. You can look on the page TripAdvisor, there are various establishments and, best of all, reviews and opinions from people who have been to these places. These reviews are often very accurate and give a better idea of the place (food, prices, quality, service, location) to know if it is worth going there or not; ) In fact, this is how I discovered a few interesting restaurants.

The other fountain at Saint Peter’s Square… I do believe that if I lived in Rome, I would come to this place very often. Not necessarily to pray, but to observe its beautiful fountains. I think it was what I liked most about Saint Peter’s Square.

How do you get there?

This zone is quite well connected: there are various bus lines that pass through here and, above all, the metro will take you there. You would only need to take the red line and exit at the station Ottaviano – San Pietro. From there, once leaving the metro, you have to walk through Via Ottaviano (it’s a large avenue), pass the Piazza del Risorgimento. Continue through the Via di Porta Angelica. Once here, you’ll see a brown bow and also part of the white columns of Saint Peter’s Square.

Another option is to take one of the buses that will take you there: the 34, the 45, the 64, the 98, the 881, the 982 or the 62.

On the other hand, if before going here you visited the Vatican Museum, you could go very easily to Saint Peter’s Square by foot. It will take you less than ten minutes :)

Finally, if you prefer walking a bit farther and you want to take in the beautiful streets of Rome, you can easily reach Saint Peter’s Square from the historic centre of the city. You’d only need to follow the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and cross the bridge with the same name. From there, go towards the Via della Conciliazione and walk straight on through this avenue. At the end of this street, you will see the obelisk and the fountains of Saint Peter’s Square, as well at its Basilica.

These are some of the guards at the Vatican. Maybe it wasn’t too polite to take photos, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. Also, one of them was very cute :P

To continue the visit…

Well, a visit to here could not end just like that. Because of that, I would recommend that you go for a walk in the outskirts of the city. I remember when we were going towards the Via della Reconciliazione, I saw on the right a street that went up a hill, at the end of which there was a pretty fountain. If it had not been for the fact that it was already night time (and because I wanted my ice-cream :D ), we could have gotten closer to see it. So, if you have time, do it. I think it was around the Via Michele e Magno.

Furthermore, if you continue on through Via della Conciliazione, you will arrive at the Vittorio Emanuele II Bridge. Once here, you have two options. The first is to cross the bridge and walk through the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and go toward the centre of Rome.

The second (the option we went for) is to turn left at the Lungotevere Vaticano. On the edge of this, you will see the great Castel Sant’Angelo and, in front of this, you will see a bridge with the same name. Once more, you have the option to continue over the bridge or to continue walking on the Lungotevere. If you choose the latter, you will arrive at a building called the Palace of Justice. In front of this, you will find Piazza dei Tribunali. (I would advise you to go and see this building during the day because, regrettably, it is not well illuminated and you can’t one hundred percent appreciate its beauty).

Close to the Palace of Justice, crossing the Ponte Umberto I, is the Piazza Navona. It was a very nice square that my mum and I discovered by accident. If you have already read my previous article about our trip to Rome, you will know that directly after having visited Saint Peter’s Square, we took a short (or maybe not so short :p ) walk and arrived at this other square :)

Anyway, I give you these suggestions so that you can have an idea of aaaallll you can do after having visited one of the most important squares on the planet.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the visit to Saint Peter’s Square was a very beautiful experience. Maybe not so much for the religious aspect (although I am sure that for those who are ardent believers, it must be an immensely special visit, and it’s totally respectable), but for all of the details that you can observe. As well as for everything I learned about it.

In addition, I consider it to have been more of a dream than reality because, just like the Eiffel Tower, the Arch of Triumph, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and all of the other popular monuments, I had already seen this place on the television and in reports or features… but I hadn’t imagined I would visit it, that I would be here :) Definitely, the visit to Saint Peter’s Square is something you have to experience if you go to Rome.

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