"Piazza San Pietro, Saint Peter's Square, Rome & Vatican City" submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Tuesday 10th January 2012
St Peter's square was realized by G.L.Bernini in 1656-67. It is one of the superb examples of civic architecture and was designed to create an adequate entrance to the heart of Catholic religion and, from the functional side, cover the visible disproportion of St Peter'.
It has the form of an ellipse 240m large and 340m long (from the stairs leading to the entrances of St Peter's till the line of Vatican-Italian border).
Two colonnades forming the square have 4 rows of columns each, that are 16m high and have a diameter of 142cm. The are in all 284 columns and 88 pilasters and over them 140 statues of saints and big coat-of-arms of Alexander VII.
On the Piazza there are 2 places marked with a round marble disks and inscription "Centro del colonnato" (Center of the colonnade). If to step on the disk and look at the colonnade, you will see only one row of columns, because the other three will be exactly behind the first one, so will not be visible. (See on the picture below).
In the middle of the piazza is an Obelisk 25.5m high, but with the basement and the cross it reaches 40m. It was brought from Egypt by emperor Caligula in AD 37, and was erected in his Circus, later called the Circus of Nero (on the place where now Sagrestia is located, i.e. on the left from St Peter's). Because this obelisk was an imitation of original Egypt obelisks, it doesn't have hieroglyphs. It was the only obelisk in Rome that didn't fall down from its pedestal. Idea to move it in front of the entrance to the basilica was born in the middle of 15th century.
In 1586 Sixtus V en-charged D.Fontana to bring Obelisk to Piazza San Pietro. It's placement was a historical event. The operation started on 30 April, 1586 and involved 800 men, 140 horses and 40 cranes. The special edict issued by the Pope prohibited to speak and make any noise (except the building one) under pain of death while the work was carried out . A legend says that one of the operators, who was a sailor, seeing that the ropes holding the obelisk were ready to give way under the strain, which meant that it could collapse, shouted "Acqua alle funi !" (wet the ropes!). Pope didn't punish this man. On the top of the obelisk the relics of Santa Croce (Saint Cross) are conserved. Before the actual cross on the top, there was a big bronze globe, which contained according to the tradition the ashes of Jiulius Cesar: Sixtus V gave it to Rome and now this globe is in the museum of Palazzo dei Conservatori. Round the foot of the obelisk is a plan of the mariner's compass, giving the names of the winds.
Two twin-fountains posted in one line with the obelisk belong to the work of C.Fontana (pictured the above one) 1670 and C.Maderno (pictured the below one) 1613. Paul V ordered to Maderno creation of the fountain that would bring on the square the water from the lake Bracciano (to the nord- west from Rome), the project was conducted by Paul V himself (thus, this water was called "acqua Paola", i.e. Paul's water).
In the time of Christmas the scene performing the birth of Christ is placed on Piazza San Pietro.
Between Piazza San Pietro and Via della Conciliazione there is Piazza Pio XII (Square of Pius XII). It was created because of new systematization of this part after Piazza San Pietro and Via della Conciliazione were built. Before, here was another square : Piazza Rusticucci.
Piazza Pio XII is named after the pope (pictured below), who defended the Vatican City between Settember 1943 and June 1944. On the memorial tablet placed on the wall of the right palace of the square he is called "defensor civitatis".
In Piazza San Pietro on 13 May 1981 a Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca, made an attempt on the life of John Paul II. Ali Agca is still in Italian prison and in the beginning of 1999 determined his action as an act of sheer folly and asked to revise his case and the terms of punishment in particular.