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St. Peter's Basilica in Rome - inside, architecture & history of Basilica di san Pietro

Picture of Sebastian Erkens
Sebastian Erkens

St. Peter’s Basilica is in the smallest universally recognized state on earth – the Vatican City State. Since 1929, the Vatican, which even has its very own guard service in the form of the Swiss Guard, has been considered the center of the Catholic Church and, at the same time, the official residence of the Pope.

Every day, the Basilica di San Pietro attracts more than 20,000 visitors. St. Peter’s Basilica, actually called St. Peter’s in the Vatican, is thus one of the absolute best Rome attractions.

Whether Catholic or not – the enormous interior, the breathtaking dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and the countless art treasures of contemporary history leave almost every tourist speechless.

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St. Peter's Basilica Rome

Visitor Information:

Address:
Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Vatican City

Transportation:
Metro station: Ottaviano, Line A (red)

Ticket information:
Admission to St. Peter’s Basilica is free. Waiting times vary depending on the season. 2-3 hours are not uncommon during high season.

Most St. Peter’s Basilica tours offer the advantage of skipping the queues!

Opening hours:

St. Peter’s Basilica
April 01 – September 30: 7 am – 7 pm
October 01 – March 31: 7 am – 6:30 pm 
Closed on Jan 1 | Jan 6 | Easter

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
April 01 – September 30: 8 am – 6 pm 
October 01 – March 31: 8 am – 6 pm

Crypta
April 01 – September 30: 8 am – 6 pm
October 01 – March 31: 8 am – 5:30 pm
Closed on Sundays & bank holidays

How long to visit:
approx. 1 hour (+ possible long admission time)

Dress code: cover shoulders & knees

Nearby:
St. Peter’s Basilica Dome (0,0 km)
Vatican Museums (0,5 km)
Castel Sant Angelo (0,7 km)

Guided Tour: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel

Take a guided tour of the Vatican and gain access without waiting in line. Discover the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica:

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St. Peter’s Dome Climb Tickets:

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View from St Peters Dome in Vatican

120 years of construction history - St. Peter's Basilica

The construction of St. Peter’s Basilica was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1506. His choice fell on the Italian architect and painter Donato Bramante, who was to mastermind the superlative project.

Bramante’s task was to build St. Peter’s Basilica in place of an ancient basilica from the era of Emperor Constantine the Great (324), which had been made over the tomb of Peter (said to have been crucified upside down by the Romans during the reign of Emperor Nero).

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St. Peter's Basilica Architects

During the 120-year building history, 1506 – 1626, the best Italian builders and artists were engaged. In addition to Donato Bramante, there were Raphael Santi, Giovanni Giocondo, Giuliano da Sangallo, Antonio da Sangallo, Baldassare Peruzzi, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose works you can see in the Galleria Borghese. His tomb can be found in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

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These highlights await you inside the church:

With its total of 800 columns made of bronze, marble, and stucco and its 44 altars, as well as numerous art objects and a more than impressive treasury, St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the world’s largest and most influential churches.

But it is not only its inventory that inspires amazement. The basilica is 136 meters high and 186 x 123 meters wide. At the same time, the area of the cathedral is a whole 20,139 m², making St. Peter’s the most significant built-over interior in the world. This area covers two and a half times the size of Cologne Cathedral. A whole 20,000 people fit in here!

St Peter's Basilica inside photo
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Inside St. Peter's Basilica, other highlights await you:

  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterpiece, the bronze canopy, which was inaugurated in June 1633. It is said that the bronze alloy from the roof of the Pantheon was used.
  • Michelangelo’s Pietà, a marble statue dating from 1499, is one of the most important works of Western sculpture. You can find it on the first side of the chapel, on the right.
  • The bronze statue of St. Peter was created around the year 1300. This work of art is one of the most famous works in St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • The monument to Alexander VII, Pope of the Catholic Church from 1655 – 1667. This work of art is by the world-famous sculptor Bernini and is located in the left aisle at the passage between Cappella della Colonna and the south arm.
  • Another work of art by Bernini is the ‘Cathedra Petri.’ According to the delivery once Peter sat, this pompous throne reliquary from the year 1655 consists of wood and a bronze sheathing. However, it is more likely that the throne was made in the 9th century for the coronation of Charles the Bald.
  • Another stop worth seeing is the crypt below the cathedral, consisting of several large rooms. Here are buried a total of 23 popes and 2 queens.

From the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, you have a magnificent view of Rome

You should not miss the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica if you have enough energy reserves despite the enormous crowds of tourists. Once at the top, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Rome, including the Vatican.

You have two ways to reach the dome:

  • You walk all 551 steps and pay 8 euros entrance fee.
  • You walk 320 steps, shorten the rest by elevator, and pay a 10 euro entrance fee.
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View-on-Rome-dome-St-Peters

Our tip: You can buy St. Peter’s Basilica Dome tickets online in advance and save a lot of time. Because even the ticket office to the dome is abundantly crowded. By the way, the view is worthwhile in good weather as well as in bad weather!

The Vatican Necropolis

Excavations of the Vatican Necropolis below the Vatican Grottoes only began in the 1940s, after Pope Pius XII commissioned them. Where the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle is thought to have been, several burial sites attributed to the Romans were also found.

However, those who want to embark on the mysterious journey under St. Peter’s Basilica must be quick. To avoid damage as much as possible, only 200 visitors are allowed here daily. The necropolis is open Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 18:00 and Saturdays from 09:00 to 17:00. Tickets and further information can be obtained here.

St. Peter's Square

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St. Peter’s Square is located at the foot of St. Peter’s Basilica and holds a staggering 60,000 people. In the square, designed by Bernini, believers from all over the world regularly receive the Urbi et orbi, the Pope’s apostolic blessing.

Thus, a general audience is held here almost every Wednesday (usually in the morning at 9:30). In bad weather and winter months, the audience of the cardinals and the Pope is moved to the Vatican Audience Hall.

You can find the current dates on this page if you want to book a papal audience. Incidentally, the client of the approx. 35,300 m² square was Pope Alexander VII in the 17th century.

Other highlights of the Vatican

Besides the sights mentioned, you should not miss the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. The 23-hectare green area of the Vatican Gardens is another highlight among many.

This is where St. Peter's Basilica is located:

Editor: Sebastian Erkens
Hey and welcome to Rome-Tourist! My name is Sebastian and I travel regularly to Rome, Italy.
On our Rome blog you will get valuable travel tips. If you have any questions about specific tours or sights, feel free to leave us a comment.

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