This article first appeared in 2013 on my previous blog which no longer exists, it has been updated on 14th March 2020.
On the second day of our stay in Rome, we decided to focus on St Peter’s Basilica. We passed by on our first walk around Rome as it was close to where we stayed and it is one of the most important places in Rome so we thought that we should devote it almost a whole day. I recommend you take at least a half-day or more to visit St Peter’s Basilica, it is worth it!
St Peter’s Square
To get to St Peter’s Square – unless you get there from Castel Sant’Angelo – you’ll have to cross the lateral colonnade. The columns not only offer some good photographic angles but also show the genius of artist Bernini, who created a piazza in two sections, a trapezoid part closer to the facade of the church and an elliptical circus with the obelisk at its centre. Bernini’s idea was that, from the second part of the square, one would have the impression to be closer to the church than what he was.
St Peter’s Basilica
The entrance to the Basilica is subject to some queuing time and a security and dressing code check. A metal detector will look out for sharp and dangerous objects while some security guards check if you’re properly dressed (no sleeveless tops, no mini-skirts or shorts above the knees) to enter a church. Fair enough. I was wearing my beloved jeans and t-shirt so I passed the check straight away. Few steps away there it was. The yearned entrance.
Once inside we turned right and we saw something that I had wanted to see since high school: La Pietà by Michelangelo. This statue represents the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus but the lines and shapes used by Michelangelo are simply unique.
Continuing on the right side of the nave, we admired all the sculptures and paintings, the decorations and inlays. It would be impossible for me to describe all those treasures, all that art. St Peter’s Basilica is certainly a place of religious worship but is, even more, a temple where the best and the greatest of Italian art & culture are exhibited. In there, I felt proud of being Italian. I felt proud of being – somehow – a descendant of Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante.
We spent hours inside the church, my mum even attended mass while I was looking around. Am not that religious after all. After the mass was over, we went down to the Vatican grotto, where about 100 tombs of Popes are hosted. I didn’t really like that part, I never found seeing tombs that interesting.
St Peter’s Dome
Once outside, the huge dome was imposing its presence upon us. We looked up and decided to climb it. When you decide to climb up to the very top of the dome you are given two choices, you can either climb 551 steps or go to the intermediate level with a lift and then climb only 320 steps. We took the second option thinking that 320 steps were more than enough to deserve the view from the top. Let me tell you something if you suffer from claustrophobia, heart problems, muscular problems or anything that has to do with fatigue and too much effort, don’t do it! I thought I would faint in there. The steps are so steep and narrow that you feel helpless, and once you are canalized, there is no way out. I didn’t like the experience, at all. However, it was worth it.
Once on top my mum and I took a deep breath, relaxed for a few minutes and then took in the view: Rome, the Eternal City, the city of the great Roman Empire, the city with so much history and art, the city where Italy in the modern sense started, was at our feet! If you’re thinking it was overwhelming, I can confirm that it was. What a beauty, what a powerful image. Something I will never forget.
After spending quite a while trying to recognize monuments and landmarks we started the descent. Well, it was even worse than the climb. I felt like I was going to throw up at any time. My mum was telling me to think of an open space like a beach or a park and that helped. Once we got back to the intermediate level, my knees and legs were shaking badly, but after an espresso and some sugar, I was ok and ready to continue our explorations. It was my fault, of course, take some power bars with you if you haven’t had a proper breakfast. By the way, I loved the intermediate level!
At 4 pm we hadn’t eaten yet, but we soon made up for it with a huge sandwich and a DIY ice cream!
Visiting St Peter’s Basilica and Dome – useful information
The entrance to the Basilica is free of charge. It is open every day from 7.30 am to 6.30 pm from the 1st October to the 31st March and from 7.30 am to 7 pm from the 1st April to the 30th September. As I mentioned before you need to be properly dressed to be allowed inside the Basilica.
The Dome has different opening times – because of the time needed to go up and down. It opens at 7.30 am however it closes at 5 pm in winter and 6 pm in summer. The ticket costs 10,00 Euro if you decide to go up with the lift for the first part and then climb the 320 stairs. If you decide to climb the whole of the 551 stairs, the ticket only costs 8,00 Euro.
On the Vatican official website you can find all updates.
After the big climb, we didn’t feel like doing much so we just walked around for a while people-watching and visiting the Tiber Island, a small island inside the river Tiber, which hosted a temple then become a place of healing and medicine.
From there we walked back to the Altare della Patria passing through some other Roman ruins and the Bocca della Verità, which unfortunately was closed – but that didn’t stop me to take some pictures.