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St. Peter's Basilica

The most important church in the Catholic world, and without doubt the most impressive.

TravelCurious Tip

Make sure to cover your shoulders before you enter the basilica, or you may not be allowed in - or you may be handed a poncho.

An ornament of the earth

The stunning St. Peter’s Basilica is the centrepiece of Vatican City, and its huge dome can be seen on the Roman skyline from most points in the city. Although not the mother church of the Catholic Church, it is its largest and holiest shrine, and an important place of pilgrimage.

St. Peter, a humble fisherman from Galilee, was the first of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. He is also considered to have been the first ever Pope, ordained by Christ Himself. According to tradition the tomb of St. Peter lies directly beneath the main altar in the Basilica. In 64 AD Nero had Peter crucified, head downwards, in the Circus of Nero, which was close to where St. Peter’s is today; Nero didn’t much like the Christians - and they considered him the Antichrist.

The Basilica was first built and dedicated to Peter in 315 AD on the command of the Emperor Constantine, who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. The magnificent building we see today is, however, a Renaissance creation which replaced the church built by Constantine. The original was a smaller and more modest building. Since its inception the Basilica has been considered one of the holiest places on earth, and it is still visited by hundreds of tourists and pilgrims on a daily basis.

Many masters

The erection of a new, grander Basilica was begun under Pope Julius II della Rovere in 1506 and was not finished until around 1626 under Pope Urban VII Barberini. There had been 22 Popes between the beginning and end of its construction. During this long period the design of the Basilica’s design benefited from the expertise of ten of the world’s greatest artists, including Bramante, Maderno, Bernini and Michelangelo, who can be regarded as principal designer of the building as we see it today. By then in his seventies, Michelangelo was forced to do the work by Pope John Paul III and undertook it grudgingly ‘only for the love of God and in honour of the Apostle.’

You approach the majestic building through the elegant St. Peter’s Square and enter through a huge Greek style portico, both of which are the creation of Bernini. The cruciform interior of the Basilica bears witness to a variety of architectural styles, and is resplendently adorned throughout with gold, marble, huge statues and frescoes. It is hard to overstate the magnificence of its decoration.

A majestic altar, which may only be used by the Pope, sits in front of the throne of St. Peter; Bernini’s baldacchino, a 30 metre marble canopy over the altar (which is rumoured to employ bronze pilfered from the Pantheon) is just as impressive. Members of the faith line up to kiss or touch the feet of the 13th century bronze figure of St. Peter. Another significant statue is Michelangelo’s beautiful marble Pietà, completed in 1500 when Michelangelo was only 25 years old. It is the only artwork that Michelangelo ever signed, and is held behind a glass wall to prevent damage; it suffered an attack in 1972 by a mentally disturbed geologist.

The Basilica’s architectural genius and breathtaking ornamentation make it a truly awe-inspiring destination, only heightened by its importance as a centre of liturgical and papal ceremony. A trip to Rome is incomplete without visiting St. Peter’s: as Henry James wrote, ‘if it were not the most beautiful place in the world, it would be the most entertaining.’

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Rome
Vatican Museums
A jaw-dropping Papal collection of art and artefacts.
Sistine Chapel
The jewel in the Vatican's crown, adorned with a stunning fresco by Michelangelo.
St. Peter's Square
Designed by Bernini, St Peter's Square is a stunning colonnaded piazza leading up to St. Peter's Basilica.
St. Peter's Dome
The greatest dome in Christendom (and the largest in the world).
Cortile del Belvedere
Enjoy a tranquil stroll through the impressive Belvedere Courtyard.
Gallery of Tapestries
Take time to explore the Gallery of the Tapestries.

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  • Explore the Vatican Museums - home to some of the most renowned classical sculptures and masterpieces from the Renaissance. 
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  • Learn the history behind the impressive collection of sculptures, carvings, frescoes and paintings.
  • Skip-the-line and be mesmerized by Michelangelo’s two great frescoes at the Sistine Chapel – The Creation and the Last Judgement.
  • Immerse yourself in the hidden gems of the museums, exploring rooms which are closed to the public at all times. This includes the Room of the AnimalsGallery of Statues, and the Cabinet of Masks.
  • Step foot in the largest and most important Catholic Church in the world – St. Peter’s Basilica.
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Your comprehensive tour of Vatican Museums will whisk you through the entire complex. Begin with a stroll through the impressive Belvedere Courtyard, before exploring the many rooms and galleries of the museums. Explore the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps, and be mesmerised by Michelangelo’s great frescoes inside the Sistine Chapel. This VIP-style tour will also give travellers access to the hidden gems and secret rooms of the museum, which aren't typically open for public viewing. You will have exclusive access to the Room of the Animals, Gallery of Statues, and the Cabinet of the Masks. 
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  • Explore the Vatican Museums - home to some of the most renowned classical sculptures and masterpieces from the Renaissance. 
  • Enjoy a stroll through the impressive Belvedere Courtyard.
  • Marvel at some of the finest pieces of artwork at the Gallery of Tapestries and the Gallery of Maps.
  • Learn the history behind the impressive collection of sculptures, carvings, frescoes and paintings.
  • Skip-the-line and be mesmerized by Michelangelo’s two great frescoes at the Sistine Chapel – The Creation and the Last Judgement.
  • Immerse yourself in the hidden gems of the museums, exploring rooms which are closed to the public at all times. This includes the Room of the AnimalsGallery of Statues, and the Cabinet of Masks.
  • Step foot in the largest and most important Catholic Church in the world – St. Peter’s Basilica.
Vatican City is considered the centre of the Roman Catholic Church and is undoubtedly one of the most historically and culturally-rich cities in the world. As the world’s smallest independent state, situated in the centre of Rome, Vatican City is home to the Swiss Guards – tasked with protecting the Pope; St. Peter’s Basilica – the centre of the Catholic world; St. Peter’s Square – a large plaza situated in front of St. Peter’s Basilica; Sistine Chapel – the official residence of the Pope; and Vatican Museums – home to paintings and sculptures collected by the Popes for hundreds of years. 

Your comprehensive tour of Vatican Museums will whisk you through the entire complex. Begin with a stroll through the impressive Belvedere Courtyard, before exploring the many rooms and galleries of the museums. Explore the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps, and be mesmerised by Michelangelo’s great frescoes inside the Sistine Chapel. This VIP-style tour will also give travellers access to the hidden gems and secret rooms of the museum, which aren't typically open for public viewing. You will have exclusive access to the Room of the Animals, Gallery of Statues, and the Cabinet of the Masks. 
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