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___ Satellite View of Basilica of Saint Peter, Vatican City (Holy See)

St. Peter's Basilica seen from Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome
St. Peter's Basilica in 2015, seen from Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome.
Image: Dguendel

About the Basilica of Saint Peter

Vatican City Coat of Arms This page is about the Saint Peter, a 500 year old Basilica, the largest religious building in the world and the Center of Christianity since the foundation of the first monumental cathedral of Saint Peter by Constantine in the 4th century.
The Basilica of Saint Peter (Latin: Basilica Sancti Petri, Italian: Basilica di San Pietro) is the most prominent building inside Vatican City, a main pilgrimage center and the most visited basilica in the World.

The Basilica of Saint Peter, is in Catholic tradition the burial site of Saint Peter (Latin: Simon Petrus, English: Simon Peter), first among the twelve apostles, ordained by Jesus in the "Rock of My Church" dialogue. Simon Petrus was, in Catholics believe, the first Bishop of Rome. Apostle Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar. Also according to beliefs Saint Peter's tomb is below the altar of the basilica.

Constantine's Basilica of Saint Peter

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Drawing and graphic reconstruction of the Constantine basilica in the mid 15th century.
In the early 4th century, Emperor Constantine I, the first Roman emperor who ceased the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, decided to honour Peter with a large basilica (the Roman version of a city hall).

Because the precise location of Peter's burial was so firmly fixed in the belief of the Christians of Rome, the church to house the basilica had to be erected on exactly that spot, near the historical site of the Circus of Nero. To achieve this, the slope of the Vatican Hill had to be excavated, even though the church could much more easily have been built on level ground slightly to the south. It took about 30 years to complete the first St. Peter's Basilica (now known as the Old St. Peter's Basilica). Over the next twelve centuries, the church gradually became the focal point of Christian belief and the center of political power of the Pope. Papal coronations were held at the basilica, Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was crowned there emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III in 800. By the 15th century the church was falling into ruin.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Rays of sunlight within Saint Peter's Basilica, the rays apparent convergence is a perspective effect.
Image: Jraytram
The new Basilica of Saint Peter
The building of St. Peter's Basilica is associated with the big names of artists and architects of that time: Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini.

Construction on the present basilica began on 18 April 1506 and was completed in 1626. Time for completion 120 years.

With the beginning of the 16th century, Emperor-pope Julius II decided to demolished the old St. Peter's Basilica, which had stood for more than 1,100 years. Maybe it was also the Zeitgeist that influenced this decision. The Renaissance was in full swing, a period for the rediscovery of classical ideals and ideas on one hand, and the assurance of a new era, a mood of new beginnings.
Columbus had just discovered the New World and Copernicus was about to discover the Solar System.

In 1503, Julius II commissioned Donato Bramante, an Italian architect, who introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, with the the complete rebuilding of St Peter's Basilica. Bramante designed the floor plan of the new basilica in form of a Greek cross, with a central dome surrounded by four lower domes.

Bramante's disegno proporzionale of Saint Peter, based on a Greek cross.
The foundation stone for the new basilica was laid in 1506. Ten years into the construction of the grandest building in Christendom, the contractor was dead, the principal architect replaced, two of three of his replacement architects dead as well, only Raphael was able to work for 5 years longer, but most of his work at the basilica was altered or demolished after his death (aged 37) by Michelangelo's redesign.

In January 1547, Michelangelo became Capomaestro, the master mason for a massive sanctuary under construction, until then never built before.

Zoom out to see Vatican City. The Vatican City compound is situated just north of the former location of the ancient Circus of Nero. Vatican City is surrounded by the City of Rome, Italy's capital city.
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previous landmark: Temple Mount or the Noble Sanctuary, Jerusalem next landmark: Moscow Kremlin
More about Vatican City and Italy:

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Vatican City State Profile

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External Links:
Vatican: the Holy See
Official site of the Holy See.
Vatican City State
Official site of the Vatican City State.
St Peter's
Site provides a map and photos of buildings in the Vatican City.
Vatican Museums Online
A guide to the Vatican Museums.
UNESCO World Heritage: Vatican City
Vatican City entry at UNESCO World Heritage center.
Wikipedia: St. Peter's Basilica
Wikipedia entry about St. Peter's Basilica
Wikipedia: Vatican City
Wikipedia entry about Vatican City
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