537 steps and the most attracting visit of Rome: Saint Peter’s Dome
One of the most visited monuments of the world is Saint Peter’s Basilica, the symbol and benchmark of Christian religion all over the world, by some genius of the Italian Renaissance: Michelangelo, Bramante, Raffaello and Bernini.
The distinguishing element is what Roman people call the cupolone, standing out in any picture and postcard of Rome: it is Saint Peter’s dome, symbol of the eternal city, of the Christian religion but also expression of the fantastic brilliance by extraordinary men and artists.
The fascination and majesty of the dome is still attractive as it was in the past, as Goethe defined it a “show that seems to be a prodigious tale”, when he saw it, so illuminated, in 1787.
It is so majestic and beautiful it spreads magic. And if it is not magic, how can you explain the show you see from via Piccolomini: the more you go towards the basilica, the smaller you see it, from an enormous image you can almost touch to a little point.
Historical information about Saint Peter’s dome
Many people know Saint Peter’s dome, one of the biggest ones in the world, was designed by the genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti, but a few know the first to be appointed to realize it was Bramante, by Pope Giulio II.
The death of the latter made the commission reach Michelangelo, by Leone X de’ Medici, after Raffaello Sanzio and Antonio da Sangallo. Unfortunately, the great artist didn’t have the opportunity to see its conclusion, as he died in 1546, when only the tambour had been made.
Michelangelo didn’t follow Bramante’s project, placing it in the middle of the basilica, on the wonderful colonnade Bernini made.
The important innovation Michelangelo offered came from his inspiration to Brunelleschi and his Chiesa di Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome, in Florence: he didn’t use the technique characterizing the Pantheon, but created a couple of domes, internal and external, realizing them after ingenious calculations and tricks.
Twenty years later, when Michelangelo died, during Sisto V’s pontificate, Domenico Fontana and Giacomo della Porta, completed the works with 800 workers, making the dome less rounded and more projected to the sky. The conclusion of works was celebrated by a great party, in 1590.
The first climb to Saint Peter’s dome
You can see this building system by your own eyes, just going up the 537 steps, towards the top of the dome.
The first part is enough easy to climb (you can even go up by a lift) as you just have to go up a large spiral staircase until the terrace on the tambour level, where you can see 6 windows under semicircular and triangular tympanums and double columns; on the basis you can see the writing by Mathew’s Gospel, reporting by what Jesus Christ said: “you are Peter and on this stone my church will arise”.
Don’t miss the internal circular gallery sight, where you can admire the wonderful mosaics from the beginning of 1600s, on Pope Clemente VIII’s request, by Knight D’Arpino, representing the Apostles, the Popes and Jesus Christ life.
Along this corridor, you will be able to see also the internal part of the basilica, decorated by rich floors and works of art, from a different point of view. You will be on the top of the first navy, near the decorated roofs, where Bernini’s great bronze canopy is situated, decorated by columns that seem to be branches, from 1633.
There is an old Latin proverb related to the canopy: “quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini”, as Pope Urbano VIII Barberini, ordered to extract bronze by the Pantheon decorations to have enough of it for Bernini’s canopy.
The hardest climb to the sky
You can admire a wonderful sight from the first terrace, on Bernini’s majestic colonnade hugging the basilica and the believers in the square; in the middle of the square, you can see the Obelisk, coming from Egypt on Caligola’s order, on a ship full of lentils to protect it. From the first terrace you can see the Vatican City, his buildings and gardens till 30 kilometres far, on sunny days.
But if you want to touch the sky, you have to go up 320 narrow spiral steps, towards the lantern. This course passes between the two domes and, going up, you will feel pressed by the curved walls: you will see inscriptions around you, telling the names of the famous characters who climbed those steps, such as Ferdinando II di Napoli.
You will be awarded for your work, when you will enjoy the wonderful sight of Rome, on the top of the lantern, admiring little columns on the bottom and chandeliers on the top. The lantern pinnacle, built under Clemente VIII, is dominated by a golden bronze sphere by Sebastiano Torrigiani, under a crux.
Well, you should know you can visit the dome until the lantern only: watching around you, you will see a staircase from the lantern loggia that goes to the sphere and it can contain only 20 people, but just upon authorization. It is said the last person climbing it was Pope IX in 1847, after Pope Gregorio XVI, during a reception with the Tsar Nicola I.
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