Rome sweet home (5)- Twelve things you must see in St Peter’s Basilica

  1. The Façade and Portico or Atrium

The façade of St Peter’s built between 1608 and 1612 is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. Yet there is something quite not right with it for it disproportionately wide for its height. The problem began with the old St Peter’s Basilica built by Constantine. He decided to erect the Basilica on top of what was rumoured to be the shrine dedicated to St Peter on Vatican Hill.

To do this he had level one side of the hill which besides having a cemetery was also swampy land. Constantine destroyed most of the cemetery which was in use and transferred approximately 1,500,000,000 cubic feet of hard blue clay from the upper part of hillside, to the lower part, in order to carve a level platform upon which the basilica could be built.

It was Carlo Maderno who changed Bramante’s plan of St Peter’s from a Greek cross (equal arms on all sides) to a Latin cross and it was he who began to work on the façade. However he was bound to the  Michelangelo’s designs of the wings and the attic that would run all around the building. As a consequence of this design and the change from a Greek to a Latin cross design the dome of St Peter’s got obscured and what stands out is the façade.

The 376 feet wide and 150 feet high façade by Maderno originally had two  bell towers, one on each end of the façade as part of its design. This was done to lighten this issue caused by the attic, but the idea had to be abandon because the land  on which both St Peters and façade began to settle.

Pope Urban VIII then commissioned the Baroque sculptor-architect-painter Gian Lorenzo Bernini to complete the bell towers. The south tower (left hand side) was completed. However a war known as the ‘War of Castro’ with the Italian Farnese family brought this construction to a grinding halt as the project was hit by a financial shortfall.

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