The Vatican

Interesting Facts

  1. The Vatican is its own country – and the smallest in the world.
  2. The Vatican Museums contain one of the largest art collections in the world, with over 9 miles of pieces.
  3. Every Wednesday morning the Pope holds a Papal Audience, during which he addresses the public in multiple languages.
  4. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world.
  5. St. Peter’s itself does not have a single painting.
  6. The baldacchino, or the center altar of St. Peter’s, lies directly over where St. Peter, the first pope, is buried.

Vatican City State was founded following the signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy on February 11th 1929. These were ratified on June 7th 1929. Its nature as a sovereign State distinct from the Holy See is universally recognized under international law. Saint Peter's Basilica, the world's largest church, is the center of Christianity. The imposing structure was built over a span of more than one hundred years by the greatest Italian architects of the era.

The First Basilica

In the early fourth century Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, decided to build a basilica on Vatican Hill at the site of small shrine that marked the likely location of the tomb of St. Peter. Construction of the basilica started between 319 and 322. It was consecrated in 326 AD and finally completed around 349 AD. To facilitate the construction, a part of the terrain was leveled and the necropolis where St. Peter was originally buried was demolished. The basilica had an eighty-five meter (279 ft) long nave with four aisles and a spacious atrium with a central cantharus (fountain), enclosed by a colonnade. A bell tower stood at the front of the atrium. Visitors entered the atrium through a triple-arched portico.

St. Peter's Square

Visitors on their way to the St. Peter's Basilica pass along St. Peter's Square, a grandiose elliptical esplanade created in the mid seventeenth century by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The square is bordered by massive colonnades that symbolize outstretched arms. Bernini and his assistants sculpted the 140 statues of saints that grace the balustrades on the colonnades. The square is decorated with fountains and an Egyptian obelisk that was transported to Rome in 37 AD. The view of St. Peter's Basilica from the square is unfortunately a bit disappointing; the result of the enlargement of the church carried out by Carlo Maderno, which partly obscures Michelangelo's dome.

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