The Vatican is the smallest country in the world, with an area of 50 hectares and only just over 550 inhabitants, but it takes a long time to visit, within its walls are the opulent St. Peter’s Basilica, the splendid Sistine chapel, lush gardens, apartments frescoed by Fra Angelico, Raphael and Pinturicchio, in addition to a dozen museums. The latter findings include Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, early Christian art, Renaissance and modern, as well as an ethnographic collection worldwide.
The Vatican has been the residence of the popes only since 1377, six centuries interrupted by long stays at the Quirinal Palace. Before the pontifical court was transferred to Avignon (1309-1377), the headquarters of the pope had been at the Lateran.
An uninterrupted succession of 265 men have sat on St. Peter’s throne. Each one of them contributed to the grandeur and dignity of the Vatican, to make this holy hill an increasingly worthy seat for the Supreme Head of the Catholic Church. The Vatican became an indipendent state, called Vatican City, since February 11, 1929, when the Lateran Treaty deifinitively resolved the “Roman Issue” between the Church and the Italian State.
In Roman times, the Vatican was the site of the great Circus of Nero, where under Nero, St. Peter was crucified (circa 64-67 A.D.). His body was buried nearby, more than 250 years later, Constantine built a magnificent basilica on the spot, which was destined to become one of the marvel of the world,
During the 73 years that the papacy was in Avignon, the already old basilica was so neglected that restoration was impossible. Pope Nicolas V (1447-1455) decided to rebuild it, and gave the project to Rossellino, but after the pope’s death, all works were suspended. It was Pope Julius II (1503-1513) who began the construction of a new basilica, entrusting Bramante with the design of the great architectural project, which took 176 years to complete.
Until Michelangelo, then almost 70 years old, began to build the dome, there had been a succession of various architects, among them Raphael.
After Michalangelo’s death, the work went on according to this designs, which called for Bramante original Greek cross plan, but under the papacy of Paul V, (1605-1621), Maderno decisively adopted a Latin cross design for the new basilica.
The greatest church in Christendom, St. Peter Basilica, rises on the grandiose St. Peter Square.
Michelangelo began the project in 1546, and when he died in 1564 only the drum had been completed. The rest of the work was finished between 1588 and 1589 by Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana. The Colonnade is Bernini’s most beautiful work, and forms the solemn entrance to St. Peter’s and the Vatican. He also designed the 140 statues of saints which decorate the colonnade, were sculpted with the help of his pupils.
Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) chose Domenico Fontana to oversee the erection of the Obelisk in the middle of the piazza. The obelisk measures more than 25 meters in height and was brought from the nearby ruins of the Circus of Nero.
The two fountains, the one the right designed by Maderno (1613) and the one on the left by Carlo Fontana (1675), harmonize beautifully with the vast square.
Pope Paul V Borghese commissioned Maderno (1607-1614) to construct the broad façade of the church.
The Loggia of the Benediction, is used to proclaim the election of a new pope, and it is from here that he delivers his first blessing, “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and to the world).
Inside the portico, above the principal entrance, is the famous mosaic of the Navicella (little boat), designed for the old basilica by Giotto during the first Holy Year (1300). Five doors open onto the portico, corresponding to the five aisles in the basilica.First on the left is the Door of Death by Manzù.The Holy Door on the far right is only opened every twenty-five years at the beginning of the Holy Year. Another two contemporary doors complete the portico: the Door of Good and Evil by Minguzzi and the Door of the Sacrament by Crocetti.
… to be continued