This magnificent building is the center of Christianity. The opulence of its interior testifies the richness of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, ordered the construction of St. Peter Basilica on the Vatican hill. The location was chosen symbolically, on the spot where St. Peter, one of the apostles, was buried in AD 64. A small shrine already existed on the site, but it was replaced with a church which would be completed in 349 AD.
In the middle of the fifteenth century, basilica was in ruin and Pope Nicholas V ordered the restoration and enhancement of the church under a plan of Bernardo Rossellino. After the death of this pope, the restoration work was stopped. In 1506, Pope Julian II laid the cornerstone of a new basilica that was to be the largest in the world. Pope Julian II appointed Donato Bramante as chief architect of the new Basilica. In 1547 Michelangelo replaced Bramante. He designed the imposing dome and changed some of the original plans. Michelangelo died in 1624, two years before the dome was completed. In 1626, the basilica was inaugurated and since then, the church has been the center of Christianity, drawing pilgrims from all over the world.
The building itself is very impressive. The world's largest church is 218 feet long. The dome of the Basilica of St. Peter, designed by Michelangelo, is the largest dome in the world, with 42 meters in diameter and a height of 138 meters. The interior, which has no less than 45 altars, is decorated by many famous artists works. Some of the most important works in the church are "Pieta" by Michelangelo, Bernini papal altar, throne of St. Peter also of Bernini and Monument to the Stuarts by Canova. The church can be visited free of charge every day with the condition that the tourists have a very decent outfit.
You can also visit the dome, where entry is not free but its cost is well worth. There are two options: an elevator or stairs. The second option is somehow less expensive. The elevator takes visitors to the dome where a spiral staircase leads to the top. From there one can admire a splendid view of Rome and Piazza San Pietro. The famous St. Peter's Square was designed by Bernini. In the center there is an obelisk and two identical fountains.
At the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica one can meet several members of the famous Pontifical Swiss Guard. Pontifical Swiss Guard exists since 1506 when Pope Julian II invited some Swiss soldiers to join a small army of Vatican. They are the guards of the Pope and the Vatican. All members of the guards must be Swiss, Catholic, and must swear allegiance to the pope. The oath is filed on May 26 to commemorate the sack of Rome in the same day of the year 1527 when the Pontifical Swiss Guard protected Pope Clement VII during his exile to the Castel Sant'Angelo. Of the 189 guard members, only 42 have survived.
St. Peter's Basilica is located in Vatican, over the River Tiber, west of downtown of Rome. Vatican City is completely surrounded by Rome.