St. Peter’s Basilica is a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City. Tradition and strong historical evidence hold that Saint Peter’s tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period.
There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. St. Peter’s has many strong historical associations, with the Early Christian church, the papacy, the Protestant Reformation and Counter-reformation, and with numerous artists, most significantly Michelangelo.
As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age. The basilica is cruciform in shape, with an elongated nave in the Latin cross form but the early designs were for a centrally planned structure and this is still in evidence in the architecture.
The central space is dominated both externally and internally by one of the largest domes in the world. The entrance is through a narthex, or entrance hall, which stretches across the building.
The entire interior of St. Peter’s is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks.
It is the most prominent building in the Vatican City. Its dome is a dominant feature of the skyline of Rome. Probably the largest church in Christendom, it covers an area of 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres).
One of the holiest sites of Christianity in the Catholic Tradition, it is traditionally the burial site of its titular Saint Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to Catholic Tradition, also the first Bishop of Antioch and later first Bishop of Rome, the first Pope.
It is believed by a long tradition that Peter, after a ministry of about thirty years, travelled to Rome and met his martyrdom there in the year 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero.
His execution was one of the much martyrdom of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome. According to Origen, Peter was crucified head downwards, by his own request because he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.
The first repair and enlargement intervention was ordered in the middle of the 15th century by pope Niccolo V, who entrusted Leon Battista Alberti and his helper Bernardo Rossellino. Later pope Giulio II charged Bramante who in 1506 demolished the old Saint Peter’s Basilica planning a new one with a Greek cross plan.
The plan of the dome belongs to Michelangelo who managed to finish only the portion of the dome basement called Tamburo. It will be Giacomo Dalla Porta to complete the dome according to Michelangelo’s drawings in 1588-89.
St. Peter’s Basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter – the apostle who is considered the first pope – was crucified and buried. St. Peter’s tomb is under the main altar and many other popes are buried in the basilica as well.