The heart of Rome's Vatican City is St. Peter's Square, the grand space that provides a magnificent approach to St. Peter's Basilica. Designed by Bernini in the 17th century, Piazza San Pietro is lined by semicircular colonnades four columns deep on either side that seem to reach out and enfold visitors in an embrace.
At the center of the square, a soaring Egyptian obelisk and two marble fountains—one by Carlo Maderno dating from 1613 and the second designed by Bernini to match in 1675—break up the sweeping cobblestone space. Within the colonnade, formed by massive Doric columns and topped by 140 statues of the saints, lies the security check for entry to St. Peter's and, on the other side, the Vatican post office. The square is the site of large public Masses on the main Catholic holidays and for papal audiences, when it is packed with pilgrims from all over Italy and the world.
St. Peter's Square is best visited with a tour guide as part of a small-group tour that touches on all the Vatican highlights, including the Vatican Museums and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Gardens, and the Vatican Grottoes containing the tombs of former popes. The Vatican is a vast repository of art and history; savor it as part of a private tour with skip-the-line tickets to avoid wasting time in the Vatican's notoriously long queues.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Vatican is its own municipality and issues stamps; visit the post office under the colonnade in St. Peter's Square to send your postcards directly from Vatican City.
- If you would like to see Pope Francis, it is imperative to book papal audience tickets in advance.
- The square is accessible to wheelchair users.
- There is a dress code to enter St. Peter's Basilica that requires clothing that covers the shoulders and knees; there is no dress code for the square.
How to Get There
The most spectacular way to enter St. Peter's Square is by foot, crossing the Emperor Hadrian's Ponte Sant'Angelo over the River Tiber to Castel Sant'Angelo (Hadrian's Tomb) and walking up the grand Via della Conciliazione. Otherwise, use one of two metro line A stops: Ottaviano–S.Pietro–Musei Vaticani or Cipro.
When to Get There
The square is crowded with visitors during the opening hours of St. Peter's Basilica, so consider booking a night tour or an early-entry basilica tour to see St. Peter's Square in relative peace.
The Swiss Guards
St. Peter's Square, along with the rest of the Vatican, is protected by the historic Swiss Guards, established in the 16th century and still sporting their colorful Renaissance-style uniforms.