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The Square

Written and read by Pietro Zander

Saint Peter’s Square was designed by the architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, at the behest of Pope Alexander VII. It was completed in 1667, after eleven years of intense and onerous work. The square is made up of an “oval space with three centres” (196 x 149 metres), with semicircular colonnades connected to the basilica by “arms” or closed ambulacra, delimiting a large trapezoidal-shaped area, with the largest side consisting of the façade. The two colonnaded hemicycles open up like a great embrace to Rome and the world. On top of the colonnade, consisting of 284 columns in four rows, 16 metres high, stand 140 statues, more than three metres high.

The space of the square is dominated by the maternal gaze of the Madonna and Child, “Mother of the Church”. It is a large mosaic copy of the fifteenth-century icon of the “Mater Ecclesiae” (Mother of the Church”) venerated with this title inside the Basilica in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Column.

At the centre of the square stands the Vatican obelisk, surmounted by the saving cross of Christ. Originating from the circus of Caligula and Nero, it vividly commemorates the crucifixion of Peter and the tortures suffered by the Roman protomartyrs after the burning of Rome in the year 64.

© Fabric of Saint Peter