February 6, 2013, Historical Sites & Buildings, Italia, Lazio, News, Notes, Roma, Tourist Attractions & Destinations, Travel & Tourism

5 things you might not know about St Peter Basilica in Rome

Most travelers in Italy have seen St Peter Basilica in Rome. Even from a distance you cannot very well miss the characteristic pillars and domes. And the interior of the church is grand, stupefying and free for all.

As long as you are decently dressed. No shorts and tank tops for men or sleeveless miniskirts for women are allowed past the Swiss Guards. This can be quite hard in summer. I think we had to try three times, before the entire family could pass the dress code at once. Still, the visit was absolutely worth the uncomfortable attire, because there are so many interesting details and stories hidden all around the building.

Did you know that

The inside of the Basilica can hold up to 60 000 people, and Michelangelo’s dome soars 119 metres above the altar, which means it could accommodate London’s ArcelorMittal Orbit. The vast dimensions explain why people seem to shrink when they enter the church.

There are more than one hundred tombs in St. Peter’s including the Tomb of St. Peter whose remains have been officially identified and located.  Among the other celebrities laid to rest in the Basilica you’ll find 91 popes, St. Ignatius who holds the patronage against throat diseases and for churches in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, Holy Roman Emperor Otto II and a former Queen of Sweden. The most recent interment was Pope John Paul II.

st peter basilica in rome

Michelangelo’s Pietà is regarded one of the most important works of art in the Basilica. The sculpture has been covered by a layer of bulletproof glass, since some vandal attacked it with a hammer in 1972.

A total 140 Bernini statues depicting saints top the outside colonnade. Each statue is 3.10 metre tall and it took a lot of workers more than 40 years to complete them.  St Peter’s Basilica Org. has a list of which saints can be found where.

The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica is guarded by 120 single, Swiss Catholic, beardless males with feathered hats and blue, yellow, orange and red striped uniforms. In spite of the slightly comic outfit the Swiss Guard is a regular army with soldiers trained to protect the Pope. The Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 and new recruits are sworn in on May 6 every year.

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A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.


February 6, 2013 4:29 pm


Hi Mette,

Can you believe that although I have been to Rome I have never been to St. Peter’s!! Thank you for the mini-tour!

February 06 2013 16:36 pm


Gives you something to look forward to and a reason to go back:)

February 6, 2013 4:52 pm

Karen Smith

Thanks for a beautiful post! I’m pinning it to a Pinterest board I maintain for guests at our villa so that they don’t overlook St. Peters on their way to the Vatican museums. So much to see.

February 08 2013 09:29 am


There is indeed.

February 6, 2013 7:38 pm


Very interesting facts and all are new to me. I can’t get over the size of the place.

February 08 2013 09:30 am


No, it is literally overwhelming.

February 7, 2013 2:47 am


Sixty thousand? I had no idea it was so huge!

I don’t understand people who damage art. What’s that all about anyway?

February 08 2013 09:31 am


A cry for help, I suppose.

February 7, 2013 8:09 am

Mary {The World Is A Book}

These are some interesting things about St. Peter’s! We loved our visit there. We went in Nov. so we didn’t have to worry about the dress code. We actually did a Scavi tour which went under the basilica and we were very close to St. Peter’s remains and it ended in Pope John Paul II’s tomb. One of the best tours we’ve ever had. those Swiss Guards uniforms were awesome!

February 08 2013 09:34 am


Interesting. And it must be nice to skip the lines when there's little time and so much to see.

February 7, 2013 4:12 pm


Cool facts! Another oddity: you’re allowed to snap photos inside St Peter’s Basilica, but only of the church, statues, artefacts – not of people, even the ones you’re with. Or maybe we just met an extra difficult guard…

February 08 2013 09:42 am


Amazing. But don't get me started on the ridiculous rules surrounding photography and church architecture. Why don't they like the publicity of a private snapshot or loved family member in an impressive setting when they sell postcards of the same image?

February 7, 2013 6:49 pm


I asked once an attendant why they are enrolled in what is called “fabbrica di San Pietro”, where fabbrica in this case means ‘works’. His answer got me surprised: the Basilica is officially not yet completed.

February 08 2013 09:43 am


Wonder why? It's certainly a nice thing to know.

February 8, 2013 12:17 am

Natasha von Geldern

60,000 people! OMG! The first time I went my male friend had to go buy a pair of trousers to get in. I didn’t know the Swiss Guards have to be beardless.

February 08 2013 09:46 am


In Cairo they have green sheets you can borrow or rent by the entrance of a mosque. They cover you up completely. Maybe St. Peter's should adopt this service?

February 10, 2013 11:15 am


We weren’t allowed in with our son in his pushchair 11 years ago, so we missed out that time. But I’d seen it a couple of years before. Well worth a visit.

February 13 2013 09:07 am


What an absurd rule, but great you've made it anyhow.

February 10, 2013 5:20 pm

Zubi Travel

The basilica is huge and well worth the visit.
You can visit it in a one-day tour along with the Vatican Museum and Sant’Angelo Castle; all are really interesting.

February 13 2013 09:11 am


Good idea to combine a tour of the Vatican with a visit to Hadrian's tomb.

February 10, 2013 7:02 pm


An interesting place nearby is the Campo Santo Teutonico (cemetery) which is a bit tricky to enter. If you ask the Swiss Guards in German (!) language they generally let you it.

February 13 2013 09:14 am


Thanks for a great tip. But I think I'd have to practice the German intensively beforehand to get the message across.

March 10, 2013 8:10 pm

Jenn @The Rebel Chick

I am going to Italy next month and I am so glad I came across this! I am only there for 3 days, so I want to see as much as possible and have to really narrow down my sightseeing! :)

March 13 2013 09:02 am


Suonds like you are in for a heavy round of speed dating.

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