st peter basilica in rome

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.

More on Rome

Tracking Bernini in Rome

5 Foods You Must Try in Rome

Five romantic bridges in Rome

An unsuccessful daytrip from FCO Airport

5 steps to Rome

View Larger Map

26 replies
  1. Karen Smith
    Karen Smith says:

    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.

  2. Mary {The World Is A Book}
    Mary {The World Is A Book} says:

    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!

  3. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    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…

    • admin
      admin says:

      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?

  4. TheTuscan
    TheTuscan says:

    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.

    • admin
      admin says:

      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?

  5. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    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.

  6. al
    al says:

    St Blaise is the patron of throat diseases..
    St Ignatius of soldiers.
    Please go to the gift shop . Its on the roof and accessible by elevator. Also see the Vatican pharmacy as well as the shops nearby.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *