visiting st peter's basilica
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How To See This Remarkable View From St Peter’s Basilica Dome

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The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, or simply St. Peter’s Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City. Right off the bat, it’s impressive, as is St Peter’s Basilica dome. Climbing St Peter’s dome also gives you an impressive view of Rome, which you’d be silly to skip! It’s a view that’s unforgettable, and a must-see when visiting the capital of Italy.

The Pieta

Art by Michelangelo

The first thing that strikes you as you enter St Peter’s Basilica is not only how immense it is but also how beautiful it is. One of the first things you’ll see is The Pieta (1498–1499), which was created by Michelangelo Buonarroti. The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. It was made for the cardinal’s funeral monument but was then moved to its current location.

Fun fact: it is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary, after the Crucifixion.

Statues Inside St Peter’s Basilica

And now I’m just going to mass post you with lovely pictures of the statues inside St. Peter’s Basilica because it’s just too gorgeous not to. Honestly, I’ve actually somehow not posted every shot I took. I’ve spared some of the precious art for you to discover on your own trip!

St Peter’s Basilica History

Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom.” Even if you aren’t religious, it’s truly an architectural marvel.

Movie buffs may recognize the area above from the Angels and Demons film.

What’s St Peter’s Basilica Dress Code?

Always, always, always treat the place you visit with respect! I was already well aware of the St Peter’s Basilica dress code, as my cousin wasn’t allowed in because her skirt was too short. Don’t ruin your vacation because you’ve come ill-prepared. I obeyed the rules about not showing my shoulders or knees while visiting, as you should, too.

Additionally, do not touch anything you’re not supposed to. That’s likely why this work of art above has started to wear down.

FAIR WARNING!

This next image isn’t for those who don’t wish to see a dead body. It’s a bit macabre.

St. Peter's Basilica

I don’t know which Pope this is. I took photos of all of them but this one came out the best. The remains of many popes are buried in the interior of the basilica. The embalmed bodies of three Popes (Blessed John XXIII, Blessed Innocent XI, and St Pius X) are in glass coffins for public viewing. When John XXIII’s coffin was opened 38 years after his death, his body was practically intact. “A miracle,” some Italians declared, but without support from the Vatican authorities.

st peter's basilica dome

Who Built St Peter’s Basilica Dome?

Also known as the “cupola,” it was designed by Michelangelo, who worked on the construction of St Peter’s Basilica dome beginning in 1547. By the time of his death (he died at 89 in 1564), construction had reached the drum of the dome. The drum alternates highly prominent double columns with gabled windows.

Then, Giacomo Della Porta, Michelangelo’s pupil, took over the project. He then raised the dome’s vault about 7 meters and completed it in 1590, in just 22 months, under the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V. St Peter’s Basilica dome has since been used as a model for others around the world. Although built by different techniques, some examples are those of Saint Paul’s in London (1675), Les Invalides in Paris (1680-1691), and the Capitol building in Washington (1794-1817).

St Peter's Basilica Dome Stairs
You can see the people at the top of the dome here from the terrace.

Guide to Climbing St Peter’s Dome

Climbing St Peter’s dome was one of the highlights of my trip to Rome. The view was absolutely incredible! Here are some tips on getting dome tickets, using the stairs, and having the best experience on your ascent.

To get to the dome, follow the signs for “Cupola” in St Peter’s Basilica until you reach the ticket office. You can either purchase tickets there or, if you are like me, you bought the Omnia card, which includes admission to the dome. This is also where the elevator that takes you up to the dome is.

From here you have two options for climbing St Peter’s dome:

1. Climb all the way up on foot (551 steps)
2. Take the elevator and then climb the rest on foot (320 steps)

How Much Does it Cost to Climb St Peter’s Dome?

I don’t recall if there is an extra cost to take the elevator with the Omnia card. However, I’m going to assume there is, since if you don’t use the card, there is for sure an extra cost. The dome tickets cost 10 Euros for the elevator and 8 Euros for the stairs. CASH ONLY!

I’m told there is not much to see if you choose to walk the whole way, so I’m not going to recommend the dome stairs. I will note that being that I had my shoulders and knees covered (in respect) and it was summer when I went, it was rather hot. That’s something you’ll want to consider when making your decision on which way to climb the dome.

Ascending St Peter’s Basilica Dome Stairs

If you take the elevator, you will reach an interior balcony, which is actually the base of the dome. You can then move onto the terrace, where you can stop to catch a breather and get access to bathrooms, a water fountain, a souvenir shop, and a café. I was actually really thirsty and hot by this point, so I went and got a cup of water. They will charge you for even a small cup of water, so just be prepared for that. From this terrace, you can see the Piazza and the upper statues of the apostles!

The View from St Peter’s Basilica Dome

After your short break, you head up the spiral staircase to the upper area. Be forewarned that if you’re not a fan of small spaces or have trouble with stairs, this may not be for you. I wound up walking up the steps with some lovely people, and we all had to pause occasionally while climbing St Peter’s dome.

It’s a narrow staircase only broken up by some small windows. You can see more detail on what this looks like at Rome Wise. I recall this portion of the ascent took about 15-20 minutes. However, this obviously depends on your speed. But! It is worth it once you see that 360º view of St Peter’s Square and the city of Rome.

Final Thoughts on St Peter’s Basilica Dome

Climbing St Peter’s Dome is 100% worth the effort. The view is completely gorgeous! On your way down, there is another staircase, so you won’t be a salmon swimming upstream the wrong way. Thank goodness! The estimate for this is an hour, once again, depending on your speed and how much time you spend up there.

If you’d like to take the work out of visiting St Peter’s Dome, Get Your Guide Tours offers many marvelous options. I love booking with them because if any issues arise, I can easily get a refund. Their tour operators are also affordable and reliable, perfect for budget travelers!

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