Colonnades at Piazza San Pietro leading to St Peter's Basilica.

St Peter's Square

Vatican City, Borgo & Prati

Overlooked by St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican’s central square was laid out between 1656 and 1667 to a design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Seen from above, it resembles a giant keyhole with two semicircular colonnades, each consisting of four rows of Doric columns, encircling a giant ellipse that straightens out to funnel believers into the basilica. The effect was deliberate – Bernini described the colonnades as representing ‘the motherly arms of the church’.

The scale of the piazza is dazzling: at its largest it measures 320m by 240m. There are 284 columns and, atop the colonnades, 140 saints. The 25m obelisk in the centre was brought to Rome by Caligula from Heliopolis in Egypt and later used by Nero as a turning post for the chariot races in his circus.

Leading off the piazza, the monumental approach road, Via della Conciliazione, was commissioned by Mussolini and built between 1936 and 1950.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Vatican City, Borgo & Prati attractions

1. St Peter’s Basilica Dome

0.12 MILES

Entry to the dome is to the far right of the basilica's main portico, where you also buy your ticket. A small lift can take you halfway up, but it’s still…

2. Sistine Chapel

0.15 MILES

The Sistine Chapel is the one part of the Vatican Museums that everyone wants to see, and for good reason.

3. St Peter's Basilica

0.15 MILES

In the city of outstanding churches, none can hold a candle to St Peter's, Italy’s largest, richest and most spectacular basilica. Built atop a 4th…

4. Museo Storico Artistico

0.19 MILES

Accessed from the left nave of St Peter's Basilica, the Museo Storico Artistico (Tesoro; Treasury) sparkles with sacred relics and priceless artefacts,…

5. Vatican Grottoes


Extending beneath St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Grottoes contain the tombs and sarcophagi of numerous popes, as well as several huge columns from the…

6. Tomb of St Peter

0.21 MILES

Excavations beneath St Peter's Basilica have uncovered part of the original church and a necropolis with what is held to be the Tomb of St Peter. In 1942,…

7. Necropoli Via Triumphalis

0.21 MILES

Not to be confused with the Tomb of St Peter, this ancient Roman cemetery extends beneath the Vatican hill. Guided tours, which must be pre-booked, take…

8. Vatican Museums

0.31 MILES

Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the Vatican Museums boast one of the world's greatest art…