St Peter’s Basilica
Located within the Vatican City, the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter, commonly known as Saint Peter’s Basilica, is the greatest of all the churches of Christendom and the centre piece of the Vatican, which contains the government for the Roman Catholic Church. An independent sovereign city-state the Vatican consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), it has a population of around 800 and is the smallest independent state in the world by both population and area.
After Jesus’s death, the apostle Peter found his way to Rome where he started to establish the foundations for the Christian Church. Peter was crucified head down and buried in Rome during the time of Nero who blamed the Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in AD 68. For many years the Christians were persecuted until the Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity and reversed that persecution. It was Constantine who constructed the first Basilica in the year 326 over the spot where Peter was believed to have been crucified and buried. In 1506, St. Peter’s Basilica was considered to be too small as the main church of the Vatican and a new one was commissioned. In 1546 the project came under the control of Michelangelo who designed the brick dome modeled on the Duomo in Florence. The dome is supported internally by four piers more than 18 meters (60 feet) thick, the dome, which is 138 feet in diameter rises to 390 feet above the floor. Although the dome was completed in 1590, the building itself took over 100 years of intermittent work before it was consecrated in 1626.
Located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica is Saint Peter’s Square. Designed by Bernini to enable the greatest number of people to see the Pope if he is either at a window in the Vatican Palace or on the balcony of the church façade. Around the square are two Colonnades consisting of 284 columns and 88 pilasters, these are said to have been designed to represent the arms of the Church welcoming people. On the Colonnades are 140 statues of the Saints: Above the façade are the statues of Jesus and the Apostles.
In the centre of St. Peter’s Square is a 40 metre high obelisk dating from 1835 BC which was brought to Rome in the reign of Caligula to stand in the Circus a few hundred metres away. It was moved to its present location in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V. Also in the Square are two 8 metre high fountains, one by Maderno and one by Bernini. Statues of St Peter and St Paul rising over 10 metres high were constructed in 1847 to replace two smaller statues.
Entrance to the Basilica is via five doors which correspond to the five naves of the ancient and new buildings. One of the doors, the Holy Door, is bricked up on the inside and only opened by the pope during Jubilee years, when pilgrims may enter through it. The Church is built on the design of the Roman cross and has a capacity of 60,000 people. The central nave stretches for 186 metres and would hold a 15 storey building, in fact all the major cathedrals would fit inside St Peters and marks along the nave floor show where the other cathedrals would come to.
The central focus of the interior is the Baldachin, a monumental canopy 95ft high that covers the papal altar. The altar, where only the pope can say mass, is carved from a single block of Greek marble: Directly below the altar is the tomb of St Peter. The Baldachin has four gigantic twisted bronze columns modelled on the pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem, designed and constructed by Bernini it is the largest bronze sculpture in the world. Started in 1623 it took over nine years of work to complete.
Above the altar is the dome which is supported by four gigantic piers. In 1624 Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to create four loggias in these piers. They are called the “Loggias of the Relics”. The relics are: several fragments of the Cross of Jesus; a scrap of material, showing the imprint of the face of a bearded man; a fragment of the lance which was said to have been the one that pieced the side of Christ on the cross; and parts of St. Andrew’s head. Within the niches of the piers are statues associated with the relics: St. Helena is holding the cross; St. Longinus holds the spear; St. Andrew with his cross; and St. Veronica holding the veil with the image of Jesus’s face.
The Church contains eleven chapels and numerous statues including Michelangelo’s statue of the Pieta. Also is the bronze statue of St. Peter portrayed giving a blessing and holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Pilgrims, who reached Rome in the Middle Ages, touched or kissed the foot of the statue and prayed to St. Peter to open the gates of heaven for them if they died during the pilgrimage. This tradition has continued so that today most people will touch or kiss its foot, resulting in the foot being worn away. Also on display are the bodies of a number of the popes in glass cases, these can be seen at the altars of some of the chapels.
The Basilica contains contemporary objects as well as those dating back hundreds of years. Visitors are able to visit the Treasury and the tombs in the Crypt and to see columns from the original Constantine Basilica and to go to the top of the dome which provides an excellent view over Rome.
Ostia Antica is an extraordinary Roman site that contains the ruins of the ancient port town that served as the gateway to Rome
Ostia Antica – The site of Ostia Antica contains the ruins of the port of ancient Rome and visitors can view some amazingly well preserved remains of the settlement. Just half an hour from central Rome by train, Ostia Antica has all the inspiration of Pompeii without the throngs of tourists. In fact, if you want to examine well preserved Roman ruins in peace and quiet with time to contemplate the ancient world, you’ll be hard pressed to find better.
Tracing its roots back to at least the 4th century BC, Ostia Antica served as Rome’s principle port for hundreds of years, a witness and monument to the rise of the ancient superpower, its dominance and eventual decline. Ostia Antica’s place in history is most notable for an attack by pirates in 68BC which led to unprecedented powers being handed to Pompey the Great, setting yet another precedent which damaged the foundations of the Republican system.
As the landscape changed over the centuries, Ostia Antica was slowly abandoned, and the site is now a couple of miles from the sea. Today, visitors can view a great many ruins from the ancient town, including a well preserved Roman theatre, the Baths of Neptune, remains of the military camp, temples to ancient deities, the forum and even Ostia Synagogue, which is the oldest known synagogue site in Europe.
Yet Ostia Antica is so much more than these notable elements, for it contains a huge range of well-preserved more typical Roman dwellings, shops, flats and warehouses and even has a Roman public toilet. This combines to give visitors a great picture of an ancient Roman town and allows you to get a real feel for day-to-day life in ancient Rome.
There is a small museum on site which has a number of artefacts and further information on the history of Ostia Antica. At certain times during the year Ostia Antica is also the venue for concerts and other events. This impressive site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.
Paestum is a Greco-Roman site located south of Naples which contains the stunning remains of three ancient Greek temples which still stand tall today
Paestum – Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC, Paestum was originally known as Poseidonia, named for the Greek god Poseidon. The city was captured by the Romans in 273BC after the Pyrrhic Wars and became the thriving Roman settlement of Paestum.
However, the changing climate and political upheavals of the later Roman Empire saw Paestum begin to decline in the early medieval period and by the turn of the millennium the site had been abandoned – it was not rediscovered until the 18th century.
Today, visitors to Paestum can still see the spectacular temples – the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Neptune and the Temple of Ceres (thought by some to be a temple of Athena).
The site also contains impressive defensive walls, a Roman forum, the basic remains of a Roman amphitheatre and a number of ancient tombs. Paestum also boasts an early Christian church and Paestum Museum, which has a wealth of information about the local sites. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Italy.
Capua Gladiator Museum – Capua Gladiator Museum is a small archaeological museum connected to Campania Amphitheatre. One for Spartacus fans…
The Gladiator Museum of Santa Maria Capua Vetere is a small museum exploring the history of the adjacent Campania Amphitheatre, including exhibitions of dioramas showing how it would have looked at its peak and also original artefacts found at the site itself including gladiatorial weapons.
Comprised of two rooms, the Gladiator Museum also houses fragments which decorated Campania Amphitheatre such as arches and inscriptions. Given that Campania Amphitheatre is now a shadow of its former self, it is definitely worth visiting the Gladiator Museum, if only to get a sense of its true grandeur, especially since the entry ticket for both sites is combined.
The Roman Empire • Locations & Activities