Castel Sant'Angelo & St. Peter's Guide  Main Map View

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Palazzo di Giustizia Castel Sant'Angelo Roman Ramparts
Palazzo di Giustizia Castel Sant'Angelo Roman Ramparts

The area of Prati owes its current form to the unification of the secular Italian State (1870) and the establishment of Rome as its capital (1871). The Palazzo di Giustizia (1888-1910) on Piazza Tribunali was constructed for the Italian supreme courts of justice. Piazza Cavour(1873) is to its rear and named in honour of Camillo Benso di Cavour, the prime political architect of Italian unification who died in 1861.

Proceeding south you then reach Castel Sant'Angelo a fascinating building; originally constructed by Hadrian in 135AD as his family's mausoleum, thence a fortress, a prison, a Papal residence and now a museum & gallery. Under Papal control from the 14th century its role was defensive and as a place of refuge (it was connected to St Peter's Basilica by a fortified tunnel ) for Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome (1527). It was also used as a secure treasury for the Vatican and also as a prison (hence its use in Tosca) and a place of execution. On entering you initially climb Hadrian's massive Roman Ramparts, then pass up a further four levels.

Inner Courtyard Panoramic Terrace Ponte Vittorio Emanuele
Inner Courtyard Panoramic Terrace Ponte Vittorio Emanuele

An apparition of Archangel Michael in 590AD (marking the end of a plague) is the origin of its name; there are two physical "angels" the original marble one (1536) is in an Inner Courtyard you pass through as you climb to its ramparts and the later bronze (1753) in the original location at its top. The views of Rome and towards the Vatican from its Panoramic Terrace are some of the best in Rome. It has also featured in fiction: Puccini's Tosca throwing herself to death from its battlements and more recently as as a location in Dan Brown's (Da Vinci Code)  "Angels & Demons". Heading south along the river bank you reach Ponte Vittorio Emanuele, from where you can look back at Castel Sant'Angelo and in the opposite direction St Peter's.


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Piazza San Pietro Fontana San Pietro Basilica di San Pietro
Piazza San Pietro Fountain Basilica di San Pietro

Via della Conciliazione, a broad thoroughfare completed in the 1950's but instigated by Benito Mussolini to symbolically link central Rome and the Vatican, leads you to Piazza San Pietro (1656-67). The specification from Pope Alexander VII was to design it such that "the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the fa?ade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace" "The Piazza of St Peter's was built by Bernini for Pope Alexander VII in 1656-67. It was conceived as a grand approach to the church but had to be planned so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the facade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace." (John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of the World). Ellipsoid in shape this great space (at its greatest 240 m across) was designed by Bernini. In its centre is an obelisk (13th century BC), originally brought to Rome from Heliopolis in ancient Egypt by Caligula in 37AD. To the right is a Fountain by Carlo Maderno and matching it on the left another(1677) by Carlo Fontana.

The Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano (St Peters) is dedicated to (and reputedly the final resting place of ) St Peter; Jesuss disciple. Interestingly however it is one of four Papal Basilica, all of which are in Rome, but not the most important. The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano being both the Cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Bishop of Rome (aka the Pope).

St Peters is possibly the largest Christian church and can hold up to 60,000 worshippers. It was built on the site of an earlier church begun by Constantine (AD 326-33) itself built over a shrine believed to be St Peters grave after his crucifixion in Rome. The foundation stone was laid in 1506 and the original design was by Brabante with the plan for the dome based upon that of the Pantheon. In 1513/15 Raphael took over the construction and revised the design but with his death in 1520 it then passed to Peruzzi ; but the sack of Rome by Emperor Charles V of Spain meant little progress was made by the time of his death in 1536. A further plan was submitted incorporating the features of the previous "Capomaestro" by Antonio de Sangallo, but in 1547 he was succeeded by Michelangelo to whom, despite his death in 1564, the final design is attributed. However it was not until the appointment of Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana in 1585 led to the domes completion in 1590.