St. Peter’s Square is one of the most monumetal squares in Europe. It was made by a great Baroque artist and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Pope Alexander VII asked Bernini to design a monumental square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in 1656, taking into account the already existing structures. We are talking about two things: first, a fountain made by Domenico Fontana in 1586 and an obelisk, which was brought to the square that same year and has not been moved since.
Keeping the obelisk on St. Peter’s Square was also theologically relevant. It used to be in the center of Nero’s Circus, where Peter the Apostle was killed. The point of execution for Christian martyrs was inter duas metas, which means ‘between the two farthest points’ of the stadium. Originally, that is where this obelisk was placed.
According to Bernini’s plans, there are two colonnades on the edges of the square. There are four rows of Doric columns in each colonnade. Bernini explained they are meant to look like hands reaching out to embrace the pilgrims in the middle of the square, just like the Church embraces its congregation.
Two white stones mark the points from which you can observe Bernini’s masterpiece. If you step on one of these stones, the illusion will be complete. From that point, the quadruple colonnade looks like a single row of columns, because the other three rows are perfectly hidden behind the front row.
When the Vatican signed the Lateran Treaty with Italy in 1929, Bernini’s colonnades became the state border between the Vatican and Italy.