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St Peter's Basilica is the centre of the Catholic faith, the richest and most important church in the world. Built on top of the remains of St. Peter. The high altar which can only be used by the Pope is right above the tomb of St. Peter, and under the dome that was built by Michelangelo. The Church is huge and can hold 60.000 standing worshippers. The original design which was of a church based on a Greek Cross (a cross with 4 equal long arms). When Michelangelo took over as chief architect it was capped with the dome. Although he never was to see the completion of the dome in his lifetime. After the death of Michelangelo the dome was completed and the nave of the church was extended to the present day size.
In the entrance hall you will find 5 huge doors. The middle door is made from melted bronze from the Old Basilica, and is regarded as the first Renaissance piece of art in Rome. The door on the far right is the Holy Door, which is only opened in Jubilee years. In the panel above it you can read that John Paul opened the door in 2000, and closed in 2001. The next time it will be opened is in 2025.
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The only statue ever signed by Michelangelo (on the sash across Mary's breast). It is rumoured that he did that after he overheared people contributing it to a lesser sculptor instead of to him. La Pietà was one of his earliest works, sculpted on a single marble that he had chosen himself from the pits of Carrara. It depicts a serenely grieving and youthful-looking Virgin Mary, holding her fully grown son on her lap following his crucifixion. The interpretation of the iconographic Christ being mourned by Michelangelo was not without controversial, and opened to several speculations. One way to view it is that the ageless Mary represents incorruptible purity. In his own words "Women who are pure in soul and body never grow old." Michelangelo cleverly used lavish folds in Virgin Mary's drapery, to convey a sense of fluid togetherness, of Christ's body natural repose on the Virgin's lap. This sculpture evokes a sense of sadness yet understanding from a mother of his son's sacrifice. The sculpture has overtime suffered damages, the most recent and substantial in 1972 due to an unwarranted attack by a mentally unstable geologist. Following painstaking restoration, the sculpture is now protected behind a bullet-proof glass panel. If you enter the church the statue can be found on the right.
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The views from the top of the Dome, 130 metres above St. Peter's Square, are wonderful. To go up to the top of the Dome, head to the rightside of the Basilica after you went through the security check. In the summer months the dome is opened until 18.00, in the darker months of the year until 17.00.
Also on the rightside of the Basilica you will find also the entrance to the Vatican Grottoes that holds the remains of many popes including John Paul II, who died in 2005. His grave is a white slab of marmer. (The vaults also purport to contain the remains of King James III of England, whom you won't find in any English history books).
If you want to go up to the dome, you have to pay a fee of 5 euros if you plan to climb the 551 stairs all the way to the top, or 7 euros if you want to skip the first part, and only climb the remaining 320 steps.
Vatican City is entirely located in Rome and therefore it is best to check the guide of Rome for options of getting there and away. There are no planes, trains or boats travelling directly into Vatican City. Some buses (line number 49 for example) stop close to the main sights. Bus 40-N runs from the Termini station to the Vatican. The street in front of St. Peter's square is a stop for many of the hop-on, hop-off busses that run around Rome.
The nearest Metrostation is Ottaviano San Pietro on line A. The way to the Basilica is already signposted in the metrostation.
As it is officially the smallest country in the world, it comes at no surprise that getting around by foot is the best, and in fact the only, way of getting around the main sights of Vatican City.
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