The Colosseum or Coliseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre (lat. Amphitheatrum Flavium), is an amphitheatre in Rome, capable of seating 50,000 spectators, which was once used for gladiatorial combat. Construction was initiated by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his sons, Titus and Domitian, between AD 72 and AD 81. It was built at the site of Nero's enormous palace, the Domus Aurea. The Colosseum's name is derived from a colossus (a 130-foot, or 40-metre, statue) of Nero which once stood nearby.
The floor is modern reconstruction; below are the underground vaults and tunnels originally used to house animals and slaves.The construction of the Colosseum began under the rule of Emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed by his son, Titus, in the 80s AD. It was built at the site of Nero's enormous palace, the Domus Aurea, which had been built after the great fire of Rome in AD 64. Some historians believe that the construction of the Colosseum might have been financed by the looting of King Herod the Great's Temple in Jerusalem which occurred about AD 70. Dio Cassius said that 9,000 wild animals were killed in the one hundred days of celebration which inaugurated the amphitheatre opening. The arena floor was covered with sand, presumably to allow the blood to drain away.
The Colosseum hosted large-scale spectacular games that included fights between animals (venationes), the killing of prisoners by animals (see: Zoophilia: Roman games and circus) and other executions (noxii), naval battles (naumachiae, via flooding the arena) up until AD 81, and combats between gladiators (munera). It has been estimated that several hundreds of thousands died in the Colosseum games. Saint Ignatius of Antioch was martyred there.
History of the name Colosseum
The Colosseum's name is derived from a colossus (a 130-foot or 40-metre statue) of Nero nearby. This statue was later remodeled by Nero's successors into the likeness of Sol, the sun god, by adding the appropriate solar crown. Nero's head was also replaced several times by the head of succeeding emperors. At some time during the Middle Ages, the statue disappeared; experts suspect that, since the statue was bronze, it was melted down for reuse.
After the colossus' disposal, the link to it seems to have been forgotten over time, and the name was corrupted to Coliseum in the Middle Ages. Both names are frequently used in modern English, but Flavian Amphitheatre is generally unknown. In Italy, it is still known as il colosseo, but other Romance languages have come to use forms such as le colisée and el coliseo.
The Colosseum measures 48 metres high, 188 metres long, and 156 metres wide. The wooden arena floor was 86 metres by 54 metres, and covered by sand. Its elliptical shape kept the players from retreating to a corner, and allowed the spectators to be closer to the action than a circle would allow.
The Colosseum was ingeniously designed. It has been said that most spectacle venues (stadiums, and similar) have been influenced by features of the Colosseum's structure, even well into modern times. Seating (cavea) was divided into different sections. The podium, the first level of seating, was for the Roman senators; the emperor's private, cushioned, marble box was also located on this level. Above the podium was the maenianum primum, for the other Roman aristocrats who were not in the senate. The third level, the maenianum secundum, was divided into three sections. The lower part (the immum) was for wealthy citizens, while the upper part (the summum) was for poor citizens. A third, wooden section (the maenianum secundum in legneis) was a wooden structure at the very top of the building, added by Domitian. It was standing room only, and was for lower-class women.
After the Colosseum's first two years in operation, Vespasian's younger son (the newly-designated Emperor Domitian) ordered the construction of the hypogeum (literally meaning "underground"), a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Numerous trap doors in the floor provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like.
Today the arena floor no longer exists, though the hypogeum walls and corridors are clearly visible in the ruins of the structure. The entire base of the Colosseum covers an area equivalent to 6 acres (160,000 m²). There are also tunnels, still in existence, configured to flood and evacuate water from the Colosseum floor, so that naval battles could be staged prior to the hypogeum's construction. Recent archaeological research has shown evidence of drain pipes connected to the City's sewer system and a large underground holding tank connected to a nearby aqueduct.
Another innovative feature of the Colosseum was its cooling system, known as the valerium, which consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. This roof covered two-thirds of the arena, and sloped down towards the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience. Sailors, standing on special platforms, manipulated the ropes on command. The Colosseum incorporated a number of vomitoria — passageways that open into a tier of seats from below or behind. The vomitoria were designed so that the immense venue could fill in 15 minutes, and be evacuated in as little as 5 minutes. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase.
There were 80 entrances at ground level, 76 for ordinary spectators, two for the imperial family, and two for the gladiators. Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section. The vomitoria quickly dispersed people into their seats and, upon conclusion of the event, disgorged them with abruptness into the surrounding streets (giving rise, presumably, to the name).
The Colosseum was in continuous use until 217, when it was damaged by fire after it was struck by lightning. It was restored in 238 and gladiatorial games continued until Christianity gradually put an end to those parts of them which included the death of humans. The building was used for various purposes, mostly venationes (staged animal hunts), until 524. Two earthquakes (in 442 and 508) caused a great damage to the structure. In the Middle Ages, it was severely damaged by further earthquakes (847 and 1349), and was then converted into a fortress and a Christian church erected in one small part.
The marble that originally covered the façade was reused in constructions or burned to make quicklime. During the Renaissance, but mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries, the ruling Roman families (from which many popes came) used it as a source of marble for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica and the private palazzi of Roman families such as the Barberini: Quod non fecerunt Barbari, Barberini fecerunt; "What the Barbarians didn't do, the Barberini did"
The Venerable Bede (c. 672–735) wrote:
Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma (As long as the Colosseum stands, so shall Rome);
Quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma (When the Colosseum falls, so shall Rome);
Quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus (When Rome falls, so shall the world).
Note the use of coliseus, i.e. which made the name a masculine noun. This form is no longer in use.
In 1749, in a very early example of historic preservation, Pope Benedict XIV forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry. He consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ and installed Stations of the Cross, declaring it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs who were thought to have perished there. Later popes initiated various stabilization and restoration projects. Every Good Friday the pope leads a procession within the ellipse in memory of Christian martyrs.. It is presumed that the majority of Christian martyrdom in Rome took place at the Circus Maximus.
In 2000 there were protests in Italy against the use the death penalty in countries all over the world (in Italy it was abolished in 1948). Several demonstrations took place in front of the Colosseum. Since that time, as a gesture against capital punishment, the local authorities of Rome change the colour of the Colosseum's night time illumination from white to gold whenever a person condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world gets their sentence commuted or is released. 
According to the current political division of the center of Rome, the Colosseum is placed in rione Monti.
Hollywood and the Colosseum
The Colosseum has a prominent place in many motion pictures. In 1954's Demetrius and the Gladiators Emperor Caligula sentences the Christian Demetrius to fight in the Colosseum's gladiator . In the Science Fiction film The Core, the Colosseum is destroyed by intense lightning strikes, which blast it to bits. The Colosseum was also destroyed in the movie Independence Day by alien spacecraft, along with various other important locations on the planet. In director Ridley Scott's 2000 film Gladiator, the Colosseum was re-created via computer-generated imagery (CGI) to "restore" it to the glory of its heyday in the 2nd century. However, many of the buildings depicted surrounding the colosseum never existed.
The Colosseum has a wide and well-documented history on the flora that grows in the amphitheatre. From 1643 on, when doctor Domenico Panaroli started to make a list of all plants in the Colosseum, there has been a total of 684 species. The peak was in 1855 (420 species), which decreased to 242 today. 200 of the species were present from the time that the first list was compiled through now.
The variety of different kinds of plants can be explained by the change of climate in Rome throughout the centuries. Bird migration, flower blooming, the growth of Rome that caused the Colosseum to not be on the outside skirts of the city anymore and deliberate transport of species are other ways to clearify the wide stream of plants.
The Sistine ChapelThe Sistine Chapel (Italian: Cappella Sistina) is a chapel in the Palace of the Vatican, the official residence of the Roman Catholic Pope in the Vatican City. It was built between 1475 and 1483, in the time of Pope Sixtus IV, and is one of the most famous churches of the Western World. The name Sistine is derived from the Italian sistino meaning of or pertaining to Sixtus IV.
The chapel is rectangular and measures 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide (the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament). It is 20.70 meters high and is roofed by a flattened barrel vault, with small side vaults over the 6 centered windows. The pavement (15th century) is in opus alexandrinum (see opus).
A transenna in marble by Mino da Fiesole, Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata divides the chapel into two parts; the wider one, together with the altar, is reserved for proper religious ceremonies and other clergy uses, and the smaller one for the faithful. The passage (cancellata, gateway) was originally in gilt iron and more central; it was moved toward the faithful area to grant a wider space for the pope. By the same artists is the Cantoria, the space for the chorus.
During important ceremonies, side walls are covered with a series of tapestries (by Raphael) depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
The architectural plans were made by Baccio Pontelli and the construction work was supervised by Giovannino de Dolci between 1473 and 1484, at the orders of Sixtus IV.
The first mass in the Sistine Chapel was celebrated on August 9, 1483, as a ceremony by which it was consecrated and dedicated to the Assumption of the virgin Mary.
The wall paintings were executed by premier painters of the Quattrocento: Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosellini, Signorelli and their respective workshops, which included Pinturicchio, Piero di Cosimo and Bartolomeo della Gatta. The subjects were historical religious themes, selected and divided according to the medieval concept of the partition of the world history into three epochs: before the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, between Moses and Christ's birth, and the Christian era thereafter. They underline the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, or the transition from the Mosaic law to the Christian religion.
The walls were painted over an astonishingly short period of time, barely eleven months, from July, 1481 to May, 1482. The painters were each required first to execute a sample fresco; these were to be officially examined and evaluated in January, 1482. However, it was so evident at such an early stage that the frescoes would be satisfactory that by October 1481, the artists were given the commission to execute the remaining ten stories.
The pictorial programme for the chapel was comprised of a cycle each from the Old and New Testament of scenes from the lives of Moses and Christ. The narratives began at the altar wall - the frescoes painted there yielding to Michelangelo's Last Judgment a mere thirty year later - continued along the long walls of the chapel, and ended at the entrance wall. A gallery of papal portraits was painted above these depictions, and the latter were completed underneath by representations of painted curtains. The individual scenes from the two cycles contain typological references to one another. The Old and New Testament are understood as constituting a whole, with Moses appearing as the prefiguration of Christ.
The typological positioning of the Moses and Christ cycles has a political dimension going beyond a mere illustrating of the correspondences between Old and New Testament. Sixtus IV was employing a precisely conceived program to illustrate through the entire cycle the legitimacy of papal authority, running from Moses, via Christ, to Peter, whose ultimate authority, conferred by Christ, ultimately to the Pope of present. The portraits of the latter above the narrative depictions served emphatically to illustrate the ancestral lineage of their God-given authority.
The two most important scenes from the fresco cycle, Perugino's Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter and Botticelli's The Punishment of Korah; both contain in the background the triumphal arch of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who gave the Pope temporal power over the Roman western world. The triumphal arch alludes to the imperial grant of papal power of the Pope. Sixtus IV was thereby not only illustrating his position in a line of succession starting in the Old Testament and continuing through the New Testament up to contemporary times, but was simultaneously restating the view of the papacy as the legitimate successor to the Roman Empire.
Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter
This fresco is located in the fifth compartment in the northern wall.
Among Perugino's frescoes in the Chapel, the Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter is stylistically the most instructive. The main figures are organized in a frieze in two tightly compressed rows close to the surface of the picture and well below the horizon. The principal group, showing Christ handing the gold and silver keys to the kneeling St. Peter, is surrounded by the other Apostles, including Judas (fifth figure to the left of Christ), all with halos, together with portraits of contemporaries, including one said to be a self-portrait (fifth from the right edge). The flat, open square is divided by coloured stones into large foreshortened rectangles, although they are not used in defining the spatial organization. Nor is the relationship between the figures and the felicitous invention of the porticoed Temple of Salomon that dominates the picture effectively resolved. The triumphal arches at the extremities appear as superfluous antiquarian references, suitable for a Roman audience. Scattered in the middle distance are two secondary scenes from the life of Christ, including the Tribute Money on the left and the Stoning of Christ on the right.
The style of the figures is inspired to Verrocchio. The active drapery, with its massive complexity, and the figures, particularly several apostles, including St. John the Evangelist, with beautiful features, long flowing hair, elegant demeanour, and refinement recall St Thomas from Verrocchio's bronze group on Orsanmichele. The poses of the actors fall into a small number of basic attitudes that are consistently repeated, usually in reverse from one side to the other, signifying the use of the same cartoon. They are graceful and elegant figures who tend to stand firmly on the earth. Their heads are smallish in proportion to the rest of their bodies, and their features are delicately distilled with considerable attention to minor detail.
The octagonal temple with its ample porches that dominates the central axis must have had behind it a project created by an architect, but Perugino's treatment is like the rendering of a wooden model, painted with exactitude. The building with its arches serves as a backdrop in front of which the action unfolds. Perugino has made a significant contribution in rendering the landscape. The sense of an infinite world that stretches across the horizon is stronger than in almost any other work of his contemporaries, and the feathery trees against the cloud-filled sky with the bluish hills in the distance represent a solution that later painters would find instructive, especially Raphael.
Scenes of the Life of Moses
Botticelli painted three scenes within the short period of eleven months: Scenes from the Life of Moses, The Temptation of Christ and The Punishment of Korah. He also painted, with much help from his workshop, in the niches above the biblical scenes, some portraits of popes which have been considerably painted over. In all these works his painting appears relatively weak.
The Scenes of the Life of Moses fresco is opposite The Temptation of Christ also painted by Botticelli. The two pictures are typologically related in that both deal with the theme of temptation. Botticelli integrated seven episodes from the life of the young Moses into the landscape with considerable skill, by opening up the surface of the picture with four diagonal rows of figures.
As the Moses cycle starts on the wall behind the altar, the scenes should, unlike the pictures of the temptations of Christ, be read from right to left: (1) Moses in a shining yellow garment, angrily strikes an Egyptian overseer and then (2) flees to the Midianites. There (3) he disperses a group of shepherds who were preventing the daughters of Jethro from (4) drawing water at the well. After (5,6) the divine revelation in the burning bush at the top left, Moses obeys God's commandment and (7) leads the people of Israel in a triumphal procession from slavery in Egypt.
The Punishment of Korah
The message of this painting provides the key to an understanding of the Sistine Chapel as a whole before Michelangelo's work. The fresco reproduces three episodes, each of which depicts a rebellion by the Hebrews against God's appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron, along with the ensuing divine punishment of the agitators. On the right-hand side, the revolt of the Jews against Moses is related, the latter portrayed as an old man with a long white beard, clothed in a yellow robe and an olive-green cloak. Irritated by the various trials through which their emigration from Egypt was putting them, the Jews demanded that Moses be dismissed. They wanted a new leader, one who would take them back to Egypt, and they threatened to stone Moses; however, Joshua placed himself protectively between them and their would-be victim, as depicted in Botticelli's painting.
The centre of the fresco shows the rebellion, under the leadership of Korah, of the sons of Aaron and some Levites, who, setting themselves up in defiance of Aaron's authority as high priest, also offered up incense. In the background we see Aaron in a blue robe, swinging his incense censer with an upright posture and filled with solemn dignity, while his rivals stagger and fall to the ground with their censers at God's behest. Their punishment ensues on the left-hand side of the picture, as the rebels are swallowed up by the earth, which is breaking open under them. The two innocent sons of Korah, the ringleader of the rebels, appear floating on a cloud, exempted from the divine punishment.
The principal message of these scenes is made manifest by the inscription in the central field of the triumphal arch: "Let no man take the honour to himself except he that is called by God, as Aaron was." The fresco thus holds a warning that God's punishment will fall upon those who oppose God's appointed leaders. This warning also contained a contemporary political reference through the portrayal of Aaron in the fresco, depicted wearing the triple-ringed tiara of the Pope and thus characterized as the papal predecessor. It was a warning to those questioning the ultimate authority of the Pope over the Church. The papal claims to leadership were God-given, their origin lay in Christ giving Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and thereby granting him privacy over the young Church. Perugino painted this crucial element of the doctrine of papal supremacy immediately opposite Botticelli's fresco.
The Temptation of Christ
The fresco which Botticelli began in July, 1481, is the third scene within the Christ cycle and depicts the Temptation of Christ. Christ's threefold temptation by the Devil, as described in the Gospel according to Matthew, can be seen in the background of the picture, with the devil disguised as a hermit. At top left, up on the mountain, he is challenging Christ to turn stones into bread; in the centre, we see the two standing on a temple, with the Devil attempting to persuade Christ to cast himself down; on the right-hand side, finally, he is showing the Son of God the splendour of the world's riches, over which he is offering to make Him master. However, Christ drives away the Devil, who ultimately reveals his true devilish form. On the right in the background, three angels have prepared a table for the celebration of the Eucharist, a scene which only becomes comprehensible when seen in conjunction with the event in the foreground of the fresco. The unity of these two events from the point of view of content is clarified by the reappearance of Christ with three angels in the middle ground on the left of the picture, where He is apparently explaining the incident occurring in the foreground to the heavenly messangers. We are concerned here with the celebration of a Jewish sacrifice, conducted daily before the Temple in accordance with ancient custom. The high priest is receiving the blood-filled sacrificial bowl, while several people are bringing animals and wood as offerings.
At first sight, the inclusion of this Jewish sacrificial scene in the Christ cycle would appear extremely puzzling; however, its explanation may be found in the typological interpretation. The Jewish sacrifice portrayed here refers to the crucifixion of Christ, who through His death offered of His flesh and blood for the redemption of mankind. Christ's sacrifice is reconstructed in the celebration of the Eucharist, alluded to here by the gift table prepared by the angels.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 to repaint the ceiling, originally representing golden stars on a blue sky; the work was completed between 1508 and 1 November 1512. He painted the Last Judgment over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, being commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese. Michelangelo felt that he was a more developed sculptor than a painter, but he accepted the offer.
In 1508 Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the vault, or ceiling of the chapel. It took him until 1512 to complete. To be able to reach the ceiling, Michelangelo needed a support; the first idea was by Bramante, who wanted to build for him a special scaffold, suspended in the air with ropes. But Michelangelo suspected that this would leave holes in the ceiling once the work was ended, so he built a scaffold of his own, a flat wooden platform on brackets built out from holes in the wall, high up near the top of the windows. He stood on this scaffolding while he painted.
The first layer of plaster began to grow mold because it was too wet. Michelangelo had to remove it and start again, but he tried a new mixture, called intonaco, created by one of his assistants, Jacopo l'Indaco. This one not only resisted mold, but also entered the Italian building tradition (and is still now in use). Michelangelo used bright colors, easily visible from the floor.
On the lowest part of the ceiling he painted the ancestors of Christ. Above this he alternated male and female prophets, with Jonah over the altar. On the highest section Michelangelo painted nine stories from the Book of Genesis.
Michelangelo was employed to paint only 12 figures, the Apostles, but when the work was finished there were more than 300. His figures showed the creation, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood. The sketches are a really precious and curious document. Michelangelo used male models, even for the females, because female models were more rare and costly than male ones.
The Last Judgement
Last Judgment was an object of a heavy dispute between Cardinal Carafa and Michelangelo: the artist was accused of immorality and intolerable obscenity, having depicted naked figures, with genitals in evidence, inside the most important church of Christianity, so a censorship campaign (known as the "Fig-Leaf Campaign") was organized by Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) to remove the frescoes. When the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, said "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns," Michelangelo worked da Cesena's semblance into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld. It is said that when he complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain.
The genitalia in the fresco were later covered by the artist Daniele da Volterra, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname 'the breeches-painter'.
Restoration and controversy
The chapel has been recently restored (1981 through 1994). This restoration was initially surrounded by a heated controversy in the art world, some claiming it a success and a breakthrough revelation, while a few claiming it ruined the masterpiece. Some conservationists complained about the loss of a brown patina that had developed over centuries, comprised of candle smoke, soot, and repeated applications of poor quality varnish. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, they claim that this layer of murky material was actually applied by Michelangelo himself in order to "harmonise" what they called 'ice-cream colors'. The bright colors reveal Michelangelo to have been a masterful colorist, and close-ups of the frescos show complex brushwork that would not be matched, nor even attempted until the Impressionist movement of the 19th century. Others comment that bright colors were necessary for the frescos to stand out in the gloom of the chapel, with its high, narrow windows. Now that the electric lighting has been removed and the frescos illuminated solely by the light from the windows, the original colours and effect have been restored.
Although no substantial evidence has been found proving that this was Michelangelo's original intention, the argument is often disregarded.
The election of a new Pope, the conclave takes place in the Sistine Chapel. In those occasions a chimney is installed in the roof of the chapel, from where comes out the smoke. If white smoke comes out: a new Pope has been elected. Black smoke: no successful election yet. Nowdays, the chapel is carefully searched for bugs, recorders, cameras, so that the conclave is kept secret.
Basilica of Saint PeterThe Basilica of Saint Peter, officially known in Italian as the Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano and colloquially called Saint Peter's Basilica, ranks second among the five major basilicas of Rome and its Vatican City enclave. Possibly the largest church in Christianity, it covers an area of 23,000 m² (5.7 acres) and has a capacity of over 60,000 people. One of the holiest sites of Christendom, it is the burial site of basilica namesake Saint Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, first Bishop of Antioch, and later first Bishop of Rome. Tradition holds that his tomb is below the baldachino and altar; for this reason, many Popes, starting with the first ones, have been buried there. The current basilica was started in 1506 and completed in 1626, and was built over the Constantinian basilica.
Although the Vatican basilica is not the Pope's official ecclesiastical seat (Saint John Lateran), it is most certainly his principal church, as most Papal ceremonies take place at St. Peter's due to its size, proximity to the Papal residence, and location within the Vatican City walls. The basilica also holds a relic of the Cathedra Petri, the episcopal throne of the basilica's namesake when he led the Roman church, but which is no longer used as the Papal cathedra.
The current location is probably the site of the Circus of Nero, where Saint Peter was buried upon dying on an inverted cross (tradition states Saint Peter was crucified at the site of the Tempietto) in AD 64. After Constantine I officially recognised Christianity, he started construction in 324 of a great basilica in this exact spot, which had previously been a cemetery for pagans as well as Christians.
In 846, Arabs looted all the gold and silver that Pope Hadrian I had decorated the basilica with: silver plates on the floors, golden ones on the walls, and a golden balustrade weighing over half a ton. Pope Leo IV started work on the Leonine walls of Rome in response to this attack.
Old St. Peter's was in many ways a typical early basilica-plan church, with a nave and two aisles. The crossing was above the altar, producing a "T" plan. The importance of the shrine to St Peter soon led to its design being copied, for instance at the Basilica di Santa Prassede. Over the years it was richly decorated with the wealth brought by the flow of pilgrims, but by the mid-15th century the south wall was in danger of collapse and it was decided that the basilica should be rebuilt. Pope Nicholas V asked architect Bernardo Rossellino to start adding to the old church. This was abandoned after a short while. In the late 15th century Pope Sixtus IV had the Sistine Chapel started nearby.
The basilica in itself is a work of art composed of many valuable artistic elements. Construction started under Pope Julius II in 1505, and was completed in 1615 under Pope Paul V. Donato Bramante was to be the first chief architect. Many famous artists worked on the "Fabbrica di San Pietro" (as the complex of building operations were officially called). Michelangelo, who served as main architect for a while, designed the dome. After the death of Julius II, building was halted until Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to design the rest of the church. After Michelangelo's death his student Giacomo della Porta continued with the unfinished portions of the church. Carlo Maderno became the chief architect later on, and designed the entrance.
In 1939, workers renovating the grottoes beneath St. Peter's, the traditional burial area of the popes, made a stunning find. Just below the floor level, they discovered an ancient Roman grave. It soon became clear that there wasn't just one grave, but an entire city of the dead. After many months of digging, the excavators came to a section of older graves, near the area underneath the high altar. Directly beneath the altar, they found a large burial site and a wall painted red. In a niche connected to that wall, they found the bones of a man. Nearly 30 years later, in 1968, Pope Paul VI announced that those bones belonged to St. Peter.
St. Peter's Square
Directly to the east of the church is St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), built between 1656 and 1667. It is surrounded by an elliptical colonnade with two pairs of Doric columns which form its breadth, each bearing Ionic entablatures. This is an excellent example of Baroque architecture, where creativity is coupled with flexible guidelines. In the center of the colonnade, which was designed by Bernini, is a 25.5 m (83.6 ft) tall obelisk. The obelisk was moved to its present location in 1585 by order of Pope Sixtus V. The obelisk dates back to the 13th century BC in Egypt, and was moved to Rome in the 1st century to stand in Nero's Circus some 250 m (820 ft) away. Including the cross on top and the base the obelisk reaches 40 m (131 ft). On top of the obelisk there used to be a large bronze globe allegedly containing the ashes of Julius Caesar. This was removed when the obelisk was erected in St. Peter's Square. There are also two fountains in the square, the south one by Maderno (1613) and the northern one by Bernini (1675).
The dome designed by Michelangelo was completed by Giacomo della Porta in 1590.The dome, or cupola, was designed by Michelangelo, who became chief architect in 1546. At the time of his death (1564), the dome was finished as far as the drum, the base on which a dome sits. The dome was vaulted between 1585 and 1590 by the architect Giacomo della Porta with the assistance of Domenico Fontana, who was probably the best engineer of the day. Fontana built the lantern the following year, and the ball was placed in 1593.
A view of Michelangelo's domeAs built, the double dome is brick, 42.3 m (138.8 ft) in interior diameter (almost as large as the Pantheon), rising to 120 m (394 ft) above the floor. In the mid-18th century, cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it, like the rings that keep a barrel from bursting. (Visitors who climb the spiral stairs between the dome shells can glimpse them.) The four piers of the crossing that support it are each 18 metres (59 ft) across. It is not simply its vast scale (136.57 m or 448.06 ft from the floor of the church to the top of the added cross) that makes it extraordinary . Michelangelo's dome is not a hemisphere, but a paraboloid: it has a vertical thrust, which is made more emphatic by the bold ribbing that springs from the paired Corinthian columns, which appear to be part of the drum, but which stand away from it like buttresses, to absorb the outward thrust of the dome's weight. The grand arched openings just visible in the illustration but normally invisible to viewers below, enable access (but not to the public) all around the base of the drum; they are dwarfed by the monumental scale of their surroundings. Above, the vaulted dome rises to Fontana's two-stage lantern, capped with a spire.
The egg-shaped dome exerts less outward thrust than a lower hemispheric one (such as Mansart's at Les Invalides) would have done. The dome conceived by Donato Bramante at the outset in 1503 was planned to be carried out with a single masonry shell, a plan discovered to be infeasible. San Gallo came up with the double shell, and Michelangelo improved upon it. The piers at the crossing, which were the first masonry to be laid, and which were intended to support the original dome, were a constant concern, too slender in Bramante's plan, they were redesigned several times as the dome plans evolved.
Other domes around the world, built since, are always compared to this one which served as model: Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, Quebec, St Paul's Cathedral in London, Les Invalides in Paris, United States Capitol in Washington, DC, Harrisburg, PA , and the more literal reproduction at the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire.
Above the main entrance is the inscription IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII (In honor of the prince of apostles; Paul V, citizen of Rome, Supreme Pontiff, in the year 1612 and the seventh year of his pontificate).
The façade is 114.69 metres (376.28 ft) wide and 45.55 m (149.44ft) high. On top are statues of Christ, John the Baptist, and eleven of the apostles; St. Peter's statue is inside. Two clocks are on either side of the top, the one on the left has been operated electrically since 1931, its oldest bell dating to 1288.
Between the façade and the interior is the portico. Mainly designed by Maderno, it contains an 18th century statue of Charlemagne by Cornacchini to the south, and an equestrian sculpture of Emperor Constantine by Bernini (1670) to the north. The southernmost door, designed by Giacomo Manzù, is called the "Door of the Dead". The door in the center is by Antonio Averulino (1455), and preserved from the previous basilica.
The northernmost door is the "Holy Door" in bronze by Vico Consorti (1950), which is by tradition, only opened for great celebrations such as Jubilee years. Above it are inscriptions, the top reading PAVLVS V PONT MAX ANNO XIII, and the one just above the door reading GREGORIVS XIII PONT MAX. In between are white slabs commemorating the most recent openings.
Walking along the right aisle of the basilica, there are several noteworthy monuments and memorials. The first is Michelangelo's Pietà, located immediately to the right of the entrance. After an incident in 1972 when an individual damaged it with an axe, the sculpture was placed behind protective glass. Up the aisle is the monument of Queen Christina of Sweden, who abdicated in 1654 in order to convert to Catholicism. Further up are the monuments of popes Pius XI and Pius XII, as well as the altar of St Sebastian. Even further up is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, which is open during religious services only. Inside it is a tabernacle on the altar resembling Bramante's Tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio. Bernini sculpted this gilded bronze tabernacle in 1674. The two kneeling angels were added later. Further still are the monuments of popes Gregory XIII (completed in 1723 by Carlo Rusconi) and Gregory XIV.
In the northwestern corner of the nave sits the statue of St. Peter Enthroned, attributed to late 13th century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio (with some scholars dating it back to the 5th century). The foot of the statue is eroded due to centuries of pilgrims kissing it. Along the floor of the nave are markers with the comparative lengths of other churches, starting from the entrance (not an original detail). Along the pilasters are niches housing 39 statues of saints who founded religious orders.
Walking down the left aisle there is the Altar of Transfiguration. Walking down towards the entrance are the monuments to Leo XI and Innocent XI followed by the Chapel of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. After that come the monuments to Pius X and Innocent VIII, then the monuments to John XXIII and Benedict XV, and the Chapel of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. After that comes the Monument to the Royal Stuarts, directly opposite the one to Maria Clementina Sobieska. Symmetrically, the two monarchs who gave up their thrones for their Catholic faith in the 17th century, are honored side by side in the most important church in Catholicism. Finally, right before the end of the church, is the Baptistry.
The right transept contains three altars, of St. Wenceslas, St. Processo and St. Martiniano, and St. Erasmus. The left transept also contains three altars, that of St. Peter's Crucifixion, St. Joseph and St. Thomas. West of the left transept is the monument to Alexander VII by Bernini. A skeleton lifts a fold of red marble drapery and holds an hourglass symbolising the inevitability of death. He is flanked on the right by a statue representing religion, who holds her foot atop a globe, with a thorn piercing her toe from the British Isles, symbolizing the pope's problems with the Church of England.
Over the main altar stands a 30 m (98 ft) tall baldachin held by four immense pillars, all designed by Bernini between 1624 and 1632. The baldachin was built to fill the space beneath the cupola, and it is said that the bronze used to make it was taken from the Pantheon. (It is also said that it is the largest bronze piece in the world.) Underneath the baldachin is the traditional tomb of St. Peter. In the four corners surrounding the baldachin are statues of St Helena (northwest, holding a large cross in her right hand, by Andrea Bolgi), St Longinus (northeast, holding his spear in his right hand, by Bernini in 1639), St Andrew (southeast, spread upon the cross which bears his name, by Francois Duquesnoy) and St Veronica (southwest, holding her veil, by Francesco Mochi). Each of these statues represents a relic associated with the person, respectively, a piece of The Cross, the Spear of Destiny, St Andrew's head (as well as part of his cross) and Veronica's Veil. In 1964, St Andrew's head was returned to the Greek Orthodox Church by the Pope. It should be noted that the Vatican makes no claims as to the authenticity of several of these relics, and in fact other Catholic churches also possess "the same" relics. Along the base of the inside of the dome is written, in letters 2 m (6.5 ft) high, TV ES PETRVS ET SVPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM. TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM (Vulgate, from Matthew 16:18-19; "...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...."). Near the top of the dome is another, smaller, circular inscription: S. PETRI GLORIAE SIXTVS PP. V. A. M. D. XC. PONTIF. V. (To the glory of St. Peter; Sixtus V, pope, in the year 1590 and the fifth year of his pontificate).
The Burial of St. Petronilla is an altarpiece painted by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercini) in 1623. It simultaneously depicts the burial and the welcoming to heaven of the martyred St. Petronilla. The altar is dedicated to the saint, and contains her relics.
The Chair of Saint Peter, Cathedra Petri, is behind the altar in the basilica apse.At the apse of the church is the Triumph of the Chair of Saint Peter (1666) by Bernini, a focus of the Feast of Cathedra Petri celebrated annually on February 22 in accordance to the calendar of saints. The triumph is topped by a yellow window in which is a dove, portraying the Holy Spirit, surrounded by twelve rays, symbolising the apostles. Beneath it is the bronze encasing of the relic of the chair of St. Peter, given to the Vatican from Charles the Bald in 875. To the right of the chair are St Ambrose and St Augustine (fathers of the Latin church), and to the left are St Athanasius and St John Chrysostom (fathers of the Greek church). Further to the right is the monument to Urban VIII, by Bernini, and further to the left is the monument to Paul III.
Castel Sant' AngeloThe Castel Sant'Angelo is towering cylindrical building in Rome, initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building spent over a thousand years as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.
The Tomb of Hadrian was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between 135 and 139. Originally, the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and the golden quadriga of the emperor. Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in Baiae in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Following this, the remains of succeeding emperors were also placed here, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217. The urns containing these ashes were probably placed in what is now known as the Treasury room deep within the building, but the urns and the ashes are long since gone, scattered by Visigoth looters when Alaric sacked Rome in 410.
In 401, the mausoleum was converted into a military fortress and included by Flavius Augustus Honorius in the Aurelian Walls. Procopius recounts that during the siege by the Goths in 537, the bronze and stone statuary that originally decorated the tomb-become-fortress were thrown down upon the attackers.
The popes converted the structure into a castle, from the 14th century; Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St. Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V's Landsknecht during the Sack of Rome (1527), in which Benvenuto Cellini describes strolling the ramparts and shooting enemy soldiers.
The Papal state also used Sant'Angelo as a prison; Giordano Bruno, for example, was imprisoned there for six years. As a prison, it was also the setting of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca from whose ramparts the namesake of the opera leaps to her death.
An 18th century bronze statue of Saint Michael the archangel sheathing a sword surmounts the tomb; legend holds that an angel appeared atop of the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name.
Decommissioned at last in 1901, the photogenic castle is now a museum, Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo. The Ponte Sant'Angelo, providing a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the right bank of the Tiber, dates also from Imperial Rome and is renowned for its Baroque statuary of angels holding aloft elements of the Passion of Christ.
School of AthensThe famous School of Athens is a depiction of philosophy. The scene takes place in classical times, as both the architecture and the garments indicate. Figures representing each subject that must be mastered in order to hold a true philosophic debate - astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, and solid geometry - are depicted in concrete form. The arbiters of this rule, the main figures, Plato and Aristotle, are shown in the centre, engaged in such a dialogue. Plato is pointing to the heavens, indicating that the truth is found in the world of ideas, while Aristotle points to the earth, indicating that the truth is found through the experience of the senses. Raphael does not entrust his illustration to allegorical figures, as was customary in the 14th and 15th centuries. Rather, he groups the solemn figures of thinkers and philosophers together in a large, grandiose architectural framework. This framework is characterized by a high dome, a vault with lacunar ceiling and pilasters. It is probably inspired by late Roman architecture or - as most critics believe - by Bramante's project for the new St. Peter's which is itself a symbol of the synthesis of pagan and Christian philosophies.
The figures who dominate the composition do not crowd the environment, nor are they suffocated by it. Rather, they underline the breadth and depth of the architectural structures. The protagonists - Plato, represented with a white beard (some people identify this solemn old man with Leonardo da Vinci) and Aristotle - are both characterized by a precise and meaningful pose. Raphael's descriptive capacity, in contrast to that visible in the allegories of earlier painters, is such that the figures do not pay homage to, or group around the symbols of knowledge; they do not form a parade. They move, act, teach, discuss and become excited. The painting celebrates classical thought, but it is also dedicated to the liberal arts, symbolized by the statues of Apollo and Minerva. Grammar, Arithmetic and Music are personified by figures located in the foreground, at left. Geometry and Astronomy are personified by the figures in the foreground, at right. Behind them stand characters representing Rhetoric and Dialectic.
Plato and Aristotle are standing in the centre of the picture at the head of the steps. Diogenes is lying carefree on the steps to show his philosophical attitude: he despised all material wealth and the lifestyle associated with it. Below on the right is a great block of stone whose significance is probably connected with the first epistle of St Peter. It symbolizes Christ, the "cornerstone" which the builders have rejected, which becomes a stumbling block and a "rock of offence" to the unbeliever.
Some of the ancient philosophers bear the features of Raphael's contemporaries. Bramante is shown as Euclid (in the foreground, at right, leaning over a tablet and holding a compass). Leonardo is, as we said, probably shown as Plato. Francesco Maria Della Rovere appears once again near Bramante, dressed in white. Michelangelo, sitting on the stairs and leaning on a block of marble, is represented as an alone and melancholic Heraclitus. A close examination of the intonaco shows that Heraclitus was the last figure painted when the fresco was completed, in 1511. The allusion to Michelangelo is probably a gesture of homage to the artist, who had recently unveiled the frescoes of the Sistine Ceiling. Raphael - at the extreme right, with a dark hat - and his friend, Sodoma, are also present (they exemplify the glorification of the fine arts and they are posed on the same level as the liberal arts).
The fresco achieved immediate success. Its beauty and its thematic unity were universally accepted. The enthusiasm with which it was received was not marred by reservations, as was the public reaction to the Sistine Ceiling.
The PantheonThe Pantheon is a building in Rome which was originally built as a temple to the seven deities of the seven planets in the Roman state religion, but which has been a Christian church since the 7th century. It is the best-preserved of all Roman buildings and the oldest important building in the world with its original roof intact. It has been in continuous use throughout its history.
The original Pantheon was built in 27 BC-25 BC under the Roman Empire, during the third consulship of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and his name is inscribed on the portico of the building. The inscription reads M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIUM·FECIT, "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this." It was originally built with adjoining baths and water gardens.
In fact, Agrippa's Pantheon was destroyed by fire in AD 80, and the current building dates from about 125, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, as date-stamps on the bricks reveal. It was totally reconstructed, with the text of the original inscription added to the new facade, a common practice in Hadrian's rebuilding projects all over Rome. The building was later repaired by Septimius Severus and Caracalla. Hadrian was a cosmopolitan emperor who traveled widely in the east and was a great admirer of Greek culture. He seems to have intended the Pantheon, a temple to all the gods, to be a kind of ecumenical or syncretist gesture to the subjects of the Roman Empire who did not worship the old gods of Rome, or who (as was increasingly the case) worshipped them under other names.
In 609 the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who reconsecrated it as a Christian church, the Church of Mary and all the Martyr Saints (Santa Maria ad Martyres), which title it retains.
The building's consecration as a church saved it from the abandonment and spoliation which befell the majority of ancient Rome's buildings during the early mediaeval period. The only loss has been the external sculptures, which adorned the pediment above Agrippa's inscription. The marble interior and the great bronze doors have survived, although the latter have been restored several times.
During the reign of Pope Urban VIII, the Pope ordered the bronze ceiling of the Pantheon's portico melted down. Most of the bronze was used to make bombards for the fortification of Castel Sant'Angelo, with the remaining amount used by the Apostolic Chamber for various other works. (It is also said that the bronze was used by Bernini in creating the baldachin above the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica, but according to at least one expert, the Pope's accounts state that about 90% of the bronze was used for the cannon, and that the bronze for the baldachin came from Venice.) This led to the Latin proverb, "Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini" ("What the barbarians did not do, the Barberinis [family name of Urban VIII] did").
Since the Renaissance the Pantheon has been used as a tomb. Among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Caracci, the architect Baldassare Peruzzi and two kings of Italy: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Vittorio Emanuele's Queen, Margherita. In the 15th century, the Pantheon was adorned with paintings: the best known is the "Annunciazione" by Melozzo da Forlì.
Although Italy has been a republic since 1946, volunteer members of Italian monarchist organisations maintain a vigil over the royal tombs in the Pantheon. This has aroused protests from time to time from republicans, but the Catholic authorities allow the practice to continue, although the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage  is in charge of the security and maintenance. The Pantheon is still a church and Masses are still celebrated in the church, particularly for weddings.
The building is circular with a portico of three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment opening into the rotunda, under a coffered, concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus), the Great Eye, open to the sky. The weight of the dome is concentrated on a ring of voussoirs 8.5 metres in diameter (almost 30 feet) which form the oculus. A rectangular structure links the portico with the rotunda. In the walls at the back of the portico were niches for statues of Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa. The large bronze doors to the cella, once plated with gold, still remain, but the gold has long since vanished. The pediment was decorated with a sculpture in bronze showing the Battle of the Titans - holes may still be seen where the clamps which held the sculpture in place were fixed.
The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same (43 metres, or 142 feet 6 inches), so the whole interior would fit exactly within a cube (alternatively, the interior could house a sphere 43 metres in diameter). The dome is the largest surviving from antiquity and was the largest dome in western Europe until Brunelleschi's dome of the Duomo of Florence was completed in 1436. It was covered with gilded bronze plates.
The interior of the roof is intended to symbolize the heavens. The Great Eye, 27 feet across, at the dome's apex is the source of all light and is symbolic of the sun. Its original circular bronze cornice remains in position. The interior features sunk panels (coffers), which originally contained bronze star ornaments. This coffering was not only decorative, but also reduced the weight of the roof, as did the elimination of the apex by means of the Great Eye. The top of the rotunda wall features a series of brick-relieving arches, visible on the outside and built into the mass of the brickwork. The Pantheon is full of such devices - for example, there are relieving arches over the recesses inside - but all these arches were, of course, originally hidden by marble facing.
It may well be noted that the proportions of the building are in discord with respect to the classical ideal. Most evident is the rather large pediment, which appears far too "heavy" for the columns supporting it. The reason for this was the expectation that the building would be much taller than it actually is, which would affect larger columns. However, by the time the pediment was built, it was realised that the supply of imported stone for the columns were not enough to build to its anticipated height and thus the builders had to settle with a building that is somewhat out of proportion.
The composition of the Roman concrete used in the dome remains a mystery. An unreinforced dome in these proportions made of modern concrete would hardly stand the load of its own weight, since concrete has very low tensile strength, yet the Pantheon has stood for centuries. It is known from Roman sources that their concrete is made up of a pasty hydrate lime; pozzolanic ash and lightweight pumice from a nearby volcano; and fist-sized pieces of rock. In this, it is very similar to modern concrete. The high tensile strength appears to come from the way the concrete was applied in very small amounts and then was tamped down to remove excess water at all stages. This appears to have prevented the air bubbles that normally form in concrete as the material dries, thus increasing its strength enormously.
As the best preserved example of monumental Roman architecture, the Pantheon was enormously influential on European and American architects from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Numerous city halls, universities and public libraries echo its portico-and-dome structure. Examples of notable buildings influenced by the Pantheon include Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Low Library at Columbia University, New York, and the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Some changes have been made in the interior decoration, however. Much fine marble has been removed in the course of the centuries, and there are capitals from some of the pilasters in the British Museum.
Spanish StepsThe Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Spagna) in Rome ramp a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and the church Trinità dei Monti above. The monumental stairway, of 138 steps, was built with French diplomat Stefano Gueffier’s funds (20,000 scudi) in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Holy See, today still located in the piazza below, with the Trinità dei Monti church above.
The Spanish Steps were designed by Francesco De Sanctis after generations of heated discussion over how the steep slope to the church on a shoulder of the Pincio should be urbanized. The solution is a gigantic inflation of some conventions of terraced garden stairs.
During Christmas time an impressive 19th century crib is assembled in the first terrace of the staircase. During May, half of the monument is covered by flowerpots full of azalea plants. In modern times the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market, a favorite place for eating lunch (now officially frowned upon and rewarded with fines) or picking up a gigolo. The apartment that was the setting for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) is halfway up on the right.
The Spanish Steps have been restored several times, most recently in 1995.
In the Piazza at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called the Barcaccia ('the ugly boat'), often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
In the Piazza di Spagna, at the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation. On the same right side stands the 15th century former cardinal Cybo’s palace, now Ferrari di Valbona, a building altered in 1936 to designs by Marcello Piacentini, the main city planner during Fascism, with modern terraces perfectly in harmony with the surrounding baroque context.