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About Papal Basilica of Saint Peter

The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter is everyone's church, the place where pilgrims find their "landing" after arriving from every corner of the world.

The Project by Donato Bramante

After the Constantinian basilica, for the rebuilding of the new basilica Pope Julius II chose Donato Bramante who cultivated the idea of superimposing the Pantheon on the Temple of Peace, as the basilica of Maxentius was then called; that is to merge two types of temple that Leon Battista Alberti had already indicated as exemplary: the "Etruscan" one, represented by the basilica of Maxentius for his misinterpretation of Vitruvius, and the round one, which was the Pantheon. The new basilica was originally conceived as a large square surmounted by a dome that, supported by grandiose pillars, had to soar high, almost suspended in space. From the same dome departed four arms of a Greek cross that ended, inside with a round apse, and on the outside in a straight line. However, the project remained poorly defined and hypothesized an expansion to oversized dimensions that would have presented many difficulties of realization. The works were interrupted by the premature death of Bramante which took place on April 11, 1514. Until then, only a drastic demolition work had been carried out, raising, at the same time the gigantic pylons and the four arches that were supposed to support the dome, and starting the initial part of the southern cross arm. Before his death, Bramante was working on a second hypothesis with a Latin cross development, then taken up by Raffaello Sanzio when, at the behest of Leo X Medici, he received the task of continuing the construction together with Fra' Giocondo da Verona, appointed on 1 November 1513 and the almost seventy-year-old Giuliano da Sangallo, appointed on 1 January 1514. But, even this project remained on paper, as all three architects died within a short space of six years. In fact, only the base of the immense western choir designed in his time by Bramante was built - later demolished and modified by Michelangelo with a more compact solution and achievable size - and the beginning of the south ambulatory.

The Fabrica of Antonio Da Sangallo the Younger

Leo X then appointed architect of the Fabrica Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, assistant since 1505 of Bramante, alongside him in 1520 the Sienese Baldassarre Peruzzi. It is with Paul the III Farnese, elected in 1534, that attention is rekindled for the construction site of St. Peter's now suspended for years. The new solution, inspired by Gothic art reflected the departure from the grandiose central plan of Bramante, of which it respected only the Greek cross plan. The building was extended forward with a large portico, flanked by two bell towers, and at the bottom there was a facade that enclosed the loggia of the Blessings. Even of this ambitious but unrealizable project only a few parts were realized, limited to a further consolidation of the Bramantesque pylons and the raising of the floor of the new basilica of 3.20 m, so as to give greater lighting and more harmonious balance to a complex otherwise too high and narrow. The premises were then created for those intermediate spaces between the old floor of the Constantinian basilica and the new one that, during the pontificate of clement VIII first and Paul V after, will become the nucleus of the Vatican grottoes. In 1546 Sangallo died and on 25 January of the following year Paul III, after a failed attempt to recall Giulio Romano from Mantua, who died in that same year, designated Michelangelo as successor.

Michelangelo's Dome

Forty years after the beginning of the work, Michelangelo free to intervene at will, received the official appointment. Michelangelo returned to Bramante's first inspiration, but with a more vigorous and simplified conception. He shaped almost like a sculpture the external decoration of the three arms, dynamic in the articulation of the twin Corinthian pillars between which elegant niches and windows open. The construction appears so vibrant, but connected by the protruding cornice that runs all around and on which rests an attic, on which the pilasters alternate with windows of proto-Baroque forms. On this pedestal rises the dome that more than resting seems to rest on the drum. At the same time the drum, with the twin columns, and the dome, with the ribs and the lantern, take up the lines of force of the body of the basilica and hinge them in space. Michelangelo died in 1564 and the construction of the dome had only reached the drum. Pope Pius IV Medici entrusted the continuation of the work to Jacopo Barozzi known as Vignola, who had time to start only the inner part of the two smaller domes, finished by Giacomo Della Porta.

The Dome of Giacomo Della Porta

Just over twenty years after Michelangelo's death, on January 19,1587 Giacomo Della Porta, assisted by Domenico Fontana, was commissioned by Pope Sixtus V to complete the dome, succeeding in the enterprise in less than two years. From 22 December 1588 to 14 May 1590 the upper ring intended to support the lantern had been completed, and although in the early months of 1590 it advanced very slowly on 19 May between joy and fireworks, Sixtus V could inaugurate with the celebration of a solemn Mass the closing of the eye of the lantern. In the months to come the work resumed at a fast pace, and thanks to the incessant work of 800 workers who worked even at night by torchlight, on May 14,1590 the site could be considered closed. The conclusion of the lantern and the covering of the outer shell with lead plates took place in 1593, under Clement VIII, and on November 18 of the same year the large gilded bronze sphere surmounted by the cross, by Sebastiano Torrigiani, rested on top of the cusp of the lantern.

The Completion of Carlo Maderno

Paul V Borghese, elected in 1605, decided to face the definitive demolition of what remained of the ancient temple and accelerate the completion of the new. The Greek cross plan was renounced, both because the taste of the time suggested a different conception of spaces, and because of the unmet liturgical needs of Michelangelo's layout.

On March 7, 1605 the first stone of reconstruction was blessed, in September of the same year the Pope approved the model of Carlo Maderno and starting from the following October, in a complicated and controversial design and construction sequence, partly due to changes in the opinion of the client, the demolition work began. Chapels, altars, oratories disappeared, including the famous one of John VII with the precious mosaics of the eighth century, the portico with the ancient frescoes, the atrium with the papal and imperial tombs, the loggia of the Blessings and the bell tower. The fragments that were not preserved in the Vatican were donated to external churches or to important exponents of the curia, thus favoring their dispersion. In 1614 the immense vault covering the interior of the nave, three meters thick, was completed, in which the large windows were opened and in the following year the stucco decoration began. In 1615, on a project by Maderno, work began in the area of the Confession and in the same year the dividing wall erected by Paul III was demolished. On Palm Sunday, the basilica appeared for the first time in its completely renewed guise, waiting for future embellishments designed mostly by Bernini.

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