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Saint Peters square forms an oval shape in front of the Basilica of Saint Peter and the apartments of the Pope. Here the Pope can be heard celebrating mass during his weekly address, although the stunning work of Bernini in the design of St Peters square might be better appreciated on day when the square is quiet.
St Peter's is famous for it's long symmetrical colonnades with a central obelisk and two identical fountains, considered one of the best examples of Bernini's work. In 1656, Alessandro VII made Bernini responsible for the task of giving a dignified appearance to the square in front of the basilica. Bernini discovered an almost rectangular courtyard that was mostly unpaved. The square was closed by the narrow Borgo area and had no decoration apart from a fountain and the Egyptian obelisk erected in 1586 by Carlo Fontana.
Bernini's project was a masterpiece of two connected squares. The first in the shape of a huge oval. The vast space is surrounded by two semi circles comparable with two large arms that symbolised the mother church. Made up of 17m long porticos formed from 4 rows of Tuscan columns (that create 3 galleries of which the centre one is the widest.)
All together 284 colossal columns and 88 pillars. Above which are various statues of saints and the large coat of arms of Alessandro VII. White stripes of marble are set in the pavement which leads to the obelisk upon which rest four bronze lions. The stone pillar is where antiquity meets Christianity because according to tradition, within the foundations would be the ashes of Caesar and at the peak the remains of a crucifix.
On the sides are two fountains with gigantic basins of granite next to which on both the left and right hand sides are two disks of marble that mark in the pavement the two flames of the oval. Seen from this point, the four rows of columns look like one single row. The arcade connects with the façade of the basilica thanks to it's two lateral wings that form the second square.
The fact that the two wings diverge instead of being parallel softens the perception of distance and makes the façade seem closer, almost looking directly over the square. In the right hand side corridor, is the entrance to the Palazzo Apostolico that passes by the Scala Regia, the flight of stairs that represents Bernini's work.
The square has been designed as an imposing background where the pope during solemn ceremonies celebrates mass. An army of statues; saints, martyrs, popes and founders of religious orders, a total of 140, give a warm welcome to pilgrims. Coats of arms and inscriptions remember the figure of pope Alessandro VII (1655-1667), the instigator of this imposing complex.