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Transcript of St.Peter's Square
The square is made up of two different areas
St. Peter's Square is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, the papal enclave inside Rome, directly west of the neighbourhood or rione of Borgo.
The open space which lies before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt, designed "so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the façade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace".
The first has a trapezoid shape, marked off by two straight closed and convergent arms on each side of the church square.
The second area is elliptical and is surrounded by the two hemicycles of a four-row colonnade, because, as Bernini said, “considering that Saint Peter’s is almost the matrix of all the churches, its portico had to give an open-armed, maternal welcome to all Catholics, confirming their faith; to heretics, reconciling them with the Church; and to the infidels, enlightening them about the true faith.” which was imagined to embrace people like if it were ‘the maternal arms of Mother Church’
Apostolic Palace, fresco with a view of St Peter's Square at the time of Sixtus V
The measurements of the square are impressive: it is 320 m deep, its diameter is 240 m and it is surrounded by 284 columns, set out in rows of four, and 88 pilasters.
Around the year 1670, Bernini’s pupils built 140 statues of saints, 3.20 m high along the balustrade above the columns.
On either side of the obelisk, which was moved to the middle of the square by Domenico Fontana in 1585, are two great fountains built by Bernini (1675) and Maderno (1614).
The colossal Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep,frame the trapezoidal entrance to the basilica and the massive elliptical area which precedes it.
The ovato tondo's long axis, parallel to the basilica's façade, creates a pause in the sequence of forward movements that is characteristic of a Baroque monumental approach.
The colonnades define the piazza. The elliptical centre of the piazza, which contrasts with the trapezoidal entrance, encloses the visitor with "the maternal arms of Mother Church" in Bernini's expression.
On the south side, the colonnades define and formalize the space, with the Barberini Gardens still rising to a skyline of umbrella pines.
On the north side, the colonnade masks an assortment of Vatican structures; the upper stories of the Vatican Palace rise above.
At the center of the ovato tondo stands an Egyptian obelisk of red granite, 25.5 metres tall, supported on bronze lions and surmounted by the Chigi arms in bronze, in all 41 metres to the cross on its top.
The obelisk was originally erected at Heliopolis, Egypt, by an unknown pharaoh.
It was moved to its current site in 1586 by the engineer-architect Domenico Fontana under the direction of Pope Sixtus V
The paving is varied by radiating lines in travertine, to relieve what might otherwise be a sea of cobblestones.
In 1817 circular stones were set to mark the tip of the obelisk's shadow at noon as the sun entered each of the signs of the zodiac, making the obelisk a gigantic sundial's gnomon.
Below, at the foot of the staircase in front of the basilica, the statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul seem to welcome visitors.
Of great interest is the Royal Staircase, which links the square to the Vatican Palaces.
The sidewalk from the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Square follows the Vatican city walls (shown in the image below).
The sidewalk is flat in some places and slightly downhill in other places. There are no cobblestones.
Accessible route from Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Basilica (north is up):
Meeting the sky
Skyline of the city has been a dominant element in urban design
Meeting the ground
The raised podium in the trapezoidal area of the St.Peter's square and flight of steps to the Basilica provides stability & beauty to the square.
Points in space
Point reaches the point across the void
Creates Dynamic harmonic spatial effects
Setbacks always heighten their dramatic power Frame of reference gives scale & measure to the form behind.It is achieved here by carefully placing large & small building in relation with one another.
Design in depth
A sense of movement in depth achieved by series of columns, doors etc.
Ascent and descent
Always there is a pleasure in change of level. Anticipating different experience while moving from one level to another
Relationship to man Connection
Connection between the buildings & people on the ground are well maintained.
The colonnade is framing a large area which has the shape of ‘ovato tondo’, a round oval with its long axis parallel to the Basilica's front
Figure 1: Piazza San Pietro and Basilica (Courtesy Google Earth). Note the oval part of the Piazza, with obelisk and two fountains.
Figure 2: The “ovato tondo” and its geometry. The obelisk acts as a pivot. Note that obelisk and fountains are halving the bases of equilateral triangles. To evidence the geometry of this ovato, black and red numbers are the lengths (in pixels) of the corresponding lines.The presence of the huge Egyptian obelisk influenced Bernini’s project who used it like centrepiece of his project.This obelisk is the gnomon of a huge sundial, the shadow of which has a time-telling function
Bernini’s Ovato Tondo
It seems that Bernini was a deeply religious man.It is told that he “used light as an important metaphorical device in the perception of his religious settings, often using hidden light sources that could intensify the focus of religious worship, or enhance the dramatic moment of a sculptural narrative”.
planning of Saint Peter’s Square
It is almost certain that Bernini was well aware of the role the obelisk’ shadow had in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is then quite possible that he used the path of the sun in planning the colonnade too. Let us note that the colonnade is surrounding a space with was planned using the geometry of ‘ovato tondo’ (this geometry is shown in the Figure 2). This is one of the geometric planning of oval shapes, described by Sebastiano Serlio (1475– 1554), an Italian Mannerist architect, who was part of the Italian team building the Palace of Fontainebleau. Serlio wrote an influential treatise on architecture, variously known "Seven Books of Architecture" or "All the works on architecture and perspective". The ovato tondo created by Bernini is the only one of Serlio’s constructions that enables ovals with varied eccentricities to be drawn.
The role of sun and light in the building of churches is well known.These buildings have the apse facing the rising sun, according to a practice adopted during the Middle Ages, which was orienting the main axis of new churches to the rising sun on the day of their foundation. Previously, many churches were like Saint Peter’s Basilica, which has entrance to the East and apse to the West. It is oriented like the Temple of Solomon.
Saint Peter’s Basilica and Square are perfectly aligned along East-West cardinal direction. Then, Bernini’s planning of the square is perfectly aligned to cardinal directions. However,a cardinal orientation of architectures allows alignments to sunrise and sunset on solstices too. In this manner,the planning of Mughal gardens or ancient Chinese towns can be imagined as local horizons, symbolically embracing the motion of the sun throughout the year. We find a solar alignment in Bernini’s oval too: as Bauval shows,the entrance of Saint Peter’s colonnade is corresponding to the azimuth spanned by the sunrise on the year.
As observed by writer and lecturer Robert Bauval,and shown by satellite images, the entry end of the colonnade is large enough to correspond, with vertex at the obelisk, to the angle spanned by the sunrise azimuth throughout the year. Besides the crowd then, the colonnade is also embracing the light of the sun on its local horizon.
If we assume that the ovato tondo is representing the world and the two symmetric arcs the sunrises and sunsets throughout the year, as viewed from the local horizon, the Roman church is imagined embracing the universe as a whole. Let us remember that the word “World” in ancient philosophical context had the meaning of “Universe”. Moreover, the Roman Church is “Catholic”, that is, literally "universally accepted," from Latin catholicus "universal, general," from Greek katholikos, "on the whole, in general".
Figure 3: SunCalc applied for the analysis of Bernini’s oval, using the obelisk at the center of Bernini’s oval as a pivot. Yellow and orange lines correspond to sunrise and sunset azimuths on solstices. The angle between sunrise azimuths corresponds to the entry end of the colonnade.
Figure 4: During the winter, at noon, the obelisk is casting its shadow on Maderno’s fountain, whereas the shadows of colonnade statues move near the southern fountain of the oval (Courtesy Google Earth).
look at the satellite image shown in Figure 4. It was taken on November 10, in the early afternoon. The noon altitude is 31°, whereas at the winter solstice it is 25. We see that the shadow of the colonnade is just about to touch another element of the oval, the southern fountain. As told in , Bernini had constraints from existing structures. He had, besides the obelisk, a granite fountain made by Carlo Maderno (1556-1629) that stood to the northern side of it. Bernini made this fountain appear to be at a focus of the ovato-tondo (see Figure 2), matching it on the other side with another fountain. Note that at noon, during the winter, the obelisk is casting its shadow on Maderno’s fountain.
We have already seen in the Figure 2, that fountains are important elements in the planning of Bernini’s oval. In fact, in many temples or holy sites, water is a fundamental element. It is associated to the Water of Life or to the Rivers of Earthly Paradise, such as in the Mughal gardens. Sometimes, these waters are flowing in building themselves. “While there is not a spring that comes forth from St. Peter's Basilica, there are several ways in which St. Peter's is associated with the waters of life”. One way are the two fountains of the square. In the following image (Figure 5), we can see another view from satellite, with the shadows of statues cast on the square near the southern fountain. During the winter, when sun shines at a lower angle, closer to the horizon, light and shadows move, playing with the water of the southern fountain. Even on winter solstice, the sunlight is scattered by the water of the fountain, so that light and water are symbols of life that overcomes the darkness. Let us conclude then that Bernini used his Baroque theatre of light and shadows to have symbolical meanings too, besides providing an effect of movement and action in his architecture. In his art, as in the Baroque art in general, movement and action had been added to the effect of symmetry and balance that dominated the art of the Renaissance. The Baroque artists operated within a context where the vision of the world of Catholic theology, which placed Earth at the center of universe, was challenged both by scientific advances and Protestant Reformation. The Church answered with the Counter-Reformation movement and the Baroque artists, influenced by this environment, created an art that added dynamic effects and disorder to the traditional and hierarchical representation of the world .