St Peter’s Basilica Dome: Explore the World’s Tallest Dome!

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St Peter’s Basilica is easy to spot all over the Vatican and is well known for its religious significance and brilliant Dome architecture!

Ten million visitors travel from all over the world every year to admire the dome of the Basilica and enjoy the unique view from 136 meters above ground level. 

If you plan to visit the St Peter’s Basilica dome when traveling to the Vatican, you must know everything about ticket booking, timings, architecture, and more.

In this article, we’ll discover the history and details of the stunning Dome in-depth and give you some additional insider information so you can enjoy the best experience! 

The Dome at a Glance

Height of the Dome from the road: 133 meters to the tip of the cross.

Height from the inside: 118 meters to the lantern. 

Diameter: 59 meters from the outside and 42 meters from the inside.

Weight: Approximately 14,000 tonnes.

Main Architect: Michelangelo Buonarotti

Dome levels: Two levels

Construction Material Used: Inspired by the Roman Pantheon, it was constructed using tuff, volcanic stones, concrete, and pumice stone. 

Timings: 7.30 am to 5 pm, closed on Wednesday mornings.

Ticket Price: €29

What can you expect from a St Peter’s Basilica Dome climb?

The Dome is divided into two levels, and you can ascend the dome from the entrance on the right side of the main entrance.

Let’s look at these levels in detail!

Hop on an Elevator to the First Level

The first level of the Dome is known to provide the most stunning view of the interior mosaics decorating the ceiling of the Basilica!

You will also be led out onto the roof, from where you can see the massive statues of Jesus and his apostles up close.

This dome level is easily accessible to all visitors, as you can take an elevator to the top.

If the elevator line is too crowded, you can also reach the level by climbing 231 stairs.

This level only provides a gallery view of the Dome, and if you’re looking to see the actual dome from the inside, you have to climb a short flight of stairs. 

The roof is the perfect place to visit for those looking to take souvenirs back home, as the biggest gift shop of the Basilica stands here.

There are also washroom facilities, and a refreshments stand where you can grab an energy-boosting snack before ascending to the top level!

Climb to the Topmost Terrace 

The Terrace or topmost floor of the Dome offers the most spectacular view of the Vatican Gardens and the Roman Forum!

However, reaching the cupola of the Dome might be tricky, as only a flight of 320 stairs will get you there. 

You will have to ascend a single-file staircase, the slant increasing as you climb upwards, getting very narrow at the top.

We do not recommend this climb for those with claustrophobia, acrophobia, or any other health issues.

There are windows along the way, which provide a good light source, and the view from the top is the best you can do in Rome! 

Do I need Tickets to climb the dome?

Even though you do not need a ticket to enter the Basilica, you must have a ticket to ascend the marvelous St Peter’s Dome.

You can get tickets to the Dome from the booking counter of the Basilica, which stands just next to the staircase leading to the top.

We recommend getting your St Peter’s Basilica tickets with dome access online since a limited number of tickets are available at the counter.

More than 500,000 visitors see the Basilica daily, and you would have to stand for hours in line to get a dome ticket.

The standard St Peter’s Basilica tickets with Dome Access and audio guide cost €29 for adults between 4 and 99 years old.

Infants 3 years or younger can enjoy ascending the Dome for free!

If it is your first time visiting the Basilica, we highly recommend the St Peter’s Basilica guided tour with Papal Tombs and Dome access for 17 to 99-year-olds for €45!

This guided experience allows you to explore the entire Basilica in one day while learning more about its history. 

Best Time to Climb to the Top of the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica

You can access the dome from 7.30 am to 5 pm throughout the year!

It is closed every Wednesday from 9 am to 12 pm because of the Papal Audience held in St Peter’s Square.

It takes around 30 to 45 minutes to explore the Dome thoroughly.

We recommend visiting early in the morning, when it opens at 7.30 am, for the best experience with the least crowd.

You can also see the sunrise from the Dome, as it faces towards the east!

If you are not a morning person, we suggest you visit a few hours before closing time. 

When planning a combined tour of the Vatican Museums along with St Peter’s Basilica, we recommend exploring the Dome before entering the Basilica since it closes earlier. 

We do not recommend visiting the Dome on Wednesdays, as most of the crowd from the Papal Audience enters the Basilica for sightseeing after the sermon is over. 

Views from the Dome

The Dome stands at a shocking height of 136 meters (441 feet) from ground level, which is the highest dome in the world! 

The Basilica’s Dome offers a unique view of St Peter’s Square, with its massive Colonnades, which look smaller up close.

You can also see the beautiful private gardens of the Pope, the Vatican Gardens, from the top of the Dome.

If you look closely, you can also see the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill from the top of Vatican City.

From the first level, you can also admire a unique view of the inside of the Basilica and see what the famous masterpieces look like from a new angle!

Please remember that the dome’s terrace is surrounded by a railing, which can cause some view obstruction when clicking photos of the scenery.  

The Dome’s Mosaics & Design

The work of painting the dome was dedicated to many Renaissance artists.

The Dome has many windows, which are divided into 16 segments.

Each section of the Dome has its own eye-catching Biblical or holy figure spread across six circles of the Dome. 

At the bottom are the Bust paintings of 16 Popes buried in the Vatican Grottoes.

The artworks in the other concentric dome circles are:

  • Paintings of Jesus, Mother Mary and Joseph, St John the Baptist, and the Apostles.
  • Angels holding the earthy torture instruments that were used on Jesus during his passion in the rectangles.
  • Cherubim and Seraphim face in the circular spaces.
  • The people who took custody of St Peter’s Tomb.
  • Winged angels. 
  • At the center of the Dome is a depiction of God

You will also see the Latin inscription translating, “To St. Peter’s glory, Pope Sixtus V in 1590, the fifth of his pontificate,” on the dome. 

In total, 96 figures on the dome come together at the top to form a circle, which is blue with shiny yellow stars painted on it at the center. 

The painting of those pediments began at the end of the 16th century when Giovanni de Vecchi and Cesare Nebbia painted the four Evangelists, Popes, and Saints on the Dome.

Cesare Roncalli also added angel depictions to the upper triangle of each pediment to enhance its appearance.

Cristoforo Pomarancio later added unique painted elements between all the 16 ribs of the dome!

Pope Clement VIII commissioned Giuseppe Cesari to decorate the top of the dome.

He added 65 cartoon-like designs to the dome and planned the layout of the entire art piece you see today!

The Dome’s Design

The Dome stands directly over the Papal Altar and the massive Bernini Baldacchino at the center of the Nave.

It has many mosaic elements and stands high with the support of four 120-meter-tall pillars.

These pillars join the spandrel to the square piers, which hold up the circular drum of the Dome.

At the top of each pillar are portraits of four Evangelists, each with their own animal used regularly in their interpretation. They are:

  • Evangelist Matthew with his Ox.
  • Evangelist Mark with his Lion.
  • Evangelist Luke and an Angel
  • Evangelist John with his Eagle.

At the top is an 18-meter-long lantern hanging from the Dome, with the painting of God at the center.

Dome’s History & Architecture

The Dome of St Peter’s Basilica has Baroque-style Renaissance architecture designed and worked on by some of the most famous architects of the period! 

The history of the Dome begins with Donato Bramante, who created a structure inspired by the Roman Pantheon in 1506.

Except for the lantern and the supporting pillars, the dome will follow a similar pattern, and windows will bring light into the closed Basilica.

When the design was passed onto Sangallo in 1513, he added arch openings to the base and a second tier inspired by the Florence Cathedral.

He wanted the top to be a cone-shaped spire, and the lantern inside would be massive with a projecting base. 

Michelangelo was considered the leading architect of the Dome because he made the design much more realistic than the others!

He added two shell layers to the dome, which would stand high because of some drum piers.

Sixteen Corinthian columns replaced a peristyle porch, which would connect by arches.

The drum and dome were complete when Michelangelo died in 1564, and Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and Giorio Visari took over the same project.

The construction stopped for a few years until Pope Sixtus V hired Giacomo della Porta and Dominico Fontana to work on the dome in 1590. 

Pope Clement VIII insisted that a cross be added to the top of the Dome, which you can see even today!

A few restorations were done in the 18th century when iron chains held together the two dome shells to prevent further damage because of cracking. 

Check out our St Peter’s Basilica History article to discover how long it took to construct the entire structure and other fun details! 

Insider Tips to Remember when Climbing the Dome

Here are a few helpful tips to remember when exploring the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica to have the most memorable experience!

  • Don’t forget to bring along a zoom lens for your digital camera. A wide lens would also capture the railing, leaving your pictures ruined.
  • Avoid visiting in the afternoon, as the top staircase can get much more claustrophobic because of the heat. 
  • Only a limited number of people are allowed to ascend at once, so arrive early in the day if you are in a big group.

FAQs on St Peter’s Basilica Dome

1. Can you go up to the Dome in St Peter’s Basilica?

2. Is it worth visiting St Peter’s Basilica Dome?

3. Is St Peter’s Basilica the largest Dome in the world?

4. Is entrance to St Peter’s Basilica Dome free?

5. How long does it take to climb the dome at St Peter’s Basilica?

6. How many stairs to the top of St Peter’s Dome?

7. What are the timings for climbing the Dome in Vatican City?

8. Do I need to follow a dress code to climb the Dome?

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Featured Image: Bruno Coelho / Bruno Coelho

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