St Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro) is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome. It was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67), designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and built between 1656 and 1667.
The piazza is made up of two distinct areas. The larger area is an oval space (196 m by 148 m), which is bordered by two curving colonnades. The smaller area, which links the basilica to the oval, is a trapezium flanked by two wings.
The 140 statues of saints and martyrs, which crown the colonnades and wings, were sculpted to Bernini’s designs by his large team of assistants.
In the centre of the piazza stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk, which was once known as St Peter's Needle.
The two fountains date back to the 17th century. The fountain on the north side of the piazza was created by Carlo Maderno in 1613, following the rebuilding of an ancient Roman aqueduct, the Aqua Traiana. Renamed the Acqua Paola, the restored aqueduct provided the piazza with a much greater supply of water.
For more than half a century the south side of the piazza remained empty until Pope Clement X (r. 1670-76) commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to create a second fountain.
The only way of telling the two fountains apart is to look at the coats of arms, which adorn the bases. The eagle and dragon belong to Pope Paul V (r. 1605-21), while the stars belong to Pope Clement X.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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