The twin colonnades of St Peter's Square were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-67) and built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) between 1656 and 1667, a gigantic undertaking that nearly bankrupted the papacy.
Bernini designed the gently curving colonnades, each of which is made up of four rows of columns (13 m high), to symbolise, in his words, 'the maternal arms of Mother Church' embracing the faithful.
The colonnades are crowned with the coats of arms of Pope Alexander VII and the statues of ninety-six saints and martyrs, the work of members of Bernini's workshop.
Embedded into the cobblestones of the piazza, between the fountains and the obelisk, are two marble discs, each bearing the words 'centro del colonnato'. Stand on one of the discs, look at the nearest colonnade, and you will see that the four rows of columns line up perfectly, creating the illusion that there is only a single set of columns!
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 and
small-group walking tours
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