In a small courtyard next to the church of San Pietro in Montorio stands one of the architectural masterpieces of the Renaissance. The so-called Tempietto (small temple) by Donato Bramante (1444-1514) marks what was once believed to be the site of St Peter’s execution.
The Tempietto is, in fact, a circular chapel dedicated to the martyrdom of St Peter. Its correct name is the Cappella della Crocifissione di San Pietro Apostolo (Chapel of the Crucifixion of St Peter the Apostle).
According to one source, St Peter was crucified 'inter duas metas' ('between two metas'), the structures that marked the ends of the spina of a classical circus. A meta was a cross between an obelisk and an elongated pyramid. The Pyramid of Cestius was once known as the Meta of Remus and another building near the Vatican as the Meta of Romulus. It was calculated that this site lay equidistant between the two points.
Bramante chose as his model a classical temple of Hercules Victor, which was excavated during the reign of Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-84). This is the only surviving example in Rome of a round temple and is made up of 16 columns.
Perfectly proportioned, Bramante's Tempietto, which dates back to the first decade of the 16th century, is made up 16 granite columns and sits on a plinth above three circular steps.
The Tempietto has two storeys: a chapel and a crypt.
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
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