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  • Religion
    Updated at Feb 3,2014

    Shri Swaminarayan Mandir - Neasden Hindu Mandir - Half a day. Whatever your religion, this is a wonderful place of worship:

    Start & End: Stonebridge Park Station.

    Weather: Good idea for a rainy day. Keep in mind you'll need 20 minutes walk from the station (and another 20 minutes back...). Very well signposted along this trek... Another option: Bakerloo line, Harlesden Station,  zone 3., From there by buses (No. 208, 216, 18) which drive 10 minutes directly to the temple.

    From Stonebridge Park Station head east toward Argenta Way. Slight right onto Argenta Way and turn left onto N Circular Rd. Walk 150 m. and turn right onto Harrow Rd. Follow Harrow Rd. and turn left onto Conduit Way. Walk 500 m. and continue straight onto Meadow Garth. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Brentfield Rd. The Temple will be on the right.

    Note: No photography inside. You are not allowed to take pictures even at the yard of the temple. You leave your camera (with the security in the booth opposite the temple) and shoes in a secure place outside the building or just inside the entrance with the security personnel.

    Duration: The entire temple can be seen in about 1-2 hours (longer if you want to browse through the gift shop).

    Orientation: Amazing, peaceful, relaxing. truely a gem of London. The Neasden temple is a great day out with the family. Entrance is free ,but if you wish to see the Vedanta exhibition there's a small fee. I'd strongly recommend if you want to have a taste of Indian temples without traveling outside Europe.

    The Mandir temple gives you an excellent idea about the architecture of Indian Temples, especially the marble (outside) and wood (inside) carvings.

    The temple is really very beautiful. Walking around is a peaceful and amazing experience. Inside it's quite and peaceful. If you are not familiar with Hindu culture it would probably take you couple of hours to go through the whole complex and daily ceremonies.

    A breathtaking masterpiece. A relaxing and peaceful place, out of the busy hustle and bustle of the city of London.

    Tip: Come around the Diwali to see the temple decorated and at its best. Preparations are being put in place for thousands of people. Dress sensibly and courteously.

    Once through - women in the right, men on the left. Men and women are separated in the prayer hall as well. An ideal place to get de-stressed. It is open to all, whatever your religion or faith might be. The video inside explains and shows that detailed precision of building this wonder from scratch to this glorified monumental place of meditation, thinking and grander. You may stay for a short pray service at lunch time (about 11.15 or 11.30) or during the afternoon (16.00) (30 min.). You sit down (on the floor) and relax into the atmosphere of the place. The exhibition on Hinduism is insightful and educational. Note the spectacular one-piece carpets inside.

    Do checkout the Shayona restaurant ! It is on the pricey side but most worth it and lots of vegetarian dishes to choose from. They make everything fresh within 2-3 hours of serving.

    There is a shop inside the temple selling all sorts of religious stuffs and souvenirs.

    Also a big supermarket in the complex selling all sorts of Indian grocery, vegetables and spices.

  • Religion | Italy
    Updated at Jun 23,2014

    Vatican City - St. Peter Cathedral:

    Orientation:

    The St. Peter Basilica is so amazing you could spend all day wandering round and not get bored. The church opens at 7.00 in the morning. Get up early and turn up at 07.15-07.30. No one is there so you walk straight in. The Basilica has several masses going on at different altars but generally the place is empty. You get to experience and walk around this amazing Cathedral without hundreds of people around you. The tourists buses start to arrive at 09.00. The entrance to the Dome opens at 08.00 which is a must. Pay the extra 2 euro person which takes you to the first landing. Then there is another 300 stairs up to the top. The stairs get very narrow and steep so not for larger people or the unfit. At the top you get a beautiful view of Rome. You also get a great view of the extensive,endless Vatican Gardens. It would be very crowded up here during the day so once again come early and you find that it is enjoyable. Another option: go to the "back" north entrance after midday for less crowds.

    Tips:

    1. Start your visit in the Basilica interior with the ascent to the Cupola or Dome. It is quite exhausting to climb the narrow 311 steps (even with using the lift option). Since the sun is rising from the east, in the morning, you'll get marvelous views down towards the Vatican Gardens (when you are already on the roof).

    2. You'll notice that we repeat several monuments into the St. Peter Basilica - more than once. That, exactly, what will happen to you strolling around the Basilica interior. After criss-crossing the enormous interior - you'll face several monuments more than once. It is very easy to lose your planned path and to keep in a disciplined planned-ahead route. We offer here, more than one route in the Basilica immense interior. With two or three round itineraries - you are supposed to face the same statue, monument or the same chapel - 2 or 3 times.

    Duration: 3/4 - 1 day.

    Around the Walls: As it the smallest country in the world and you can walk around the Vatican wall in 1-1.30 hour.

    Opening Hours - Interiors:

    Winter : 1 Oct - 31 Mar: 08.00 - 18.30.

    Summer: 1 Apr - 30 Sep: 07.00 - 19.00.

    Opening Hours - Dome - Cupola:

    Winter : 1 Oct - 31 Mar: 08.00 - 17.00.

    Summer: 1 Apr - 30 Sep: 08.00 - 18.00.

    Free admission to the Basilica (except of the Dome).

    Dome Tickets prices: Lift up to the terrace level and continue on foot (320 steps) ticket € 7.00. Climb 551 steps on foot ticket € 5.00.

    Blog Content:

    1. The Basilica Exterior:

        1.1 East facade.

        1.2 North facade.

        1.3 South facade.

        1.4 Portico.

        1.5 The Dome.

        1.6 The Swiss Guard.

        1.7 The Basilica doors.

    2.  The Basilica Interior:

         2.1 Quick round tour in the Nave and the Chapels (clockwise       

               direction).

         2.2 The Nave.

         2.3  The Aisles and the side Chapels.

         2.4   Thirty Nine Tombs and Monuments in the Basilica.

    3.  The Catacombs / the Crypt. (photos not allowed !).

    4.  Climbing to the Dome / Cupola / Basilica roof.

    5.  St. Peter Square (piazza). ( incl.: Papal Audience, attending masses, Vatican Apartments, fountains and statues in the square).

    1. St. Peter Basilica Exterior:

    St. Peter Basilica Facades:

    The square is outlined by a monumental colonnade by Bernini, its open arms symbolically welcoming the world into the Catholic Church. Between the obelisk and each fountain is a circular stone that marks the focal points of an ellipse. If you stand on one of these points, the two rows columns of the colonnade line up perfectly and appear to be just a single row.

    The grand East Facade of St Peter's Basilica, 116 m wide and 53 m high. Built from 1608 to 1614, it was designed by Carlo Modeno. The central balcony is called the Loggia of the Blessings and is used for the announcement of the new pope with "Habemus Papum" and his Urbi et Orbi blessing. The relief under the balcony, by Buonvicino, shows Christ giving the keys to St. Peter.

    The facade is topped by 13 statues of apostles in Travertine stone. The dome was designed by Michelangelo and completed in 1593. The facade is topped by 13 statues in Travertine. From left, the statues represent: Thaddeus, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, James the Elder, John the Baptist, Christ the Redeemer (in the center), Andrew, John the Evangelist, James the Younger, Bartholomew, Simon and Matthias. St. Peter's statue in this set is inside.

    On top of the colonnade are 140 statues of saints, crafted by a number of sculptors between 1662 and 1703. To the right of the southern gate of the colonnade is St. Macrina, grandmother of the Cappadocian fathers, followed by some founders of religious orders: St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Bernard, St. Benedict, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some of the apostles are at the far end of the colonnade, outside the square and down the street.

    Statues of Popes and saints on the Colonnade of St. Peter's Square, and Michelangelo's Dome:

    Two clocks are on either side; the one on the left is electrically operated since 1931, with its oldest bell dating to 1288. Stretching across the facade is the dedicatory inscription: IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII (In honor of the prince of apostles; Paul V Borghese, pope, in the year 1612 and the seventh year of his pontificate).

    Eastern Colonade at sunset:

    Evening view of the grand east facade:

    Night view of the grand east facade:

    North Facade:

    South facade and colonnade of St. Peter's Square:

    Between the façade and the interior is the portico. Mainly designed by Maderno,

    it contains an 18th century statue of Charlemagne by Cornacchini to the south,

    and an equestrian sculpture of Emperor Constantine by Bernini (1670) to the north:

    The Dome of St. Peter's was designed by Michelangelo, who became chief architect in 1546. At the time of his death (1564), the dome was finished as far as the drum, the base on which domes sit. The dome was vaulted between 1585 and 1590 by the architect Giacomo della Porta with the assistance of Domenico Fontana, who was probably the best engineer of the day. Fontana built the lantern the following year, and the ball was placed in 1593. The great double dome is made of brick and is 42.3 metres in interior diameter (almost as large as the Pantheon), rising to 120 metres above the floor. In the early 18th century cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it. The four piers of the crossing that support the dome are each 60 feet (18 meters) across. Uniquely, Michelangelo's dome is not a hemisphere, but a parabola: it has a vertical thrust, which is made more emphatic by the bold ribbing that springs from the paired Corinthian columns, which appear to be part of the drum, but which stand away from it like buttresses, to absorb the outward thrust of the dome's weight. Above, the vaulted dome rises to Fontana's two-stage lantern, capped with a spire

    Dome morning view:

    Dome evening view:

    The Swiss Guard: A small force maintained by the Holy See, it is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. The Swiss Guard serves as the de-facto military of Vatican City. Today the Papal Swiss Guard have taken over the ceremonial roles of the former units. At the end of 2005, there were 135 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard:

    Doors:

    Door of the Sacraments by Venanzio Crochetti (1965), the regular entrance:

    The "Holy Door" is the Northern most entrance at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It is cemented shut and only opened for Jubilee Years. In bronze by Vico Consorti (1950), which is by tradition only opened for great celebrations such as Jubilee years. Above it are inscriptions. The top reads PAVLVS V PONT MAX ANNO XIII, the one just above the door reads GREGORIVS XIII PONT MAX. In between are white slabs commemorating the most recent openings. Pope John Paul II opened the holy door in the jubilee years of 1983-84 and 2000-01:

    The door in the center is by Antonio Averulino (1455), and was preserved from the old basilica. It was too small for its new space, so panels were added at the top and bottom. Known as the Filarete Door after the artist's nickname, it has six panels that depict: Jesus and Mary enthroned; St. Paul with the sword; St. Peter giving the keys to the kneeling Pope Eugene IV; St. Paul sentenced by Nero; martyrdom of St. Paul; martyrdom of St. Peter on Vatican Hill; St. Paul appearing to Plautilla, to give her back the veil she had lent him to blindfold his eyes. The bas-reliefs between the framed panels show scenes from the pontificate of Eugene IV, and representatives at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, summoned in 1438 to reunite the Churches of the East and of the West:

    The Door of Death (the Door of the Deads) is the far left door into the basilica. Its name derives from its traditional use as the exit for funeral processions as well as its subject matter. In preparation for the Holy Year of 1950, Pope Pius XII held a competition for three new bronze doors. This one was sculpted by Giacomo Manzù in 1961-64. Large relief panels depict the death of Jesus (top right), death of Mary (top left); violent death of Abel, serene death of Joseph, death of first pope, death of Pope John XXIII, death of first martyr Stephen, death of Gregory VII (in exile defending the Church), "death improvised in space" (meaning unclear to this author) and death of a mother at home:

    2. St. Peter Basilica Interior:

    2.1 Nave / Aisles / Transepts Monuments (clockwise walk) - quick round browsing (see details - later below):

    From the entrance walk LEFT. Moving around the basilica in a clockwise direction they are:

    The Baptistery:

    the Chapel of the Presentation of the Virgin with the body of St. Pius X:

    the larger Choir Chapel, the Clementine Chapel with the altar of Saint Gregory, famous for "Gregorian Chant":

    the Sacristy Entrance, the left transept with altars to the Crucifixion of Saint Peter, Saint Joseph and Saint Thomas with a mosaic after Achille Funi, 1963:

    Altar of the Sacred Heart with a 1923 mosaic after Carlo Muccioli:

    the Chapel of the Madonna of Colonna,

    the altar of Saint Peter and the Paralytic,

    the apse with the Chair of Saint Peter: In the northwestern (right front) corner of the nave is the bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned, now attributed to late 13th-century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio: (Note: see our paragraph of the Catedral - below):

    the altar of Saint Peter raising Tabitha, the altar of the Archangel Michael, the altar of the Navicella, the right transept with altars of Saint Erasmus, Saints Processo and Martiniano, and Saint Wenceslas, the altar of Saint Basil,

    Altar of St. Basil with a 1751 mosaic after a painting by Pietro Subleyras:

    the Gregorian Chapel with the altar of the Madonna of Succour,

    Chapel of St. Sebastian (Tomb of Pope Innocent XI) and the body of Blessed Innocent XI (1676-1689) under the Altar of St. Sebastian in the right aisle:

    and the Chapel of the Pietà.

    2.2 The Nave:

    Immediately inside the central doors, a large round porphyry slab is set into the floor. Here Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Emperors knelt for their coronation in front of the high altar of the old basilica.

    Along the floor of the nave are markers with the comparative lengths of other churches, starting from the entrance. Along the pilasters are niches housing 39 statues of various saints. See pictures of Nave Monuments - further below.

    The insides of the pilasters that separate the nave from the side aisles have niches filled with statues of saints who founded religious orders. There are 39 of these in total throughout the church, spaced evenly in the nave and two transepts (see 2.4). Just to your right as you enter the basilica is St. Teresa of Avila, a beloved Spanish saint who founded the Order of Discalced Carmelites.

    In the northwestern (right front) corner of the nave is the bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned (or Sitting St. Peter), now attributed to late 13th-century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio (some still date it back to the 5th century). It is robed and crowned on high festivals, and its outstretched foot is smoothed down due to centuries of pilgrims' caresses.

    chair above Sitting St. Peter statue:

    View down the central Nave to the Baldacchino and the yellow-windowed Cathedra of St. Peter, both by Bernini:

    Central Nave looking east to the entrance:

    2.3 The Aisles:

    Right Aisle and Right Transept:

    In the right aisle, the first major sight is Michelangelo's beautiful Pietà (see clockwise browse - above), located immediately to the right of the entrance. The sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Jesus in her lap after the crucifixion, and was completed when Michelangelo was just 24. After it was vandalized with an axe in 1972, the sculpture was placed behind protective glass:

    Up the aisle is the monument of Queen Christina of Sweden, who abdicated in 1654 in order to convert to Catholicism:

    Further up are the monuments of popes Pius XI and Pius XII, as well as the altar of St Sebastian:

    Halfway to the transept is the large Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, entered through a Baroque wrought-iron grill designed by Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). Here the Blessed Sacrament (consecrated bread and wine) is exposed for the continuous adoration of the faithful. A notice reads: "Only those who wish to pray may enter." It is a rare place of silence and stillness in the tourist-filled basilica, and for many Catholics it is their favorite space:

    Inside the chapel, the sacrament is enshrined in a tabernacle of gilded bronze designed by Bernini (1674) and based on a more famous work by Bramante. It has statuettes of the twelve Apostles on the cornice and one of Jesus on the miniature dome. It is encrusted with deep blue lapis lazuli and is flanked by two angels in gilded bronze (added later), kneeling in reverent prayer. Behind the altar is an oil painting by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) of the Trinity, the only canvas painting in the whole basilica:

    St. Elijah pointing to the light entering the apse. This was the third Founder Statue placed in St. Peter’s Basilica, and it finally established the Carmelites as a valid Order:

    St. Andrew the Apostle:

    Further down the right aisle are the monuments of Pope Gregory XIII (completed in 1723 by Carlo Rusconi)

    and Gregory XIV.

    The right transept of St. Peter's contains three altars, of St Wenceslas, St. Processo and St. Martiniano, and St. Erasmus.

    St. Jerome Chapel: where the right aisle runs into the Pier of St. Longinus is the body of Pope John XXIII (d. 1963), displayed in a glass case beneath the Altar of St. Jerome. The pope was beatified (a step towards sainthood) in 2000. When the tomb was opened in order to move his body to the basilica in 2001, it was found to be uncorrupted and was therefore placed in a glass case. This location was chosen because the pope was a specialist in the church fathers and a devotee of St. Jerome in particular:

    Bernini's Baldacchino:

    At the crossing of the transepts is the central focus of the interior, the Baldacchino. This monumental canopy shelters the papal altar and the holy relics of St. Peter. Artistically, it also serves to fill the vertical space under Michelangelo's great dome. Made of 927 tons of dark bronze (removed from the Pantheon's roof in 1633) accented with gold vine leaves, the Baldacchino stands 90 feet (30 meters) tall. The Baldacchino was created by Lorenzo Bernini from 1624 to 1633 under the direction of Barberini Pope Urban VIII, who added Baroque embellishment to much of Rome. The spiral columns derive their shapes from the columns of the Baldacchino in the original St. Peter's Basilica built by Constantine, which legend has it came from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Cherubs are repeated throughout the monument, giving an overall effect of the Ark of the Covenant. Symbols of the Barberini family can be seen throughout, including a golden sun and bees. Thus, in addition to being a beautiful work of art, the Baldacchino symbolizes the union of the Old Testament wisdom of Solomon, the Christian tradition of Constantine, and the rebirth of a triumphal church under the guidance of the Barberini family.

    Underside of Bernini's Baldacchino, directly above the high altar in St. Peter's Basilica:

    Cherub Angels overlooking the Baldacchino:

    The Confessio:

    At the foot of the Baldacchino and papal altar is the sunken Confessio, a 17th-century chapel named in honor of the confession of St. Peter that led to his martyrdom here. The Confessio is better seen from the crypt (or Grottoes) below, where there is a glass wall looking into it. Although the Baldacchino and papal altar stand over Peter's tomb, the tomb itself cannot be seen either from here on in the crypt. Peter's tomb is on the other side of the Niche of the Pallium at the back of the Confessio, and can only be seen in the special Scavi tour of the ancient necropolis. The niche contains a silver coffer that seems like a good place for Peter's relics, but actually contains fabrics (each known as a "pallium") woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of St. Agnes (Jan 21) and given to patriarchs and metropolitans as a reminder of the Church's unity. Behind the coffer is an early 8th-century mosaic of Christ, placed here by Pope Leo III (795-816). In his left hand Christ holds a Bible open at the Gospel of John, which bears the Latin inscription, "I am the way the truth and the life, the one who believes in me shall live.":

    Four Piers:

    Surrounding the Baldacchino are four great piers that support the huge dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Each pier has a large niche at its base, which is filled with a colossal statue of a saint representing each of the basilica's four major relics (Reliquae Maggiori):

    NW pier - St Helena, Constantine's mother, holding a large cross (representing the relic of the True Cross found by the saint in Jerusalem):

    NE pier - St Longinus, the Roman soldier who thrust a spear in the side of Christ at the crucifixion, converted, and was later martyred (the relic is the spear):

    SE pier - St Andrew, with his trademark diagonal cross upon which he was martyred (the relic is Andrew's head, which was returned to the Greek Orthodox Church in 1964):

    SW pier - St Veronica, with the veil Christ used to wipe his face on the way to Calvary, leaving his image imprinted on it (representing the relic of Veronica's veil):

    The statue of Longinus is by Bernini (in 1639) and the others are by his followers. The relics themselves are kept in the podium of the Pier of St. Veronica and are displayed only during Holy Week. The Vatican makes no official claims as to the authenticity of these relics —and in fact other Catholic churches claim to possess the same ones.

    The balconies above the niches are flanked by the 4th-century spiral columns of the Baldacchino in the Constantinian St. Peter's, and contain reliefs depicting the relics.

    Bernini Canopy (again):

    Canopy and Dome:

    Apse and High Altar of St. Peter (After a mass in the Apse of St. Peter):

    Apse and High Altar of St. Peter - mosaic presenting Punishment of Aneias and Saphira:

    At the far west end of the basilica is the tribune, which centers on the Cathedra of St. Peter. The enormous gilded bronze monument was designed by Bernini in 1666 to enclose an oak throne donated by Carolingian ruler Charles the Bald upon his coronation in St. Peter's in 875. The legs of the throne are decorated with finely pierced ivory bands made in the School at Tours. The 18 ivory plaques on the front of the chair were added slightly later, and show the 12 Labors of Hercules and six monsters.

    Bernini's monument is topped by a yellow window featuring the Holy Spirit as a dove surrounded by 12 rays, symbolising the apostles. To the right of the chair are St Ambrose and St Augustine (fathers of the Latin church), and to the left are St Athanasius and St John Chrysostom (fathers of the Greek church).

    On the right wall of the chapel is the monument to Pope Urban VIII by Bernini:

    and the left wall has the monument to Paul III.

    Left Transept and Left Aisle:

    At the end of the left aisle, west of the transept, is the Chapel of the Column. This contains the Altar of Our Lady of the Column on the south side. The altarpiece is an ancient image of the Virgin Mary that was painted on a marble column in the central nave of the original basilica. In 1607 it was placed on this altar designed by Giacomo Della Porta, framed by the marble and alabaster columns. In 1981, John Paul II had a mosaic reproduction of it set on the external wall of the palazzo facing St. Peter's Square, which is illuminated at night. Under the altar is a 4th-century sarcophagus that holds the remains of Popes Leo II (682-83), Leo III (795-816), and Leo IV (847-55).

    To the left of the altar in the same chapel is the Altar of Pope St. Leo the Great (440-61) by Alessandro Algardi, 1645-53. This is the only altarpiece of marble relief in the basilica. Leo was a highly influential pope and was the first to be buried in St. Peter's. The marble bas-relief depicts Leo's famous meeting with Attila the Hun, who was going to attack Rome until Leo convinced him otherwise, with St. Paul supporting him in the sky.

    Heading back towards the entrance, between the Chapel of the Column and the left transept is the monument to Pope Alexander (Chigi) VII (d. 1667) by Bernini, 1671-78. The door below symbolizes the Gate of Death, above which a skeleton lifts a fold of red marble drapery and holds an hourglass. He is flanked on the right by a statue representing Truth or religion, who rests her foot on a globe — specifically placed upon the British Isles, symbolizing the pope's problems with the Church of England. Three other figures represent Charity, Prudence and Justice.

    The left transept contains the altars of St. Peter's Crucifixion, St. Thomas and St. Joseph and the body of St. Boniface IV.:

    Just beyond the left transept as you head back to the entrance is the monument to Pope Pius VIII (1829-30) by Pietro Tenerani, 1866. This pope was imprisoned in 1808 during the French domination of Italy for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to Napoleon. On a happier note, he approved the decrees of the Council of Baltimore (October 1829), the first formal meeting of US bishops. The Pope is shown kneeling in prayer, accompanied by a statue of Christ enthroned and statues of Sts. Peter and Paul. The allegories are Prudence and Justice. The door under the monument is the entrance to the Sacristy and Treasury Museum. In front of the monument is a mass schedule for the basilica.

    East of the left transept is the Clementine Chapel, which contains the Altar of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604). The altarpiece, a mosaic reproduction of a 1625 painting by Sacchi, depicts a miracle in which St. Gregory used a knife to cause blood to flow from a corporal cloth. Beneath the altar is the tomb of Gregory, which can be seen through a grille:

    The last chapel before you leave is the Presentation Chapel, which centers on the Altar of the Presentation of Mary. The altarpiece, which shows the young Mary being presented in the Temple by her parents, is a mosaic by Cristofari of 1726-28, based on a painting by Romaneli done in 1638-42. Below the altar is the body of Pope St. Pius X (1904-1914), the last pope to be canonized. His face and hands are covered in silver. Pius X is known for his emphasis on religious education, and for his opposition to modernism. He allowed children to take communion, and encouraged the sacrament to be practiced daily.

    At the same chapel - Monument in memorial of Pope John Paul XXIII:

    After the chapel and on your right is the monument to Pope Benedict XV (1914-22) by Pietro Canonica, 1928. The Pope is shown in fervent prayer, kneeling on a tomb which commemorates the First World War, which he described as a "useless massacre." The tomb is covered in olive branches, symbols of peace. Above the statue is Mary, presenting Jesus, Prince of Peace, to the world in flames:

    On your left as you leave is the Monument to the Royal Stuarts, a pyramidal masterpiece by Antonio Canova. It commemorates King James III, the "Old Pretender" to the English throne who lived in exile in Rome. Also commemorated are his two sons, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Henry. It marks the spot in the grottoes below where the three last members of the royal House of Stuart lie buried.

    Next to this is the tomb of Maria Clementina Sobieska (by Pietro Bracci, 1739), a princess who received the rare honor of burial in St. Peter's normally reserved for popes and saints. The wife of James Stuart, she earned this honor through her crusade for the Catholic faith. The main statue is the personification of Charity (or Love of God), and an angel holds a portrait of the deceased in mosaic:

    On the left just inside the entrance is the baptistery, where a porphyry cover from a 4th-century sarcophagus is used as the baptismal font. It previously covered the tomb of emperor Otho II (973-983) in the Vatican Grottoes.

    Partial List of 39 monuments of Saints:

    Saint Peter's tomb:

    Monument to Pope Leo XI (1605) by Algardi, 1644:

    Monument to Pope Leo XII (1823-1829):

    Tomb of Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115) by Bernini, ca 1635:

    Monument to Pope Innocent XII (1691-1700) by Filippo della Valle, 1746:

    Monument to Pope Gregory XIII by Camillo Rusconi, 1723. Wisdom raises the drapery revealing science:

    Monument to Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) by Luigi Amici, ca 1850:

    Monument to Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) b Pietro Bracci, 1769:

    Tomb of Clement XIII (1758-1769) by Antonio Canova, 1792:

    St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, by Andrea Bolgi, 1635:

    Bernini’s last work in the St. Peter’s Basilica, The tomb of Pope Alexander VII:

    Monument to Pope Pius VII (1800-1823) by protestant sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen ca 1830:

    Monument to Pope Pius VIII (1829-1830) by Pietro Tenerani, 1866:

    Monument to St. Pius X (1903-1914) by Pietro Astorri, 1923:

    Monument to the Stuarts (James III, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Henry) by Antonio Canova, 1829:

    Monument to Maria Clementina Sobieska (1702-1735) by Pietro Bracci, 1742:

    A list of all the Popes buried at St. Peter's since St. Peter:

    3. St. Peter's Catacombs:

    Note: There is no way from the Catacombs back to the Basilica interior space. There is only bi-directional way out of the Basilica. BUT, still you can sneak your (illegal) way back to the interior entrance.

    The crypt underneath the church shouldn't be missed. It contains architectural fragments from earlier churches on the site and the tombs of many popes, including the simple tomb of John Paul II. NO PHOTOS allowed in the Crypt or the Catacombs.

    the way to the Catacombs:

    But the focus of pilgrims and tourists alike is the tomb of the very first pope: St. Peter. These prized relics have been the goal of millions of pilgrims since the early centuries of Christianity, and have a good likelihood of authenticity. A glass wall at the end of the crypt provides a view of the reliquary below the altar, which may well contain the actual bones of St. Peter. A chapel stretches out behind the shrine into the crypt for services at this holiest of shrines.

    Here are over 100 tombs within St. Peter's Basilica located in the Vatican beneath the Basilica, of which their are about 91 popes. A visit to the the catacombs is a must. After visiting the Basilica don't miss the chance to visit the Sacred Grottoes or Crypt where the tombs of many Popes and other dignitaries are interred. The Crypt lies beneath the Church and contained the tomb of John Paul II up until his beatification in May of 2011. At the end of the Crypt lies a glass wall which offers a view down to the tomb of St Peter which is located directly below the Papal Altar.

    The way out from the Catacombs:

    The way out from the Catacombs and from the Basilica:

    4. Climb The Dome and Roof of St. Peter's Basilica:

    On your way out as you exit from the crypt is the entrance to the dome and roof, in the northern courtyard between the church and Vatican Palace. There is an admission charge and often a line, but it is a very worthwhile experience. There is an elevator option as far as the dome (for an extra euro), and from there on it is stairs only. You have TWO options:

    - Lift up to the level terrace and you can walk (320 steps): ticket 7 euros.
    - Climb 551 steps on foot: ticket 5 euros.

    Whichever way you choose to go the effort expended will be deemed well worth it. The views are spectacular.
    You can see clear out to the sea and to the Alban Hills, Frascati and the Sabbine Mountains. Closer to hand of course are the rooftops of Rome laid out like a carpet for all to see.

    At first glance the figure seems large, but not so difficult to climb. In fact the only problem is that while climbing the staircase becomes very tight and angled to one side. But when you get to the top you suddenly understand that even if they were 1000 steps it's still worth to climb. You have the view of Rome, you can see the Vatican Gardens and you have the best view of the St. Peter's square.

    The views from the gallery around the cupola of Michelangelo's dome provide an impressive sense of the enormity of the church, a look at the top of the Baldacchino, and a closer view of the cupola's inscriptions and medallions. Once-in-life experience.

    Waiting the elevator to the Dome - that what you see around:

    After getting off the elevator, don't rush to the staircase, but take a few moments to absorb the astonishing beauty of the cupola from within - and look down - the main altar. It's one of those moments where the cliche "thank god for religion" is most true - and real.

    climbing up the stairs to the Cupola:

    This balcony going round the cupola allows you to admire the beautiful decorations and the magnificence of the inside of the cupola in a close up. Watch the play of light entering the church from the top.

    under the Cupola - view of the Dome:

    Under the Cupola - view down to the Basilica Nave:

    Under the Cupola - marvelous mosaics around the walls:

    From the gallery, stairs continue to the roof, where you step out on the east side of the dome. This provides a sweeping view of St. Peter's Square and Vatican City from behind the huge statues on the facade.

    views of Rome - while climbing up the stairs to the roof:

    More stairs lead up to the lantern at the top of the dome, which provides even more impressive views.

    The roof of St. Peter’s Basilica is accessed either by elevator or stairs (the first level). However by climbing the interior staircase 170 steps to the base of the dome, you can get a lovely view of the dome up close and personal and look down below to see the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica. Magnificent! But the real money-shots are the views one gets by climbing the one person wide, one way, semi-claustrophobic, 330 stairs that lead up to the balcony of the lantern. From here, you get amazing views of the Vatican Gardens and sites of Rome. Climbing it is no small feat so if you aren’t in the best shape, and not sure you can tackle this climb - just take the elevator to the first level and skip the rest. Follow the one way rule on the climb up the last 330 stairs. Trying to get by other people on that narrow, curving stairway is a nightmare. Once you are up, you can really see the whole Vatican, the hills of Rome, the whole St. Peter's Square; it is beautiful:

    Views of Rome from the Basilica roof:

    Views of St. Peter Piazza from the roof:

    Views of the Vatican Gardens from the Basilica roof:

    Down the stairs from the roof:

    Down on the balcony of the elevator level:

    Papal Audience:

    The Papal Audiences are held on Wednesday mornings at 10:30 AM either in St. Peter's Square or in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. In order to get tickets to the Papal Audience you will need to make your request in writing or by Fax to the Prefecture of the Papal Household. Tickets are free and need to be picked up either on the day prior to the Audience or on the morning of. If you happen to be in Rome on a Wednesday and if the Papal Audience is going to take place I can tell that this is quite a spectacle to behold. When we attended, the Audience was held inside the Papal Hall and the atmosphere was something akin to a sporting event. There was singing and dancing by people from all over the world who came dressed in their native garb. Flags were waving and there were spontaneous eruptions of song and mucic, it was quite a morning. Regardless of religion go to St Peters square on a Wednesday morning when the Pope is in Rome the out door service is quite amazing and if you are lucky you will get very close to the Pope when he makes his tour.

    Post Office on the left side of the basilica if you are facing the front of the church. Remember before you leave to buy a postcard and send it off to someone at home with the Vatican stamp on the front.

    Other services: Philatelic and Numismatic Office, Vatican Telephone Service, Vatican Pharmacy, Vatican Television Centre, Vatican Information Service.

    Attend Mass in St Peter's Basilica:

    There are many masses daily and attending one is an experience that you won’t want to miss. Before entering the area where the mass was being held we were warned by the Vatican security that this is a mass and not a photo opportunity for tourists, so please show the due respect when attending a mass here. You find timetable of masses in the formal Vatican web site.

    There are many altars in St Peter's Basilica and the mass will be in one of them. The Papal altar located under Bernini's Canopy is only used for masses given by the Pope.

    Papal Apartments:

    The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, an ancient Roman Catholic Marian basilica of Rome:

    5. Piazza St. Peter, St Peter's Square - designed by Bernini and built between 1656 and 1667. There's a lot to capture and sink in. Huge beautiful columns around the whole Piazza. A lot of sculptures, a decent size fountain and a Egyptian obelisk. But all this provides more appeal to the focal point which is the St. Peter Basilica itself. Located directly in front of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is the monumental Piazza of St Peter which was designed by Lorenzo Bernini. While there is much to see in the square itself, it is also a great spot to just sit and people watch as you take in the marvels of this important gathering place. Of particular note in the square are the Colonnades and Statues, the matching Bernini Fountains, the Obelisk, and of course the Papal Apartment which is visible up and to the right.

    In the center of the square is a 25.5-meter-tall obelisk, which dates from 13th-century-BC Egypt and was brought to Rome in the 1st century to stand in Nero's Circus some 275 yards away. It was moved to its present location in 1585 by order of Pope Sixtus V. The task took four months and is said to have been done in complete silence on pain of death. If you include the cross on top and the base, the obelisk reaches 40m.

    Near the stairs to the basilica at the front of the square are colossal statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome. These were ordered by Pope Pius IX on Easter 1847, who wanted to replace the existing smaller ones. The new statues had been commissioned by the previous pope for St. Paul Outside the Walls. Peter was sculpted by Giuseppe De Fabris in 1838-40 and stands 5.55m in height, on a pedestal 4.91m high. Paul was sculpted in 1838 by Adamo Tadolini, and is also 5.55m in height, on a pedestal 4.91m high.

    St. Peter Statue with his keys to the kingdom on the NORTH side (on the left as you walk to the square):

    Look also (now, before you enter the Cathedral, or, later when you exit the Basilica) for St. Paul Statue with his key to the kingdom on the SOUTH side (on the left as you walk to the square):

    There are two beautiful fountains in the square, the south/left one by Carlo Maderno (1613) and the northern/right one by Bernini (1675).

    St Peter's, Bernini's Colonnade and Maderno's Fountain:

    Fountain on the north side of St. Peter's Square, designed by Bernini in 1675: