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Saint Peter’s Square

Architect: Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Location: Vatican City

Date: 1656-1667

Building Type: Piazza

Architecture Styles: Baroque Neoclassical

Architectural Time Period: 1600s

Construction Type: Bearing Masonry

Context: Urban

Introduction(Information mainly based on Internet and Readings):

Saint Peter’s Square  is located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, the papal enclave within Rome (the Piazza borders to the East the rione of Borgo).

The open space which lies before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt, designed “so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the façade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace” (Norwich 1975 p 175). Bernini had been working on the interior of St. Peter’s for decades; now he gave order to the space with his renowned colonnades, using the Tuscan form of Doric, the simplest order in the classical vocabulary, not to compete with the palace-like façade by Carlo Maderno, but he employed it on an unprecedented colossal scale to suit the space and evoke emotions awe.

The site’s possibilities were under many constraints from existing structures (illustration, right). The massed accretions of the Vatican Palace crowded the space to the right of the basilica’s façade; the structures needed to be masked without obscuring the papal apartments. The obelisk marked a center, and a granite fountain by Carlo Maderno stood to one side: Bernini made the fountain appear to be one of the foci of the ovato tondo embraced by his colonnades and eventually matched it on the other side, in 1675, just five years before his death. The trapezoidal shape of the piazza, which creates a heightened perspective for a visitor leaving the basilica and has been praised as a masterstroke of Baroque theater, is largely a product of site constraints.

My own exploration:

Keywords: Colonnades,Geometry&Floor Pattern

Colonnades

The colossal Tuscan colonnades, four columns deep,frame the trapezoidal entrance to the basilica and the massive elliptical area which precedes it. The ovato tondo’s long axis, parallel to the basilica’s façade, creates a pause in the sequence of forward movements that is characteristic of a Baroque monumental approach. The colonnades define the piazza. The elliptical center of the piazza, which contrasts with the trapezoidal entrance, encloses the visitor with “the maternal arms of Mother Church” in Bernini’s expression. On the south side, the colonnades define and formalize the space, with the Barberini Gardens still rising to a skyline of umbrella pines. On the north side, the colonnade masks an assortment of Vatican structures; the upper stories of the Vatican Palace rise above.

Geometry&Floor Pattern

The geometry of the square is ellipsis, which has a center occupied by an obelisk, it has symmetrical and self-centered spatial quality, what’s smart about the design is that the paving is varied by radiating lines in travertine, to relieve what might otherwise be a sea of cobblestones. Circular stones were set to mark the tip of the obelisk’s shadow at noon as the sun entered each of the signs of the zodiac, making the obelisk a gigantic sundial’s gnomon.

The plan diagram with the floor patterning

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