|Basilica of St. Peter's
64 AD. The first Pope, Peter the Fisherman, is said to have been crucified by order of Emperor Nero at the edge of the nearby Circus of Caligula and Nero. (The obelisk that stood at the center of that ancient arena was moved to the center of St. Peter's square in 1586).
315. Constantine, first Roman emperor converted to Christianity, ordered the construction of a church on this spot, where Peter was assumed to have been buried.
15C. The basilica was falling apart.
1506. Pope Julius II della Rovere laid the corner stone of a new church. As first of the long line of Chief Architects he appointed Bramante (1444-1514) who spent the rest of his life tearing down the old basilica - earning him the nickname Mr. Destroyer (church services continued without interruption). Bramante's dream was to superimpose a Pantheon-like cupola over a central-plan church (with 4 arms of equal length like a Greek Cross), similar to his tiny but perfectly-proportioned Tempietto in the courtyard of St. Pietro in Montorio, the other spot where St. Peter was rumored to have been buried. Subsequent popes consulted Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo whose plans were never built. It was Raphael who proposed a basilica form (with one long nave like a Latin cross).
1547. Pope Paul III Farnese entrusted the design to 72 year old Michelangelo, who had turned down the job half a century earlier. Only the base of his monumental cupola was built when Michelangelo died, in 1564; it was completed by his successor, Giacomo della Porta, and there is still a raging controversy as to whether the dome's astounding size, over 35 stories high and almost as broad as the Pantheon, is greater than Michelangelo planned.
1605. Pope Paul V Borghese, elevated from Inquisitor to Pope (he censured Galileo for teaching that the Earth revolved around the Sun), ordered Carlo Maderna to make a long nave so that more worshipers could be preached to, which was a Counter Reformation objective.
Maderna also designed the portico and the facade, which make this church resemble a Baroque palace. With the adoption of Raphael's Latin cross plan, Michelangelo and Bramante's dream of a central-plan church was sacrificed, and so was any chance of your seeing the magnificent dome from the basilica steps.
1626. Pope Urban VIII Barberini (who allowed his old friend Galileo to be arrested and condemned for "vehemently suspected heresy" by the Inquisition) consecrated this basilica on the 1300th anniversary of the first basilica.
1656. Bernini, who designed much of the dramatic interior decoration, was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII Chigi to frame the basilica with the monumental St. Peter's Square.