Since this is one of the more recognizable places in the world I'll keep the intro short. I tried to capture a rare instance of vacancy, when there were few or no people in the shot, which does diminish the scale somewhat. The focus here is the baldacchino, technically St. Peter's Baldachin, a sculpted bronze canopy over the high altar, directly under the dome and over the traditional tomb of St. Peter underneath. They are intended to resemble the ceremonial canopies, which are sometimes carried. It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII. It took ten years to complete, with construction beginning in 1623 and ending in 1634. The Old St. Peter's Basilica also had a ciborium, or architectural pavilion. This iteration was created by Bernini, but Carlo Maderno also designed one with twisted Solomonic columns, which are 66 feet high. The somewhat curious shape was reportedly intended to emulate marble helical columns brought to Rome by Constantine from Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem and which were kept in the old basilica. The base and capital were cast separately and each column was cast in three sections. The source of the immense amount of bronze needed to cast this structure is unclear: some reports state that it was looted from the portico ceiling of the Pantheon, but other reports state that most of the bronze from that source was used for a cannon and that most metal used here was derived from Venice and other sources. It remains one of the most famous features of the basilica, however, and certainly one of the most impressive.
Ancient tradition asserts that the first basilica was constructed over the ancient tomb of the apostle Peter, who was martyred in the nearby Circus of Nero on an inverted cross in the first century AD. After Constantine converted to Christianity he began a great basilica on the site in 324, which had previously been an ancient cemetery in which both pagans and Christians were buried. This structure remained until the 15th century when it was decided that a new, more magnificent structure should replace it. Construction actually began under Pope Julius II (of the Agony and the Ecstasy) in 1506, but it wasn't completed until 1615 under Pope Paul V. Many famous artists worked on the various phases, including Michelangelo, who designed the dome (later greatly reworked), and Bernini, who designed the great colonnaded St. Peter's Square, where many thousands gather on important events and also the magnificent bronze canopy (which is comprised of 927 tons of dark bronze, taken from the roof of the Pantheon in 1633) over the papal altar and the relics of Peter the Apostle. It also fills the great vertical space under the great dome. The marble opus sectile floors seen here may have originally been from the ruins of a Roman public building.
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