Climbing to the top of the cupola (dome) of Saint Peter’s Basilica is one of the main attractions during your Roman holiday since it is the highest point of Rome, located on the territory of the Vatican. It is important to mention that you should better visit the smallest government in the world in the morning to enjoy views of Rome without crowds of tourists and skip the lines to the Basilica. The dome opens at 8 am and you need to go throw St Peter cathedral security check before climbing. After the security check, look right and you will find a sign that directs you to the kiosk with tickets for the cupola.
On the way to the ticket desk you will pass entance to the Basilica on the right side of the colonnade, then the Holy Door. After, turn left and you will see the place where to purchase tickets.
Michelangelo Buonarotti designed the dome of St Peter’s church. The artist was inspired by the cupola of the Duomo of Florence and the Pantheon, designed by Brunelleschi. When he died, the new Basilica missed the corner chapels, the façade, and the cupola, of which only the columns and drum had been finished. In 1587, Giacomo della Porta became responsible of completing the dome with his assistant Domenico Fontana. After two years of work, the cupola was finally completed. According to the legend, Michelangelo planned his dome on 1.5 m (5 ft) shorter across than the Pantheon. He then said: “I could build one bigger, but not more beautiful, than that of the Pantheon.”
The maximum height of the cupola is 133.3 m from the ground level, the height inside the basilica is 117.57 m, while the inner diameter is 41.5 m. Also, the total weight is 14 thousand tons
Inside the Cupola
The great cupola located above the altar and the baldacchino, decorated with mosaic and stucco ornaments. It is supported by four structural piers with a perimeter of 71 m and a height of 120 m from the ground to the roof. Moreover, there are large letters on a background, from St. Veronica to St. Helen, say “Hinc una fides mundo refulgent” (From here a single faith shines throughout the world); and from St. Longinus to St. Andrew: “Hinc sacerdotii unitas exoritur” (From here is born the unity of the priesthood).
Above the windows, the cupola is divided into sixteen ribs and segments, decorated by impressive figures. Among them are:
- The busts of the 16 popes buried in the basilica
- Figures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St John the Baptist, and different Apostles
- Faces of angels
- The custodians of the tomb of St Peter
- The faces of cherubim and seraphim
- Angels bearing the instruments of Jesus’ Passion
Also, there are 96 figures and a blue sky with stars. Above them you can see the lantern with a Latin inscription at its base:“To the glory of St. Peter, Pope Sixtus V in the year 1590, the fifth of his pontificate.” There were many artists who worked on the decorations inside the dome, since Michelangelo died when only the base was completed. Giuseppe Cesari (Cavalier d’Arpino) was commissioned by Pope Clement VIII to finish the upper part of the decoration.
There are two ticket options:
- You can take an elevator to the level of roof and save 320 steps. However, there are 551 steps in total and you will still climb up to reach the highest point of the dome. This kind of ticket costs 10 euro per person
- You can climb up to the cupola without an elevator. The price for the option of 551 steps by foot is 8 euro
Payment is accepted only in cash
After 30 seconds ride on the elevator you can stop by to take a coffee in a bar on the cupola or to visit a restroom. Climbing up to the top of the dome goes through progressively narrower and sloping stairs. The narrow passageway can be unconvenient if you are claustrophobic. Also, it could be crowded and hot in summer days. However, there are small windows with fresh air and you can take a break while climbing up.
It is worth to ascent to the top of the dome not only for amazing views of Rome and Vatican, but also, you can send the postcard to your friends or relatives from the highest point of the Vatican
Undoubtedly, this is one of the main attractions you can do in the Vatican. Sending a postcard from the highest point of the smallest government in the world is cheap, original and unique present for people you love. The price for the postcard starts from 50 cents, while the stamp price is 2.30 euro if you are going to send it to the US or 1 euro if you want to send it to any European country. Postcards sold in the Vatican are connected to the thematic of the smallest government in the world: images of masterpieces of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Popes, Swiss Guard, etc. Also, there is a souvenir shop at the same place where postcards are sold.
You can climb up to the dome with us during our individual tour to the Vatican at sunrise
- How to get: Go through security pass in St Peter’s Square and follow the way to the Basilica
- Opening hours: 8 am – 6pm (Apr – Sep) 8 am – 5 pm (Oct – Mar)
- Website (Italian): www.vatican.va/cupola
- Drop your bags: large bags or purses are not allowed into the basilica, but there is a drop-off point for all bags in a room to the right of the steps leading into the church