The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome city. Indeed, while taking in Rome’s magnificent panorama, it is hard to miss it. All for the better, for it is hard to imagine that anyone would want to miss such a pretty sight.
The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is, undoubtedly, one of the most impressive sights in Rome. Considering the amount of breath-taking wonders that this eternal city can boast of, that is saying something.
Recently I have finished a new oil painting that was inspired by St. Peter's Dome in Vacation. Hence today (besides sharing this new painting of mine), I would like to share some lesser know facts about Dome of Saint Peter. This masterpiece of architecture is certainly worth a study. So, here are ten interesting facts about the St. Peter’s Basilica Dome.
Ten interesting facts about the St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
Michelangelo is known as the designer of the Dome and rightfully so, but he was hardly the only man who contributed to it. In fact, Michelangelo followed in the footsteps of Bramante and Sangallo.
Bramante was the architect chosen for the job when Pope Julius decided to build the grandest church in Christendom. Pope Julius set the stone for it in 1506. At the time, there were only 3 large domes in existence. One of them was located in faraway Constantinople (church Hagia Sofia) so the architects lacked the opportunity to study it. However, the other two, Pantheon in immediate vicinity and the famous Dome in Florence, were easily available for study. Bramante, as did the other architects, studied both the Pantheon and the Dome of Florence. He had planned for the Dome to be as wide as that of the doom Florence and even taller. While he was studying the Pantheon, Bramante even learned to mix concrete in the way the ancient Romans did it, so that it wouldn’t be too heavy. It is said that Bramante designed the Dome with Pantheon with mind, but with the elements from Dome of Florence, for example he added the little stone tower that would stand at the top of the Dome and be called lantern. When Pope Julius died, Pope Leo X appointed three architects to work on the Basilica: Guiliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo and Raphael. After Raphael died, Sangallo made changes to Bramante’s design of the Dome. Sangallo designed the Dome to be much stronger and made plans for the elaborative decoration of the Dome but the most important thing that he did was to take care of the piers that started to crack. Sangallo’s plans for the design of the Dome were never put into action. In the end, it was up to Michelangelo to make the great design.
Michelangelo consulted the work of his predecessors, but he made his own designs. When he decided to take upon himself to create the Dome, Michelangelo sought to harmonize it with design of the Basilica.
Michelangelo designed the Dome with two shells instead of one, because of the fact that a high dome looks better from outside and the lower one from inside. This way he was able to make the best of both worlds while also allowing a place for a gap within the two. This gap is equipped with stairs that people could use to repair the Dome. The same sense of aesthetic that guided Michelangelo work on St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen in the Dome. It remains unclear whether today’s Dome is exactly the way Michelangelo imagined it to be, but he is still considered its main designer. It has often been noted that the Dome and the church exist in perfect harmony. We can’t really blame Michelangelo for the structural problem the Dome faced (and that was fortunately fixed in time) because the Dome itself was a ground-breaking and pioneer work. It was a feet of courage, creative and artistry. It is said that Michelangelo was mostly inspired by Pantheon and the Dome of Florence. There were even rumours that bronze from Pantheon was used in the construction of the Dome, which surely enough lead to criticism.
# FACT 3
The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was one of the latter works of Michelangelo, thus it enabled him to use of all of his vast experience. He was 71 years old when he started working on the Dome and he laboured on it until his death.
Unfortunately, Michelangelo died before he could complete the Dome. When he died, the construction stopped at the drum of the dome. Eventually, the Dome was finished 26 years later (in 1590) by Giacamo della Porta and Domenico Fortuna. During his life, Michelangelo identified himself primarily as a sculptor. It is said that his imagination of a sculptor was a defining influence on his architectural works. He imagined buildings as clay that can be shaped. Supposedly, he even found it difficult to work with the popes, but accepted the challenging job mainly for religious reasons. Nevertheless, with both the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Dome of St. Peter, Michelangelo proved that he was also an amazing architect. Michelangelo had worked on The Dome until the day he died, which proves how important it was to him. In many ways, it is only just that he is considered the mastermind behind the Dome.
Michelangelo’s Dome wasn’t finished when he died in year 1564. For a while, the work on it was suspended. It was in 1588 that energetic Pope Sixtus, who came to be known as the first modern urbanist, appointed Giacamo della Porta and Domenico Fortuna to finish the Dome.
Porta was one of Michelangelo’s pupils. He did his best to fulfil the vision of his great master, but he also insisted on making some changes in Michelangelo’s design. Porta argued for the top of the Dome to be altered. His idea of vertically elliptical profile was eventually accepted and it proved beneficial due to structural reasons. Some argue that Michelangelo himself might have made this suggestion before his death, but generally this change is attributed to Porta, who supposedly had more scientific knowledge than Michelangelo. To finish this important project, Giacamo della Porta also collaborated with Domenico Fontana, another well-known Italian architect/engineer of this period who is perhaps best known for his feat of erecting a 320 ton obelisk on the Square of Saint Peter. The two of them managed to see the construction of Dome through. Fontana and Porta made the changes where changes were necessary, thus reducing the tensile stress in the Dome by 40 percent. The Dome was finally build up to the base of the lantern in 1590, a few months prior to Pope Sixtus’ death. The lantern and the lead covering were completed later. The Dome didn’t achieved its signature look until the cross was put on it in 1592.
# FACT 5
There was one major crisis in the life of Dome. Because of its enormous size, it faced the risk of falling down.
Interestingly, this beautiful symbol of Rome was, at one point, seriously endangered. The Dome was designed beautifully, but the design lacked precision and expertise that today’s technology enables. Back then, there were no programs that architects could use to calculate the risk and prevent cracks. In other words, the Dome nearly collapsed due to structural problems. In fact, by the eighteen century a crack had been discovered. Pope Benedict XIV consulted numerous experts, but it was not until he found the right man that the problem was solved. The man who saved the Dome from collapsing was a Croatian Jesuit, polymath and mathematician Roger Joseph Boskovich. This known scholar, who according to many pathed the way for the theory of atom, solved many construction problems during his life. Fortunately, Boskovich was also able to foresee to the structural problem of Saint Peter’s Dome. In 1742, Roger Joseph Boskovich was consulted on the matter. He suggested placing five concentric iron bands to support its structure. Pope Benedict XVI accepted Boskovich’s preposition. Thus, the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was saved. 
The Dome’s size is impressive even for today’s standards. The top of the Dome is a staggering 448.1 feet (136 meters) tall. Interestingly enough, Saint Peter’s Dome still holds the title of the tallest Dome in the world.
The Dome’s internal diameter is equally impressive- 136. 1 feet (41.47 m). Even today, the Dome is one of the largest in the world. At the time of its completion, it was the largest Dome in the world. Its diameter is only slightly smaller of the Pantheon, on whom it was supposedly modelled. The Dome is beautifully decorated. The two inscriptions on the Dome are easily read because they are written in letters that are 6.6 feet (2 meters) tall. These inscriptions, written in Latin, state the following: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church….I will give you the keys of Heaven….’ None the less magnificent is the church within which the Dome is placed, that is Saint Peter’s Basilica, considered by many to be the greatest church in Christianity. Protected by UNESCO and regarded as a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, one could add that St. Peter’s Basilica seems more than worthy of such a glorious Dome. Together they make for a perfect pairing. Covering 2.3 hectares (5.7 acres) St. Peter’s Basilica is certainly one of the largest Christian churches, if not the largest. None withstanding its size, the Dome is said to dominate the church, both internally and externally.
The Dome, together with the Basilica itself, meet with heavy criticism because of its huge expense.
As it is easy to imagine, a lot of money was needed to build such architectural wonders. One of the methods employed for collecting the money needed for construction was the infamous ‘granting of indulgences’. To say that the financing of construction of Basilica and the Dome gave rise to rebellion that in turned lead to Protestantism would perhaps be pushing it too far, yet it was one of the factors. Moreover, it is certain that the practice of ‘granting indulgences’ used for financing the Basilica and its Dome was one of the things that inspired Martin’s Luther rebellion. 
This Dome was used as a model for other Western domes in the world. It could even be said that it set standard for domes worldwide.
It is said to have inspired numerous domes, including that of Les Invalides in Paris. Thomas U. Walter, the architect that designed the Dome for the Capitol building, is said to have been inspired by the Dome he saw when he visited Les Invalides in Paris. Consequently, it can be said that the Dome of the Capitol building in Washington follows in the tradition of Dome of Saint Peter. What is certain is that St. Peter’s Dome was and remains an architectural wonder. There was one major crisis in the life of Dome. Because of its enormous size, it faced the risk of falling down. Interestingly, this beautiful symbol of Rome was, at one point, seriously endangered. The Dome was designed beautifully, but the design lacked precision and expertise that today’s technology enables. Back then, there were no programs that architects could use to calculate the risk and prevent cracks. In other words, the Dome nearly collapsed due to structural problems. In fact, by the eighteen century a crack had been discovered. Pope Benedict XIV consulted numerous experts, but it was not until he found the right man that the problem was solved. The man who saved the Dome from collapsing was a Croatian Jesuit, polymath and mathematician Roger Joseph Boskovich. This known scholar, who according to many pathed the way for the theory of atom, solved many construction problems during his life. Fortunately, Boskovich was also able to foresee to the structural problem of Saint Peter’s Dome. In 1742, Roger Joseph Boskovich was consulted on the matter. He suggested placing five concentric iron bands to support its structure. Pope Benedict XVI accepted Boskovich’s preposition. Thus, the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was saved. 
# FACT 9
One of the most fascinating way to observe the Dome is to experience the optical illusion at Via Niccolo Piccolomini.
If you choose to visit this street you can experience the optical illusion of the Doom appearing closer as you move away from it and vice versa. Equally interesting is the view of Dome through one keyhole. If you want to see the Dome through the keyhole all you have to do is visit Villa Del Priorato di Malta and peep through that keyhole. Besides, that famous keyhole view, this Villa offers an enchanting view of the city. Additionally, you can enjoy a stroll in the beautiful garden the Villa is famous for.
If you want to visit the Dome itself, you'll have to climb a lot of stairs (or get someone to carry you all the way).
As it was explained in this article, St. Peter's Dome can be seen and experienced in many ways. Nevertheless, to get a precise feel of it, perhaps it is the best to visit this Dome itself. The Dome is open to all visitors on daily basis. So, in case you’re not content with seeing it from afar or even with glazing at it from directly under (once you find yourself within Saint Peter’s Basilica), you can always walk all the way to the top and get a detailed view of its beauty. There are 491 (narrow) stairs leading to the top, so it is a long climb, but the experience is said to be well worth the climb. There is also a small fee that needs to be paid if you want to climb those stairs, so be sure to bring some change.