St. Peter's Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world, however, it is billed as the "the largest interior" of any Christian church...has to be a qualifier in it somewhere. It also sports the world's largest dome (no qualifier on that one...at least not yet). It is impossible to describe the incredible sculptures, marble, paintings, and history incorporated into this one building.
The interior is filled with 45 altars (no, I didn't count them). The sculptures are incredible, including the famous Pieta by Michaelangelo and the throne and altar by Bernini. Just absolutely stunning. It was breathtaking to walk around the church, looking at the incredible detail and richness of the basilica.
For the uninitiated, including me, a basilica is an "important church building" that has been given basilica status by a pope. The cathedral is a church that holds a bishop's throne, important but not as high on the hierarchy as a basilica. Now you know.
Once we viewed everything from the halls below, we began our climb to the dome. We chose to ride the elevator for the first part - a wise move since the walk to the cupola was at least 1.5 of the elevator ride. We entered first into the upper reaches of the basilica with a stunning view of Bernini's throne. After circling the lower dome, we moved outside and into the circular stairs that took us ever higher to the top. The view of Vatican City was spectacular as well as an impressive view of the square in front with its matching fountains and obelisk.
We did get an interesting perspective of some of the many huge statues located on buildings and in niches across Rome. I've honestly never given them a thought before, anticipating that like the magnificent work of the masters, they would be spectacular, rich with detail, and complete...wrong. We discovered that what you see is not always what you THINK you're seeing. It looks ornate and detailed from the piazza below but when you're up on top...it's not.
The Swiss Guards (yes, they must be Swiss and yes, they must be men) that you find around the Vatican are there to protect the pope. While around the Vatican and at various checkpoints, you will find them in their distinctive uniforms, when they travel with the pope they are often in "plain clothes". Here, even a nun can't get past them to enter another section of the great basilica.