St. Peter's square: The Colonnadese
All around the church, Bernini’s magnificent colonnade enfolds the surrounding oval piazza in a spectacular and metaphorical embrace.
From everywhere, the faithful have come to Saint Peter’s for centuries —nobility, princes and kings— but also pilgrims dressed in rags, who undertook a long and exhausting journey on foot that took many months, just to be able to climb those steps and pray inside this extraordinary basilica.
During the fascist era, the ancient medieval quarter of Borgo, right in front of the piazza, was demolished to make way for the via della Conciliazione, because the Regime needed wide and straight streets for its demonstrations and military parades.
In Bernini’s time and up to the first 20 years of the 20th century, when via della Conciliazione didn’t yet exist, coming upon the Basilica must have had an even more amazing effect: from the narrow alleyways of the picturesque medieval neighborhood, you suddenly found yourself face to face with the enormity of the columned piazza and the startling whiteness of the basilica leaving you literally breathless.