I visited the dome of St Peter’s one afternoon with my mother – we had to queue for about half an hour to pay €7 to take the lift to the bottom of the dome. From there you go through a door and up a ramp into the base of the dome where you are close up with the wonderful mosaics and can look straight down into the basilica below or up at the rich decoration on the inside.
It was great to be so close to the mosaics – they looked so fresh that they could have been created yesterday. There were these coats of arms above the doorways:
And these oversize cherubs all round the perimeter – it was difficult to get any distance away to photograph them and there was high wire mesh to stop you going over the parapet.
Then you went through another door and started climbing the 320 steps to bring you out at the top of the dome. The steps wound round and round and as you got higher they got narrower and the roof sloped inwards, forcing you to lean at an angle.
When we got to the top it was very crowded, which you can’t really see in the photos. Every space was taken up by a person trying to get a photo with a view of the piazza behind them but without ten other tourists in the shot. It was so crowded that my mother and I managed to lose each other for 15 minutes which was amazing considering the small area – if you feel claustrophobic you’d need to chose your moment to go up.
Around the other side, you get a great view into the Pope’s back garden, which for most people is the only view you’ll get. Unfortunately, there are only limited guided tours and you have to book by e-mail, fax or telephone at least a week in advance. It’s a shame that it’s not more accessible as it looked beautiful down there.
When you’ve seen enough of the 360 degree views you descend to an outdoor terrace at the base of the dome where you can get close to the back of Bernini’s huge statues of the saints which line the front of the Basilica and round the colonade. Apparently there are 162 of them, but I noticed that they hadn’t bothered to carve many of them at the back. There’s also a place to buy coffee and a gift shop with lots of religious souvenirs.
Then we descended in the lift again to the piazza – it’s definitely worth going up to see those amazing mosaics and the views of Rome.