Climbing St. Peter’s dome

Meanwhile, back in Rome, my friend Greg Burke of Fox News is making some little videos and writing about interesting elements of Roman life.

Here is a short piece on climbing to the top of the dome or cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica.

December 2nd, 2008 6:10 PM Eastern
Thank You, Michelangelo — That Cupola is Cool
by Greg Burke

The best thing for kids to do in Rome is visit the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, known as the cupola. It was designed by Michelangelo, and finished in 1590.

It’s fun for kids because you can climb all the way up, even inside the dome itself. Not bad for adults either, if you’re in pretty good shape. But it’s 551 steps if you hoof it all the way. …

Read the rest here and go find the video.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Jack says:

    I was blessed to twice have the opportunity to make the climb. The first time (November of 1996), just as we got to the top and broke out into the fresh air, a priest approached us and asked us to take a picture of him with his camera. We asked where he was from and he told us Dallas, which is where we were living at the time. He was a retired priest, in Rome to join Pope John Paul II as they both celebrated their Jubilee years of Priesthood. It was an incredible experience and a breathtaking climb.

    The second time, in 1998, my then 10 year old son joined me in the climb. We made it to the top without much trouble, but my weary legs started to give out on me during the descent. It took much longer than it should have, but we made it back down safely.

    We were signed up for the Scavi tour, but didn’t realize that there was a minimum age requirement (16, I think) and they wouldn’t let the kids go, so we all had to pass. Fortunately, my wife and I had gotten to experience it 2 years earlier. Again, an incredible experience.

  2. Raphaela says:

    I made this climb last summer. The view from the top is absolutely worth it, but anyone considering the climb should be aware that not only is the climb physically taxing (even if you take the lift partway), but the descent too isn’t for the faint-hearted. The stairs are narrow and steep and the risers are worn enough to slope slightly downwards, and for large stretches of the route there aren’t any handrails and the walls are covered in smooth-glazed tiles that will do nothing to help you stay upright if you make a misstep: put one foot wrong and you’ll fall. I’m in decent shape to make the ascent… but frankly I was praying on the way down!

  3. Ed Casey says:

    When I visited Rome in February 1992 on my honeymoon pilgrimage to see HH John Paul II, we climbed to the cupola. At that time, there was a much lower rail inside the “crown” where the “Tu es Petrus…” inscription is – and I believe I read somewhere and verified somewhat from perspective that those letters are 6 FT high. What struck me when I viewed this short video was how clean and tidy the areas of the cupola steps are now – especially the walls. When I was there, they were totally covered with gum and graffitti from many years of ‘pilgrims’ visits.
    It is in fact one of the most beautiful and picturesque locations that I have visited and the best place to get a real view of the Vatican from above. I would recommend a slow ascent and visit to everyone who travels to Rome.

  4. Jayna says:

    I went last November and made the climb. As Raphaela said, going up (though I was winded by the time I got to the top) was not nearly as bad as going down. I have this weird fear of falling down steps anyhow, so walking down a curving staircase with no handrail was a real treat, let me tell you. Despite that though, it was totally worth it and I’ll certainly do it again when/if I get back to Rome.

  5. Maureen says:

    Oh, man. Another sightseeing opportunity designed by sadists….

    I thought there couldn’t be anything worse than the glass floor of the CN Tower!

  6. Mila says:

    Father, did you know that Greg is in Mumbai these days reporting on the terrorist attacks?

  7. Yes the cupola is cool, but the airport style security they now have is such a drag. My time was limited so I took a stroll around the perimeter of Vatican City.

  8. tfm says:

    Ooooh, two treasures I recall from my scaling the cupola:

    On the outer ribs of the dome are little spiky-looking things, which people may suppose are lightning-rods or something, but a priest at the top told me they were candle-holders, formerly used to illuminate the dome on great feasts. I suppose that back in the day, the minor order of acolyte was a serious job, requiring rapelling skills!

    And: On the way down (if you take the stairs all the way) you can see memorials describing various occasions when the Holy Door had been opened for Jubilee.

Comments are closed.