Conservation Heritage Italy

The embrace of the Catholic Church made more inviting

Visitors to Vatican City this Easter will see firsthand the €14m restoration of St Peter’s colonnade

Designed by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the crescent-shaped colonnade was last restored in the 19th century

The throngs expected in Vatican City to visit St Peter’s for Easter celebrations and the canonisation of popes John Paul II and John XXIII will have the opportunity to see firsthand the results of an ambitious six-year, €14m project to restore Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s colonnade that encircles the basilica’s square. Designed by the sculptor and architect to symbolise the embrace of the Catholic Church, the crescent-shaped colonnade was built between 1656 and 1673 and was last restored in the 19th century.

“This has certainly been one of the largest restoration projects that we have undertaken in the past two centuries,” says Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Musei Vaticani and the head of the superintendency for architecture of Vatican City. “The two most recognised structures in Rome are the Colosseum and the colonnade of St Peter’s Square, and now the latter has been restored as comprehensively as possible.”

A team of around 70 restorers and 30 construction workers, led by Guy Devereux, the head of the Vatican’s stone restoration laboratory, treated more than 44,000 sq. m of travertine tiling, 284 columns and 140 statues.

They first selected a test group of eight columns and two sculptures to determine the best restoration techniques. The work led to the rediscovery of the original layer of plaster that Bernini applied to the colonnade when Pope Alexander VII commissioned him to create it.

Funding for the project was provided by TIM, the Italian mobile phone brand, ENI, the Italian multinational oil and gas company, and the financial organisation Banche Popolari Italiane.

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