Back to InnovatiON
Back to InnovatiON

OSRAM is showing the Vatican in all its glory by lighting up not only the Sistine Chapel but also St. Peter’s Square.

October 20, 2016 - a balmy autumn evening in Rome. The sun has already set, and around 100 people have gathered outside St. Peter’s Basilica. Dr. Olaf Berlien, CEO of OSRAM, is there, as are Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello and Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums.

The men of the church make their speeches, then the OSRAM CEO steps up to the lectern. The bells begin to chime. Berlien presses a button and 132 LED floodlights instantly illuminate the square. The light is so bright that you could read a book here at 3 a.m. without any problems at all.

St. Peter’s Square in Rome is probably the most famous plaza in the world. It was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII around 350 years ago and designed by architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Every year it attracts more than ten million people. And in 2016, the year declared by Pope Francis to be the Holy Year of Mercy, as many as 30 million pilgrims are said to have visited the Vatican. Tourists marvel at the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms as well as St. Peter’s Basilica and its world-famous square.

“Getting that much artificial light to look aesthetically pleasing is a huge challenge. It was important to do justice to the history and architecture of the square.”

Antonio Paolucci,
Director of the Vatican Museums

In 2011, St. Peter’s Square was extensively refurbished. The lighting concept by OSRAM, which provides innovative and efficient illumination, has now completed the renovation work. All 132 LED floodlights can be individually controlled to emphasize details or create moods. The color of the light, meanwhile, accentuates the square’s beautiful marble features. OSRAM’s concept also ties in with its commitment to environmental sustainability, with the state-of-the-art LED lights cutting energy consumption by around 70 percent.

“St. Peter’s Basilica and its square used to be two different places. Now, thanks to the new lighting concept by OSRAM, they are a whole.”

Dr. Arnold Nesselrath,
art historian

“The St. Peter’s Square project really did require all our attention. We didn’t want to overpower the architecture, but rather emphasize the characteristics of the square,” says Carlo Bogani, project manager at OSRAM in Italy. To achieve this objective, a number of preliminary meetings took place between OSRAM employees and Vatican decision-makers. Art historians were also called in to act in an advisory capacity. Color comparisons and lighting simulations were carried out to ensure the best possible result. The idea arose of using artificial light to simulate a moonlit square for the visitor. “Getting that much artificial light to look aesthetically pleasing is a huge challenge,” says Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums. “It was important to do justice to the history and architecture of the square.” Between 1656 and 1667 the architect Bernini implemented a number of optical effects that drew attention to the dome of St. Peter’s Church. The homogenous lighting system is now shifting a bit more of the focus to the square itself.

OSRAM spared no effort for the installation. Subtly incorporating the lights into the existing architecture was just one of the challenges. Painted in a special color, the 132 LED floodlights were installed onto the eaves of the colonnade-above the heads of thousands of tourists. Safety was paramount and the workers mounting the lights were suspended on ropes. More than five kilometers of cables were laid above the square-an incredibly complex installation, but one that is invisible to the visitor.

At 48,000 square meters, the sheer size of the square presented one of the biggest challenges. Its central diameter measures 240 meters. And no fewer than 140 statues of saints crown the balustrade above the colonnades. These too will soon be illuminated by their own OSRAM floodlights as well. To offer the millions of visitors security and convenience at dusk and at night, the illuminance level can be increased to up to 120 lux.

At the opening ceremony for the new lighting concept, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello talks about the collaboration between OSRAM and the Vatican.

That is much brighter than the lighting we use in our homes. “St. Peter’s Basilica and its square used to be two different places,” says Dr. Arnold Nesselrath, art historian and director for Byzantine, Medieval, and Modern Art at the Vatican Museums. “Now, thanks to the new lighting concept by OSRAM, they are a whole.”

This was not the first time that OSRAM had worked for the Vatican. Back in 2014, the company installed a new lighting system in the then recently renovated Sistine Chapel and very similar projects will be completed by the end of 2016 for the Raphael Rooms. OSRAM is helping the Vatican to show itself in its best light. Dr. Olaf Berlien is so certain that every detail has been perfectly illuminated that he presented Cardinal Bertello with a pair of binoculars as a gift so that he could check the work for himself.

St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter’s Square was built between 1656 and 1667 to a design by architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It consists of two parts: the trapezium-shaped plaza leading up to St Peter’s Basilica and the elliptical main square that is bordered on either side by two mighty colonnades. On Wednesdays during the summer months Pope Francis holds his papal audiences on the square.

Email Alerts: Sign up to receive the latest group news and updates by email