The story goes as follows:

Nearly a century after the construction of St. Peter's Basilica, Bernini (sculptor and architect, the author of many of Rome's fountains and designer of Barberini's Palace, among other things) was called upon by Pope Alexander VII to make further improvements to the church.

As he studied the Basilica from various angles and distances, it occurred to Bernini that he could not see the dome at all if he stood too close to the facade. This struck him as a major design flaw.

In order to rectify the situation without rebuilding the Basilica from the ground up, Bernini designed the now famous piazza in front of it, with a colonnade encircling it.

Thus, psychologically, the main entrance of the Basilica was "relocated" from the actual Basilica to the entrance of the piazza, where the dome was in full view, Bernini's idea being that the piazza served as some sort of anteroom of the Basilica.

This sounds awfully awkward and confusing unless illustrated by a picture:

enter image description here

How would you describe what Bernini did? What word, or words, would you use to get the point across without falling back on visual aids?

Bernini devised a ... what? ... [pretend? new, psychological?] entrance? The plaza's ... what? ... entrance? ... became the Basilica's new entrance? ...

There's a couple of words I'm missing here. I'm pretty sure they're fairly common, straight-forward ones, I just can't remember what they are.

  • Is it a story or a legend? "The elliptical center of the piazza, which contrasts with the trapezoidal entrance, encloses the visitor with "the maternal arms of Mother Church" in Bernini's expression." en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter%27s_Square – user66974 Jul 28 '17 at 19:33
  • 1
    Yes, but I don't understand what you are looking for. "A perspective entrance" perhaps? – user66974 Jul 28 '17 at 19:38
  • 1
    The outdoor entryway creates an oversized three-dimensional matting for the artwork (St. Peter's) that, as for any art, adds importance to it. Also, the plaza prevents any future construction that could block the magnificent view. – Yosef Baskin Jul 28 '17 at 20:20
  • 2
    Bernini devised an extended entrance to force a desired perspective (and experience) on visitors. – Davo Jul 28 '17 at 21:21
  • 2
    @Davo +1 for not giving your excellent suggestion as an 'answer' to what is a question of very borderline acceptability. 'Is there a word for relocating what may be regarded as an 'entrance' to improve the view of a structure from the 'entrance' by adding extra distance with no added obstacles?' Asking for an extended answer is off-topic because it seeks writing advice. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 28 '17 at 22:02

In French I would refer to this as a mise en valeur of the dome, a phrase that has no exact English equivalent.

However, a search for English translations of mise en valeur led to some possible words you could use:

  • beautify

  • develop

  • emphasize

  • enhance

  • showcase

  • show off

  • present (or maybe re-present)

I have seen the expression translated into English as valorize, but to my mind this is too ugly a word for something like the piazza.

Maybe the Italian expression itself would serve your purpose, e.g. valorizzare or mettere in valore. Sometimes the original is your best bet.

For the specific action that Bernini performed on the physical entrance, it's hard to improve on your original term of "relocated".


In architectural terminology, it is known as a type of foreportal / fore-portal.

In De Officiis Libre Tres, by Marcus Tullius Cicero, c.1852 version, in the notes on p.175 for Chapter XVII, we find reference to,

the entrance to the Acropolis, the fore-portal of the Parthenon.

A later, c.1859 edition of the same work, uses the term vestibule with the Greek term, TvpoTcvkaia given as the translation. However, Google Translate gives a slightly different translation for vestibule, προθάλαμος

vestibule (c.1859 translation from the Greek)

fore-portal (c.1852 translation)

Foreportal is an architectural term used a number of times in both the 19th and 20th centuries, the Royal Dictionary, c.1866, directly equating fore-portal with the French term, avant-portail. Googling avant-portail reveals that it refers to the outer front gate of a structure, usually a church or cathedral.


The characterization given in the 1852 version of Cicero's work, of the Acropolis acting as a fore-portal / foreportal for the Parthenon fits very logically with the feature described in this question, of the outer courtyard entrance to St. Peter's Basilica. Both structures are considered sacred architecture, featuring open-air surrounds forming types of courtyards, with ceremonious front gates and grand pathways leading to the main doors of the religious structures containing the altars.

enter image description here

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.