The “Tempietto” or little temple is a martyia (a building that commemorates a martyrdom) that marks the traditional site of Saint Peter’s crucifixion. It is perhaps the most perfect expression of Renaissance Italy’s conception of classical harmony and order.
The basilica, which has a long axis that focuses attention on the altar, has been the most popular type of church plan. The other common plan is the central plan, usually based either on a circle (as here in the Tempietto), or on a Greek cross (a cross with equal arms). Both plans derive from ancient pagan architecture. The central plan was influenced by ancient Roman architecture such as the Pantheon, and was very popular among High Renaissance architects. The circle may have also had spiritual associations. The circle, which has no beginning and no end, can symbolize the perfection and eternal nature of God. For some thinkers in Antiquity and the Renaissance, the universe itself was constructed in the form of concentric circles with the sun, moon and stars moving in circular orbits around the earth.
Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of Donato Bramante’s Tempietto.
Donato Bramante, Tempietto, c. 1502, San Pietro in Montorio, Rome