After passing the Atrium of the “Corazze” on the left, and crossing the Atrium with its Four Gates, the visitor enters the Courtyard of the “Pigna”, created from the 16th century area of the “Belvedere”. Donato Bramante was asked to design the Courtyard of the “Belvedere” by Julius II in 1506, to connect the Palace of Innocent VIII (1484-1492) with the Sistine Chapel, built by Sixtus IV (1471-1484). Originally the Courtyard was on three levels, joined by elegant stairways and flanked by galleries characterized by pilasters surmounted by broad arches. Both the paving and the galleries were slightly angled towards the Sistine Chapel, so that from the papal apartments the courtyard looked even bigger than it actually was.
A large niche, planned at its northern end to complete the perspective, was realized, as it can now be seen in the so-called Courtyard of the “Pigna”, by architect Pirro Ligorio in 1565, using the Pantheon dome as a model. The picturesque prints from the early 16th century give an idea of the festivals and carousels that used to take place there. The Courtyard of the “Belvedere” was divided into two parts at the end of the 16th century, when Sixtus V (1585-1590) built a wing of the Library across it. Another transversal building was added in 1822, called the “Braccio Nuovo”, intended for a collection of statues
There are now three courtyards in the area: the Courtyard of the “Pigna”, the Library Courtyard and the Courtyard of the “Belvedere”.
The Courtyard of the “Pigna” is named after a colossal bronze pinecone, almost 4 metres high, which, in the classic age, stood near the Pantheon in Rome, known as the “Pigna quarter”; it was probably first moved to the atrium of the ancient St Peter’s Basilica during the Middle Ages and then moved here in 1608. Two bronze peacocks, copies of 2nd century A.D. originals in the Braccio Nuovo, flank the pinecone.
In the middle of the wide-open space are two concentric spheres by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro (1990).