Ultimate LEGO lockdown challenge: building the Vatican

Three months. 800 hours. 67,000 LEGO pieces.

That’s the time and resources it took LEGO architect Rocco Buttliere to build a realistic 3D replica of Vatican City – the home of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy.

The Vatican City model – built to a scale of 1:650 – is so faithful to the original that it even includes a tiny red tile to replicate the flag that hangs outside the top-floor window of the palace where the Pope recites public prayers.

“There are almost 4,000 years of human history represented in the architecture …” – Rocco Buttliere

26-year-old Buttliere, who worked on the model from his home in Chicago, US, during the pandemic, said that “spiritual resonance was something that really made me want to tackle the whole (Vatican City).”

“What inspired me was just the fact that there are almost 4,000 years of human history represented in the architecture and the museums and the artifacts themselves,” he told US Catholic newspaper, Clarion Herald.

The most challenging part of the Vatican City build was recreating the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, Buttliere said. In order to reproduce the curved, blue shell of the dome, Buttliere used blue dinosaur tails.

“That really got the ball rolling,” he told Clarion Herald. “Those dinosaur tails have come in so many different colours over the years, and blue is the one that’s trickier to track down.”

St Peter’s Basilica with its ‘dinosaur tail’ dome Rocco Buttliere/ roccobuttliere.com

Buttliere began building LEGO as a kid, further pursuing this passion by studying a degree in architecture. He now makes his living from LEGO commissions and exhibitions, and has built 60 models of his own design. Among them are “the first-ever LEGO diorama of the full Taj Mahal complex“, the Golden Gate Bridge and New York’s One World Trade Centre and 9/11 Memorial.

Buttliere’s models also include many other Christian landmarks and landscapes, including the second temple of Jersualem (built circa 70CE), Notre Dame in Paris and Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church in London.

First-century Jerusalem LEGO model

First-century Jerusalem LEGO model Rocco Buttliere/ roccobuttliere.com

He has recently completed perhaps his most ambitious project yet – a model of first-century Jerusalem, commissioned by a museum in Brazil. Made up of 114,000 pieces, this model took six months to build.

“I started on New Year’s Eve 2020 and have one box left to ship to them,” Buttliere said in August this year. “That’s like the project that will never end. But I’m so grateful to have clients like that who will pay me to do what I love.”