To fully enjoy your visit to the Vatican City, you must have plenty of patience, love people enough to share your breath with strangers and be comfortable while they’re hugging you. Either that or have enough money to afford a private after hours tour (tickets are within the range of 350 EUR/person). If you feel you have sufficient strength to go with the first option, I recommend buying your tickets for the Vatican Museum way in advance to avoid standing in the “suck-all-the-joy-out-of-my-visit” long queues.
Vatican City is located in the western part of Rome and a full visit is comprised out of three parts: Basilica St Pietro (St Peter’s Church), the Vatican Museum and the Vatican Gardens. I recommend to dedicate a full day for visiting and start with Castel Sant’Angelo for the beautiful views it offers over the Vatican City (you can read more about it on my blog here) and then walk for 10 minutes to reach the Vatican. It is impossible to miss it as the St Peter’s Church is fully visible and will guide you straight to it.
Although it is called a “city”, it is a well known fact that Vatican is, in fact, a state within a state. As in: a country located within the city of Rome. Pretty cool, right? It is an sacerdotal-monarchical state (a type of theocracy) ruled by the Bishop of Rome: aka the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. They generally reside at the Apostolic Palace within the Vatican.
The building in the middle is actually the St Peter’s Church. It is very beautiful and requires no charge to visit. In fact, all of the churches within Rome have no entry free. However, refrain yourself from jumping up with joy because soon it will disappear: a very long security line is waiting for you and metal detectors will thoroughly scan you head to toes before you’re permitted to enter the church. I was wearing a light summer dress and had no problems but a lady that had her pants fashionably made out of what appeared to be loads of zippers had quite a few problems going through: the detectors kept sending her back. Sadly, I left right when she was offering to take her pants off 🙂 Also: please be aware that there is a dress code and women are not allowed to enter the church wearing clothes that are too revealing! It would be frustrating to have come all this way and stand in line for so long just to be refused entry.
Waiting in line gave me a chance to look around at the beautiful statues. It’s funny how their position always makes me think they have a life of their own known only by them and their fellow birds; it’s like they can break into a little dance when nobody is watching and they will go right back to their severe self when by-passers show up. Only by looking at them and I immediately start humming: “Do a little dance, Make a little move”
St Peter’s Church is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and was partly designed by Michelangelo. Its central dome dominates the skyline of Rome and if you think it is impressive just by looking at the outside, wait until you will see what’s on the inside.
Catholic tradition holds that Peter, after a ministry of 34 years, traveled to Rome and met his martyrdom there along with Paul on October 13th, 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. His execution was one of the many martyrdoms of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome. The crucifixion took place near an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Circus of Nero and the obelisk which now stands in St. Peter’s Square is revered as a “witness” to Peter’s death. It is one of several ancient Obelisks of Rome. The area now covered by the Vatican City had been a cemetery for some years before the Circus of Nero was built. It was a burial ground for the numerous executions in the Circus and contained many Christian burials, because for several years after the death of Peter, Christians chose to be buried near him. Supposedly, his tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica.
You can climb up the dome but there is an admission fee for this part. Your options include taking the steps all the way or a combination of lift and stairs climbing. Once at the top, you will enjoy a beautiful 360 view of the square and the city of Rome. You can also visit the Vatican Treasury but there is an admission fee here as well. The treasury contains church ornaments, statues, papal mitres and various objects, usually gifts of kings or princes and an impressive art collection.
There are rare instances where the church is not filled with people but looking at how beautifully it is lit by the sun rays, I can say I understand the mirage. The entire interior of St. Peter’s is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also a number of sculptures in niches and chapels, including Michelangelo’s Pietà.
The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson described St. Peter’s as “an ornament of the earth … the sublime of the beautiful.”
Me? I was fascinated by the light and the way it played with people may they be visitors or members of the clergy.
After visiting the church, brace yourselves for the flood of people inside the museum.
These guys don’t really seem impressed with each other.
There are 54 galleries inside of the museum with the Sistine Chapel being the last one. Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take any photos of it although many people disregard the repetitive request made by the guards.
The Gallery of Maps takes its name from the 40 maps frescoed on the walls, which represent the Italian regions and the papal properties at the time of Pope Gregory XIII. They were painted between 1580 and 1585 on drawings by Ignazio Danti, a famous geographer of the time.
This detail on the ceiling depicts the ephemerality of the glory.
I decided not to post too many pictures of the museum as I think it is important you see it for yourself. Allow yourself a full day to fully inhale the air of Vatican.
On my way out, I stopped to take some pictures at dusk and was quite happy to snap a photograph of a newly wed couple.
As usual, I hope my post has inspired you to visit Vatican City and I’d be happy if you let me know afterwards your impressions!