Jun 11, 2024 6 min read

Ultimate Travel Guide to Rome, Italy - Vatican

It would be a shame to be in Rome and not visit the Vatican—the smallest state in the world, which attracts millions of tourists annually and is just a stone's throw from Rome.

Vatican Rome, Italy

From Rome to the Vatican, you can also walk, crossing the Tiber River (depending on where you are staying in Rome), or by taking the metro, getting off at the Ottaviano-S. Pietro station. From the metro exit, you take Via Ottaviano and reach the main gate of the Vatican. Here are clothing restrictions; you are not allowed with bare shoulders, shorts, or short skirts.

You need at least a day to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica, especially since there are endless queues.

The Vatican is the smallest independent state in terms of area and population, occupying an area of 0.44 square kilometers and being the residence for 800 inhabitants, none of whom are permanent residents.

In the City State or Vatican, there live priests, monks, high-ranking officials, and of course, the Pope. The Vatican was not always so small; in the 19th century, it had an area of 44,000 square kilometers, but with the unification of Italy, most of the states became part of Italy.

The Vatican City State is protected by its own army, the Swiss Guard— the smallest and oldest army in the world, whose uniform is a mix of blue, red, and orange colors. The primary role of the Swiss Guard is the safety of the Pope, constantly supervising the papal palace apartments.

The Vatican has a strong cultural significance because St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel host some of the most beautiful works of art in the world, works by artists such as Botticelli, Bernini, and Michelangelo.

Entrance to the Vatican is through St. Peter's Square, an impressive square that is traversed by all tourists who arrive in the Papal State. St. Peter's Square was designed under the guidance of the famous architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1656-1657, by order of Pope Alexander VII.

The square is ellipsoidal in shape, and the beauty of the square is primarily given by the four rows of columns, totaling 284 columns, on top of which there are 140 saints.

In the center of the square, there is an Egyptian red granite obelisk with a height of 26 meters, brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula and supported with the help of bronze lions. On either side of the obelisk, there are two fountains created by Carlo Marderno and Carlo Fontana.

St. Peter's Basilica is located in the grand St. Peter's Square, being the result of work over several centuries. Initially, it was just a commemorative monument at the place where the apostle Peter, considered the first pope of Rome, is believed to have been martyred and buried.

St. Peter's Basilica is the second most important Christian site, with a total area of 15,000 square meters, a length of 186 meters, and a dome with a height of 119 meters.

You can climb to the roof terrace either by stairs or by elevator. We went by stairs, but I do not recommend this choice for overweight people, the claustrophobic, or those who are not fit.

From there, you can admire the whole city; it is extremely beautiful! It's a pity that when we went it rained and there was a terribly cold wind, and we stayed up there for a maximum of 5 minutes, more than that we could not stand. However, on a clear day, I think it is extremely beautiful to be able to admire the whole Vatican and Rome from such a height.

The interior of the basilica is in the shape of a Latin cross with three "naves" housing numerous statues made of marble or bronze or famous tombs such as the tomb of Pope Alexander II or the tomb of Pope Innocent VIII.

In the first chapel on the right at the entrance to the basilica, there is a beautiful statue by Michelangelo called "Pietà" of invaluable value, depicting the Virgin Mary, holding Jesus Christ after the crucifixion. "Pietà" is the only work signed by Michelangelo and was made for Cardinal Jean de la Billheres.

Over time, the statue has suffered numerous damages: during a move, 4 fingers from the left hand of the Virgin were broken, and in 1972, a madman attacked the statue with a hammer shouting "I am Jesus Christ." Then numerous pieces of the statue were broken, and an attempt was made for as correct a restoration as possible. Currently, the Pietà is protected by bulletproof glass.

The Vatican Museums often have very long queues, so it is recommended to buy tickets online in advance. Normally, they cost 20 euros, but if you buy them online, you pay an additional 5 euros, which saves you from wasting time in line.

Children up to 13 years old and students up to 26 years old from the European Union get a discount, with tickets costing 8 euros. During the summer, the Vatican Museums can also be visited in the evening, between 7 PM and 11 PM, with the last entry at 9:30 PM, but a reservation is needed in advance on the official website.

The Vatican Museums are located in St. Peter's Square and even if you are not fond of sculptures and paintings, you must visit these museums especially for the interiors of the buildings decorated with frescoes and marble.

The Vatican Museums originated in 1503 when Pope Julius II displayed various ancient sculptures in the Belvedere Garden. In 1734, Pope Clement XII founded the Capitoline Museum, and Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI ordered the formation of the Pio-Clementino Museum.

Over the years, several popes have added works to the already impressive collection of the Vatican. Today there are 13 museums and collections and an additional 14 Vatican Palaces that are included in the tours of the museum complex.

These museums contain art collections amassed over time by the Roman Catholic Church from famous names such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael.

The tour is divided into 5 galleries and begins with the Gregorian Egyptian Museum where mummies and artifacts brought directly from Egypt are displayed, continues with the Gregorian Etruscan exhibition, the area of ancient Greek and Roman art, the Pinacoteca with tapestries, ceramics, and mosaic pieces, the rooms decorated by Raphael, and ends with the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited places at the Vatican, located on the right side of St. Peter's Basilica and representing one of the most beautiful treasures in the world.

Here, the conclaves of the cardinals for the election of a new Pope are held, being built as a place of secrecy and reflection. Here, Michelangelo left his mark by painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which exceeds 500 square meters. Michelangelo worked on this mural for more than four years, but the result is impressive: over 3000 characters.

The east wall of the Sistine Chapel represents Michelangelo's famous painting - The Last Judgment, which contains about 300 characters. At the time it was painted, it was the largest painting in the world. It is absolutely fabulous!

The lateral walls were painted by numerous artists, such as: Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli. These mural paintings are divided into three major periods, according to the thinking of that time, which divided history into three major periods, namely: the period from the Creation of the world until the giving of the Ten Commandments, the period from Moses until the Birth of Jesus Christ, and the period of Christianity, after Christ.

The Sistine Chapel is parallelepiped in shape, with a length of 41 meters, a width of 13.41 meters, and a height of nearly 21 meters, corresponding to the dimensions of Solomon's Temple. The building was designed by Baccio Pontelli, but the construction was supervised by Giovannino del Dolci.

The Sistine Chapel is divided into two parts: a larger part which together with the altar is reserved for religious ceremonies and a smaller part for the faithful. If you get to the Vatican, you must visit the Sistine Chapel!

The Vatican's secret library is not open to the general public, but only a limited number of cardinals close to the Pope are allowed access. Over time, numerous questions and hypotheses have been raised about the secrets that might be hidden here, and most experts believe that the documents hidden here could "change" the world.

The Pope's appearance on the balcony takes place every Sunday, when we were there he appeared at 12 PM. The Pope's offices are located in the building on the right, on the top floor, the second window from the right. At first, he greeted the crowd in at least 10 different languages, then he held a sermon and prayed for the health of Christians.

The most emotional thing was when he mentioned the disaster in Japan (it had just happened), at which moment the rain suddenly stopped for a few minutes while the Pope prayed for the Japanese! In a second, not a single drop fell, and everyone applauded.

Another moving moment was when the Pope greeted a group of hundreds of motorcyclists who came to the Vatican to see him. Then the motorcyclists revved their engines to the max and I believe the noise was heard from the center of Rome.

The whole day was dreamy, even if the weather was not on our side. However, the wonders we saw made us forget the cold and rain. At the exit from the Vatican, there are many souvenir shops, but the prices are very high. If you get to Rome, do not miss the Vatican, especially on Sunday!

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