What is there to really say about Vatican City ? Serves as spiritual Center for Roman Catholics worldwide, mecca of art and architecture,and the location of the Pope’s official residence, Vatican City is a country built on history. Yea yea I know we all have seen Angels and Demons and its likes, but I must say anything portrayed or shown about Vatican City does not do justification to its beauty and history. Vatican City has been an independent sovereign state since 1929 and is completely independent of the ‘Italian state’. Which means it has its own stamps, railroad station, flag, national anthem, security service and military : the strangely-clad Swiss Guards who have been protecting the person of the Pope since forever.
Usually referred “The Holy See”, Vatican City is home to about 800 residents. None of them are permanent. The population of this tiny area,is made up of priests, nuns, guards, high-ranking dignitaries and, of course, the Pope. Speaking about Pope , I was surprised to know that the Pope has full legislative, executive and judiciary powers in Vatican City.
Planning the trip : Not everyone knows how to visit the Vatican properly. Most will either miss out on unique experiences or spend most of their time waiting in line. Trust me there is line everywhere . Below are a few tips that can save your Vatican Trip from being miserable.
- You will need to have at-least one full day to soak in everything that Vatican City offers.
- Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
- Start your day early. It will save you plenty of time in security check-in.
- Take a group tour because the line to get in Vatican City is wrapped pretty much around all of Rome itself. The wait time for each attraction is generally 2 to 3 hours. A group tour will reduce your wait time to 20 mins. Also guided tours make visiting such places much more educational, I loved it.
- Do visit the city in night time. I think that is the best time to enjoy the quiet environment of St. Peter’s Square and the grand look of Basilica.
- Copula – the majestic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica closes at 6 pm in summers and 5 pm in winters and you do not want to miss panoramic view from there. Plan accordingly.
- Even though entrance to the church is free ,visitors must be properly dressed, with no bare knees or shoulders. Dress up modestly.
- Most importantly do not lose the sight of your group members, it is very easy to get lost in Vatican city.
Things to see in Vatican City:
Vatican museum : The museum complex features one of the finest collections of art on the planet. The Vatican Historical Museum (Museo Storico) provides a fascinating look at the long and intriguing history of the Vatican. The collections of the Vatican Museums include ceramics from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, collection of arms, armor and uniforms of the Papal armed forces as well as portraits of popes and the carriages and cars used by the popes.
A ‘Gala Berlin’ carriage of Pope Leo XII in 1825
The display chronicles the Pope’s ride from horse-drawn carriages to the “Popemobile.” The earliest vehicle on display is from 1825 and the display even includes the white Fiat 1107 Nuova Campagnola that carried Pope John Paul II (1980)when he was almost assassinated.
Citroen Lictoria Carriage of Pope Pius XI in 1930.
Just as you enter, one thing that cannot go unnoticed is the world’s most famous staircase built by Giuseppe Momo.
Among the many highlights, Apollo of Belvedere (the statue of the God Apollo stretching out his arm)is considered as perfection of aesthetics.
The Octagon Court : Apollo of Belvedere (photo from wiki)
Another great masterpiece discovered in 1506 is the Laokoön . It is said that Laokoön ,a priest of Poseidon,warned the Trojans not to bring the wooden horse left behind by Greeks during the Trojan War in to the city of Troy. Just after his prophecy , two enormous sea serpents rose from the sea and killed Laokoön and his sons, silencing any further dire prophesies from the priest. The Trojans took this as a bad omen and did not heed Laokoön’s warning. They hauled the cursed horse into the city walls and rest we all know as we saw in movie Troy ( I love it when I can relate something to a movie 🙂 ).
Laokoön a true masterpiece
The Hall of Muses holds the famous Torso of Belvedere. It also contains the portraits of personalities from the Greek world, Socrates, Sophocles, Plato, etc. . They are all copied by the Romans from the original Greek works.
Ceiling of the Hall of the Muses
St. Peter’s Basilica : This church is considered as the center of Christianity and there is a reason for this. This was the place where Saint Peter, the chief apostle and the first pope, died a martyr and was buried in 64 AD. So it made perfect sense to build the principal shrine of the Catholic church here. The building and its architecture is truly impressive and its opulent interiors are true testimony to the kind of wealth Catholic Church possessed in 16th and 17th Century.
St. Peter’s Basilica across St. Peter’s Square
One thing that just cannot go unnoticed is 26 meters high bronze ‘Baldachin’ right under the dome. The dome has an impressive colorful vaulting with sixteen ribs supporting four massive pillars and the triangular spaces where the pillars meet the dome, decorated with mosaics. You must have visited many churches, cathedrals, basilicas before but nothing really comes close to St. Peter’s Basilica. The art on ceiling, sculptures, altar, prayer halls, mosaic floor, decorations…everything is so marvelous and everything has history to it.
The famous Baldachin and the dome.
There are 5 entrances that lead to 85 mts long Nave of the Basilica. Once inside the nave the enormous size of the church becomes apparent.
Right in front of Papal Altar is the Confessio , the presumed grave of St. Peter. Remember the scene from Angels and Demons where McKenna (the villain) flees to a remote recess in the building where he sets himself on fire and commits suicide …well this is that place.
Right below the Apse of Basilica (where the clergy are seated) the supposed chair of St. Peter called Cathedra Petri is placed. Apse is decorated with baroque work.
Sistine Chapel : This is the official residence of the Pope. I assure you that the beauty of art work on the ceilings and walls of Sistine Chapel will remain in your heart forever. Tourists are not allowed to take photographs inside Sistine Chapel. The prohibition against photography is in place to prevent the flashing of cameras from affecting the art. Sistine Chapel showcases Michelangelo’s greatest artwork in form of beautiful frescoes that tends to come as a surprise to first-time guests. It is said that Michelangelo painted the ceiling all by himself, all the time lying on his back resulting in him getting nearly blind.
Hallway to Sistine Chapel
Vatican City will surely quench your thirst for spirituality and will give fresh perspective of art, history and architecture. Visiting this place is like food for the traveler’s soul. There is no right or wrong way of visiting the Vatican City, but lack of planning can surely ruin your experience . How was your trip to Vatican City? Let me know in the comments. If you need any more info, leave me a message and I will be happy to help. Thank you for stopping by 🙂 .