Vatican City, the world’s smallest independent country is a city within a city. It is completely surrounded by Rome, the capital city of Italy. Vatican City, headed by the pope, is the world headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
The tiny population is made up almost entirely of religious officials and people who work in the papal palace, the Vatican library, and the museums. Vatican City is all that remains of the Papal States, an extensive area of Italy once ruled by the Roman Catholic Church. Its independence from modern Italy was agreed upon in 1929. Vatican City’s buildings include the great St. Peter’s Basilica, built between 1506 and 1614 and the Papal Palace.
When in Vatican City, the popular attractions described below are not to be missed.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The St. Peter’s Basilica, the most visited attractions in Rome, is one of the largest buildings and the symbol of one of the most influential religious organization in the world. Its construction began in 1506 and ended almost 120 years later. Numerous artists including Bramente, Borromini and Michelangelo selflessly contributed their talent to create the exterior and interior work of the famous Basilica in Europe.
The artistic treasure of the St. Peter’s Basilica (idyllic square dotted with 162 statues) is unparalleled. On the right side of the aisle, you will be welcomed by Michelangelo’s enchanting “Pieta”. In the nave, is the extraordinary Baroque Bernini’s canopy dominated by Michelangelo’s magnificent dome. On the left transept stands the last masterpiece that Bernini created for this basilica, the monument to Alexander VII.
After the Mass, you can visit the caves or crypts under the entire basilica. They are visible massive columns belonging to the basilica since the fourth century.
If you wish to visit the dome there are two alternatives; climb the 551 steps on foot (€ 5) or skip the first 230 steps by taking the elevator ride and making the remaining 320 steps walk (€ 7). If you are claustrophobic, have a heart condition or a bit overweight, the last steps are not recommended because it is tiring and the space is a bit restricted. However, the view on top of the dome is extraordinary. Entrance to the basilica is free. Allow yourself 2-3 hours (with a visit to the caves and climb to the dome).
The Pieta or La Pieta, a sculpture made entirely of Carrara marble and measuring 174 x 195 x 69, represents the Madonna seated with Christ in her arms. The Madonna’s face, the bent head of Christ, the mantle, the hands, the hair, the base, the background and the size of the work are impressive and touch the visitor in an exceptional way. This piece by Michelangelo evokes emotion and interest, at times, overwhelming the observer with the immense humanity that it emanates. It is preferable to admire the Pieta in the hours when the Basilica is less busy so as not to be disturbed by the photographers or the chatter.
There are not enough words to describe the beauty of this work of art, it is often said that perfection is not of this world and probably this sculpture is the exception that proves the rule. It is a shame not to see it more closely because it is protected by a glass wall, but given some of the unruly behavior of a few tourists in the past, it seems necessary. Michelangelo’s Pieta is perfect art, since it does not allow up close admiration seems cold, but it still conveys the depth of warmth and love of a mother who holds her dying son in her arms. Only a genius like Michelangelo would be able to create this transformation. It’s impossible to remain indifferent to the intensity of suffering and agony of pain on the faces of Mary and Jesus Christ. Definitely a must see when in St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro)
The St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) is one of the most famous and significant squares of the world. It serves as the wonderful vestibule (grand entrance or passage hall) of the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica with its majestic front of the Dome. The Square was designed by Bernini between 1650 and 1660 and is built with a large oval space bounded by four rows of Doric columns arranged in a semicircle. Above the columns, he arranged 140 statues of saints and paid homage to Alexander VII. At the center of the square is an obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula from Heliopolis in 1586. It was raised on the plaza by Swiss engineer Domenico Fontana.
In the square, there are two beautiful fountains built in the seventeenth century and equipped with high water jets that adorn the marble complex and colonnades. Between the Obelisk and fountains, located on the pavement, is the Stone Circular seen from the colonnade in front. It is a true icon of immense Baroque architecture, a place of worship and meeting point with the Pope for the millions of the faithful Catholics from all parts of the world. The view at night is something indescribable and really worth seeing for the charm and the solemn attention that it transmits.
Cupola di San Pietro (Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica)
Access to the famous Cupola di San Pietro (Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica) offers the heavenly view of the entire square from the top. You will not only admire the scenario presenting itself to the human eye, but from that height, it will take your breath away and refresh your spirit. Under the dome is the papal altar covered by the famous canopy created by Bernini in 1633. It is made from the bronze taken from the Pantheon. The climb to the dome of St. Peter should be on the travel itinerary of all people arriving in Rome. Getting to the top can be quite challenging and not suitable for people who suffer from claustrophobia because some passages are really tight. If you can make the climb, it is well worth it.
Admire the stunning landscape of the Vatican City from one of its highest point. Grab the chance to see Rome and its entire splendor from the top, you will not regret it.
The Vatican Museums are a milestone. On this structure, you can see everything. The works and the exhibits on display are easy to access with corridors lined with frescoed ceilings everywhere. Eventually, you will get to the magnificent Sistine Chapel, crowded with throngs of admirers, and the watchful guards shouting through megaphones for quiet. One of the best parts of the Sistine Chapel is the frescoes of the Last Judgment and the creation of Adam.
Do not miss the exhibition of carriages. It is also here where you can see the ‘Pope Mobile’ used by Pope John Paul II after his assassination attempt. Videos with historical significance to the Vatican City can also be viewed here. It is highly recommended to visit or tour at least four of the main rooms. The Pio Clementino Museum (which houses famous Greek and Roman sculptures), the Raphael Rooms (painted by the great Umbrian painter and students of his school), the Vatican Pinacoteca (with some of the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio displayed), and the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo are all top to see. Once you get to the Sistine Chapel, take your time to observe and absorb everything. Pause and wonder at the highlights before you. There are also interesting hieroglyphs to admire. It is best to book a ticket in advance online to avoid the long of lines for this well loved museum in Vatican City.
Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms)
The Stanze di Raffaello or the Raphael Rooms are absolutely thrilling! The School of Athens is one of the most artistic creations that was ever conceived. The colorful characters and depth of the work will leave you breathless. These rooms were used in 1500 by Pope Julius II as his official residence. In some of the chambers, the pope commissioned Raphael to decorate the walls and ceilings, and hence the name “Raphael Rooms”. You can walk through the four rooms stopping to read brief explanations for each fresco from the guide. The artistic history of the frescoes is complex and full of meanings. However, you must visit the rooms in order. First go to the room of Constantine. Then visit the Heliodorus Room. Next try out the Room of the Signatura, followed by the Room of the Village. Finally, visit the Loggia of Raphael – where you can see all the most famous paintings and precious paintings from the artist.
The first room was named after Emperor Constantine, who recognized Catholicism as the official religion of the Roman Empire. The room contains representations of the major moments of his life. The second room was intended for private audiences of the Pope and comprises of the painting called the Mass of Bolsena. This painting witnesses the miracle that led to the establishment of the celebration of Corpus Christi, the liberation of San Pietro, and finally the Expulsion of thief Eliodoro from the Temple of Jerusalem, as narrated in the Bible.
The third room; called Signatura is definitely considered the most important because it is the only painting done entirely by Raphael. Other works displayed here he collaborated with other painters.
The Raphael Rooms are 4 rooms with frescoes created by the famous artist and are located in the Vatican Museums. In these rooms, there is not an inch that is not painted. The paintings are so beautiful that every time you see them you’ll realize how many beautiful details you had not noticed previously. It is quite hard to notice everything when there is such beauty in this quantity. The School of Athens is the most extraordinary; the characters seem so real that, for a moment, the viewer is projected in ancient Athens as if the world had stopped at that incredible era. Most of the guests feel excited just walking the halls while viewing the intricate artwork. Please take the time to admire them, do not rush. Consider these wonderful frescoes carefully and you will be literally speechless!
The Roman Necropolis is located under the Basilica of St. Peter, an attraction that is only accessible with the guidance of the Office Excavations. You need to secure a permit to visit the ancient Roman cemetery that contains the almost perfectly preserved tomb of St. Peter. At the end of the path, which is both historical and spiritual, you come to contemplate from every side, Peter’s tomb and bones. You may experience a profound sense of that which draws people to the basilica.
Not many people know of the monumental work and not all tourists who applied to visit are given permit immediately. The waiting list is indeed long and visits are usually done in groups of up to 15 people at a time. But, it is absolutely worth seeing. It is a total immersion in early Rome, a time when Christianity and paganism still went hand in hand. It shows the heart of the Roman customs starting from the II-IV century, the influence of Constantine, the abode of the bones of Peter, on which were built in the course of 2000 years the three levels of the St. Peter’s Basilica.
The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel are probably the highest form of human creativity. In Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment, the judgment scene is represented in heaven, hell, and purgatory, with a central unpublished Jesus’ beardless and a host of supporting characters that are absolutely extraordinary. The contemplation of the breathtaking grandeur and drama of the fresco is astounding. As you go further into the Chapel, you will also see other frescoes done by Botticelli, as well as other outstanding works of Michelangelo. This place alone is incredibly exciting!
Michelangelo wanted to portray something spectacular and terrible together because the figures of the damned and Blessed are represented with shocking realism. Everything here is wonderful, starting with the colors of the painting to the conception of the content such that only a genius like Michelangelo would have been able to achieve. Considering the difficulties in implementing this great piece of work, it is clear that only a great artist could have created it.
Baldacchino di San Pietro di Bernini
The Baldacchino di San Pietro di Bernini is an impressive bronze canopy built in 600 by Bernini. It is placed at the Michelangelo’s dome of the Basilica, marking the burial place of St. Peter. It was ordered by Pope Urban VII to show the majestic and tangible manifestation of his temporal power. Bernini’s canopy succeeds at large and as a tall, imposing structure that is richly decorated in bright colors. The position under the dome amplifies the importance and grandeur of the Basilica even more.
Cathedra Petri (Chair of Saint Peter)
The Chair of St. Peter with Gloria was conceived as a monument to the exaltation of the Papacy. Below the seat (cathedra) are statues of the Fathers of the Church, such as San Ambrosio, San Agustin (representatives of the lantina Church), St. Athanasius and St. John Crisistomo (representatives of the Eastern Church).
Inside the Cathedral (done in marble and bronze) a wooden chair given by Charles the Bald (King of France) as a gift to the pope in 875 is well preserved. Above these, you can see clouds and angels surrounding the bright window with the figure of a dove representing the Holy Spirit.
Monument to Alexander VII
The Monument to Alexander VII is the last work done by Bernini, who had been hired by this pope to design the colonnade of the square in front of the Basilica. It has a magnificent sculpture in marble of Pope Alexander VII, surrounded by figures symbolizing the human virtues and encompassed by a beautifully draped robe. The artwork shows a golden skull, warning us that everything in life is fleeting – from power to wealth and happiness -it shows we all live suspended in the idea of death or dying.
The Vatican City is a history book in the open. The incredible architecture of the buildings, all the grandeur of the museum and to the religious, the center of Catholicism with faithful devotees and pilgrims all year round makes this country worth seeing and admiring. On Wednesdays, the Pope usually gives his message to the public audience, often addressing the crowd in the huge St. Peter’s Square. Plan a perfect tour of the Vatican City; it is a unique experience and a great spiritual journey at the same time.