The Vatican

vatican

When people think of the Vatican, normally they only picture the domed building or the two hands almost touching. There is so much more to this place! It can be slightly overwhelming when trying to plan your visit but have no fear, I’ll help you through it.

Some Important Vatican Information

The Vatican, also known as the Holy See, is a country unto itself. It became independent in 1929 and is the smallest country in the world. Visiting the Vatican City offers a multifaceted experience, combining rich history, unparalleled artistry, and profound spirituality.

The Vatican Museums house an extensive collection of masterpieces from renowned artists, including Michelangelo and Raphael, with the Sistine Chapel as a highlight. St. Peter’s Basilica, an architectural marvel, showcases breathtaking interiors and offers panoramic views of Rome. The Vatican Gardens provide a serene escape, while attending a Papal Audience offers a unique connection to the heart of the Catholic Church.

In the Vatican, every step reveals a tapestry of human achievement and divine inspiration, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, and those seeking spiritual enlightenment.

Explore the Vatican City, a treasure trove of history, art, and spirituality. Immerse yourself in the heart of Catholic culture with iconic landmarks and masterpieces.

Dress Code

Strict adherence to these guidelines is mandatory. The rules are rigorously enforced, and individuals not dressed appropriately may be turned away. I recommend light loose clothing that will allow you to stay covered but cool as the museums can get warm especially during the summer. Keep in mind that not all rooms have air conditioning. Ensure you do not wear shorts, cover bare shoulders, avoid showing cleavage, and refrain from wearing hats. Exceptions are allowed for head coverings worn for religious or cultural reasons.

Vatican Tours

I highly recommend you take a tour; this will give you more information on the items you will see and a bunch of fun facts that you probably wouldn’t know otherwise.

Here are a few great options:

Breathtaking Vatican City – a fusion of history, art, and spirituality. Discover iconic landmarks and cultural richness in the heart of Rome

The Vatican Museums

Your visit begins at the Vatican Museums, an expansive complex with an extraordinary collection of art and artifacts amassed by the Catholic Church over centuries. As you walk through the labyrinthine corridors, masterpieces from Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, and Leonardo da Vinci will captivate you.

Remember that what you see in the museums is the tiniest sliver of the number of items it has in the vaults. It can be overwhelming.

St. Peter’s Square

This is the easiest part of the Vatican to visit; you don’t need a ticket. Spend some time walking around and admiring the incredible architecture. I enjoy seeing it at night when the crowds disperse, and the lights illuminate the buildings. It just adds a bit of magic to an incredible square.

The elliptical shape of the area, as well as the imposing colonnade designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, makes this area a spectacular sight. Four rows of 284 columns create an optical illusion for those standing in the middle of the square. Try it, and you will see what I mean.

Sixtus V placed the Vatican Obelisk in the center of the square, originally from Egypt. Some believe that the bronze globe on top contains Julius Caesar’s ashes.

Every Sunday at noon, a large crowd gathers in St. Peter’s Square to attend the Angelus Domini and receive the blessing of the Pope, who looks out the window of his study at the Apostolic Palace.

Michelangelo's Pieta in the Vatican

St. Peter’s Basilica

Emerging from the museums, the colossal dome of St. Peter’s Basilica dominates the skyline. This architectural marvel, designed by Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is the largest church in the world and a symbol of Christianity.

Do not miss Michelangelo’s Pieta! This incredible sculpture is tucked into a corner and can be easily overlooked, but take it. You can find it to the right of the main entrance to the Basilica. Created by Michelangelo between 1499 and 1500, it is a beautifully detailed representation of the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus. It is carved from a single block of Carrara marble and is one of the artist’s earliest and most outstanding works.

It is believed that this is where St. Peter was killed and buried by Emperor Nero. The Basilica holds St. Peter’s Tomb and the baldachin, which is the large, sculpted canopy that sits over the High Altar created by Bernini.

St. Peter's Square, a majestic plaza at the heart of Vatican City, adorned with iconic columns and the Egyptian obelisk. Marvel at the grandeur of religious and architectural splendor in Rome.

Climbing the Dome

For a panoramic view of Rome, climb to the top of the dome. Now, let me pause for a minute and tell you about my experience in this venture. First, there is no elevator up to the top, meaning you must climb, at times climb, 551 steps. Second, if you do this during the summer, understand that the staircase is not air-conditioned and gets very hot.

The elevator now takes you to the Basilica’s roof, bypassing the first 231 steps. I would take that elevator; I didn’t have that option when I first did it many years ago. It is just another 320 steps from that stop to the final stop.

I know what you are thinking: it’s just 320 steps, not that big of a deal. You would be incorrect. This is not a standard staircase. As you start the climb, the steps are deep and very shallow; don’t let that fool you; it’s about to get worse. As you continue, the steps will get steeper and shallower. The steps reach a point where they are about a foot(ish) tall and so narrow you can only put part of your foot on the step. A rope hangs from the top for you to hang on to and help pull yourself up. This seems to last forever and again; it is not air-conditioned, nor is there any breeze or movement of air. Just when you think you might die, you only have another 35 steps to go.

Having said all of that, the breathtaking vista is well worth the effort and offers a unique perspective of the Eternal City and the famous square. It took me a while to see anything because I nearly passed out during the climb because of the heat.

FAN insider tip: do not do this climb if you are not physically fit or young (too dumb to know better) enough to do it. Also, I recommend attempting this climb during cooler weather and not trying it during the summer. If you have survived this feat, please let me know your experience.

Vatican Gardens

The Vatican Gardens, a hidden oasis within the city-state, provide a tranquil escape from the bustling crowds. Guided tours offer an exclusive opportunity to wander through beautifully landscaped greenery, ornate fountains, and historic monuments. Discover the secrets behind the meticulously maintained gardens and their role in shaping the Vatican’s history. You can also get peeks of this serene landscape from some museum windows.

Explore the breathtaking interior of St. Peter's Basilica, a masterpiece of Renaissance art and architecture. Marvel at ornate details, magnificent sculptures, and the divine ambiance within this iconic Roman landmark.

Sistine Chapel

The Creation of Adam painting is one of the most famous paintings in the world. However, there is more to the picture than just the two hands. It covers the entire ceiling of the chapel and shows multiple biblical scenes.

Here are some fun facts about this unique building:

  • The chapel was intended to serve as a stronghold. Pope Sixtus IV wanted to use the space to serve as an impenetrable fortress within Vatican City in case of an attack. The chapel became the Vatican’s largest and most secure building due to its construction and fortifications.
  • The Sistine Chapel hosts the papal conclave, the process used to select a new pope. The first occurred in 1492, and since that time, has used the chimney to signal to those in the square of the votes: white smoke for a new pope, black for undecided.
  • Many other famous artists are featured in the Sistine Chapel. These include Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghilandaio, who painted murals depicting the lives of Moses and Jesus on the chapel walls. Several tapestries depicting scenes from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles were hung during ceremonies. These were designed by Raphael and woven in Brussels, Belgium.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo painted the chapel while standing on wooden scaffolding, not lying down. He was in his early 30s during the painting of the ceiling. He met many obstacles while creating the artwork. He even fled in secret to Florence after arguing with the Pope. The Florentine authorities requested that he return to Rome, so he did. He was 37 when the ceiling was completed.
  • Michelangelo did not want to paint the ceiling. He had been commissioned to work on the marble tomb of Pope Julius II at the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. However, the Pope asked him to paint the ceiling instead. At first, Michelangelo refused. He had no prior knowledge of fresco painting and considered himself a sculptor and not a painter. He also felt that he should finish the tomb first. Michelangelo finally and grudgingly accepted this painting project and would occasionally return to the mausoleum during the next four decades.

Conclusion

Visiting the Vatican is a journey through time, faith, and artistic brilliance. Whether you are a history enthusiast, an art connoisseur, or seeking spiritual enlightenment, the Vatican City promises an unforgettable experience. As you explore its hallowed halls and open squares, you’ll immerse yourself in a rich tapestry of human achievement and divine inspiration. In the Vatican, every step is a revelation, and every corner holds a piece of history waiting to be discovered.

Helpful Information

Best Time to Visit: Book an early morning or a Friday night tour, there will be fewer tourists and it won’t be as hot inside the museum. Beat the crowds by arriving early or booking a guided tour to gain insights into each masterpiece's historical and artistic significance.

Important Information

Vatican visitor information

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Kristal Ham

Hi fellow nomads!

Traveler and Photographer

My name is Kristal and I am so happy to have you visit my site! 

I hope that the travel guides, fun facts, and photography you find here will inspire you to explore new places!

Kristal

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