Vatican city is the smallest state in the world, with only 400 people, and is one of the most visited in the world. This is mainly because it is in the middle of Rome and the 14.400 acres are packed with the most beautiful old churchs, monasteries and museums. Although Vatican City is independent it is completely surrounded by the city of Rome. This home of Roman Catholicism must be seen. It begins on the Tiber River and stretches west (about 1 200 m long and 800 m at its widest point).
The first building seen from St. Peter’s Square is St. Peter’s Basilica (Michelangelo designed the dome and his Pieta is exhibited within). Plan at least three hours in St. Peter’s: After walking around inside be sure to go to the roof for the view (it’s usually hazy so you might just want to go up there for the pretty sunsets) visit its museum and see the grotto below (where St. Peter and other popes are interred). The baldequin over the central altar built with bronze looted from the Pantheon is an interesting example of baroque design.
Other Vatican sights include the Apostolic buildings beautiful gardens the Piazza St. Pietro and the Vatican museums with its famous stairs. To many the highlight of the museums is the Sistine Chapel whose ceiling painted by Michelangelo has undergone a controversial restoration that revealed colors much brighter than seen previously. But the museums offer much more: The Etruscan and Roman collections are among the finest and most extensive in the world; the Raphael Stanzas are a series of spectacular frescoed rooms; the Gallery of Tapestries and Maps details the Earth as it was thought to be in the 16th century; and the Museum of Modern Religious Art highlights the 20th century.
The buildings (except for St. Peter’s Basilica) are usually open for limited hours from 9 am – 1.30 pm although the hours recently have been extended mid March-October from 9 am – 3.45 pm. With so much to see in a limited time you may want to see the Vatican over a period of two mornings saving St. Peter’s for the afternoons. The museums are closed on Sundays except for the last Sunday of the month when entry is free (and the crowds are huge).
On Sundays the pope gives a sermon from his apartment window. He holds his audiences on Wednesdays in Rome (during the summer he flies in from the papal residence in the Castel Gandolfo just south of Rome). To reserve a place contact Monseigneur Charles Elmer Office of the Audiences Casa Santa Maria Via dell’ Unilta 30, 00187 Rome, phone 39-6-686-8553, fax 39-6-679-1448. If possible include a recommendation from your local priest. Tickets can be picked up on Tuesday between 3-9 pm at the Casa Santa Maria (located near Trevi fountain).
For best viewing of the Vatican’s art and museums get in line before opening hours and be prepared for tremendous crowds. The Vatican Museum must be one of the World’s worst museums. It does have an extraordinary collection but it is impossible to appreciate this because visitors are treated like cattle constantly shoved forward in a never-ending line following arrows saying ‘Sistine Chapel’. There is a huge amount of artefacts, but there is no information at all displayed about the pieces. You can buy a guide book which is completely uninformative!
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.