Wake up early today for one of the main highlight in Rome. While it is not part of Italy and it is an independent country on it’s own, it is surrounded by Rome and there is almost no border. Vatican City is home to the Pope and is famous for it’s art and architecture within the Sistine Chapel as well as the main St Peter’s Basilica church.
St. Peter’s Square is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. At the centre of the square is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected at the current site in 1586. The square is surrounded by massive Doric colonnades which symbolises the maternal arms of Mother Church leading to the main St Peter’s Basilica. 140 statues of saints stand upon the colonnades which has been there since 1670.
The square has been built with the main objective of enabling the most number of people to see The Pope give his blessings from every corner of the square. Today during many religious festivals, you will see some of the most interesting Catholic parade and ceremonies circling the square and to the basilica.
St. Peter’s Basilica is designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, some of the most famous artist, sculptures and architecture of historic times. It is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world, the holiest Catholic shrines and the greatest of all churches. The basilica is traditionally the burial site of St. Peter, who was the head of the twelve Apostles of Jesus, first Bishop of Rome which makes him the first Pope.
St. Peter’s Basilica was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The pope usually lives at the Papal Apartments except for the months of July to September and for those who wishes to see him can do so on Sundays. It is from the window of his small study that the pope greets and blesses pilgrims to Saint Peter’s Square on Sundays.
One of the interesting things to note when in the Vatican is the Swiss guards who are a small force maintained by the Holy See that is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. The Swiss Guard serves as the de facto military of Vatican City. The Swiss guards has been protecting the Pope for over 500 years and the small military is only slightly more than 135 in numbers and are required to be Catholic with Swiss citizenship between 19 to 30 years of age and at least 174 cm in height. Today , the living quarters of the Swiss Guards are at the eastern edge of the city, north of St. Peter’s Square and beside the Vatican palace.
There are 2 queues, one for the Vatican Grottoes which houses the tombs of 91 Popes as well as the Royal Family and one level below the Vatican Grottoes is where St Peter himself is buried. Entrance to the Vatican Grottoes is free. It is open daily from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the months of April to September and from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM from October to March. You can either visit the Grottoes first or last since it resides outside the basilica. The queue for the Grottoes is usually much shorter. As an act of respect, no pictures are allowed within the Grottoes. However, there is this cute fountain just before the entrance.
At the entrance of the Basilica, you will see the map as well as the holy door. This is one of the most important door of the Basilica with great religious significance. The Holy Door or ‘Porta Sancta’ is only open during a Holy Year (Jubilee), which occur every 25 years (the last one in 2000). This door is bricked up on the inside. On the first day of the Holy Year the Pope strikes the brick wall with a hammer, and so opens the door to let in the pilgrims who come to make the most of the indulgence. It will be closed by the Pope himself at the end of the Holy Year. This door is also called the “Door of the Great Pardon”. Its panels portray scenes of man’s sin and his redemption through God’s mercy.
Before entering the main hall of the basilica, you can also climb to the top of the famous dome. The building of the dome started from Michelangelo, continued by Giacomo Della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno in 1614. Visits to the dome of St. Peter’s are possible every day from 8.00 to 18.00, April to September and from 8.00 to 17.00, October to March. The entrance is at the portico of the Basilica
Climbing to the top of the St. Peter’s cupola requires a separate ticket. If you take the lift and 320 stairs combination, that will take €8, for the full 551 stairs option will cost €6. Only cash is accepted for the purchase of the tickets on site.
This is the view you get to see at half climb after the lift ride. The rest of the way up will be narrow and steep steps. When you reach the first level, you can enter the inside of the dome to explore the art masterpieces that are lining the inside of the dome.
The entire corridor is filled with beautiful mosaic artwork and you can walk along the corridor to admire each piece.
One of the most important thing is to look up and dome in it’s glory. The intricate design and paintings that form the inside of the dome. The beauty of the dome if beyond description and I could stare at it the entire day.
You can also look at the main hall of the basilica as well as the top portion of the ceiling and pillars of the main basilica up closer than from the ground.
Last warning before you embark on the rest of the steps.
After all the huff and puff, this is the main sight everyone is anticipating to see. The climb is totally worth it and you can get a bird’s eye view of the Vatican City and some part of Rome.
The stairs going down is equally tight and claustrophobic but is definitely much faster. The way down is purely by stairs only. Once you exit the stairs which will take close to 10 – 15 mins, you will be inside the main hall of the basilica.
Once you are inside the main hall, you will see this long hallway which they call the Nave which is about 46 meters high and 187 meters long. The entire size and grandeur of the church is simply overwhelming and it takes any visitor some time to entirely identify and admire all the different areas and portions of the basilica itself. Right in the center of the hall is the Papal Altar where only the Pope uses during mass and the golden canopy called the St. Peter’s Baldachin which is the masterpiece of Bernini. The ancient tomb of St. Peter lies directly below the altar.
Some of the most famous statues includes Michelangelo’s Pietà which is in the first chapel, shielded by thick glass. This masterpiece dates from 1499, when the artist was only 24 years old. This is the only work signed by the artist, whose name appears on the belt.
Another most famous statue will be the famous statue of Saint Peter Enthroned. One foot has been almost completely worn away by the faithful, who kiss it to show their devotion to the saint.
These are some of the main views of the St Peter’s square, Basilica, the dome as well as the Grottoes but there is so much more so an average visit will take almost 4 hours. Before heading to the next location, it will be ideal to grab lunch.
Entry Fee: The Basilica is free to enter but a skip the line ticket can be bought at €19.50 as the queue into the basilica can be closed to 2- 3 hours.
Nearest Station: Ottaviano-S. Pietro station ( 5 mins walk)
April – September
St Peter’s Basilica: 7:00 AM – 7:00 pm
The Cupola (Dome): 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM
The Vatican Grottoes 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM
October – March
St Peter’s Basilica: 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM
The Cupola (Dome): 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
The Vatican Grottoes 7:00 AM -5:00 PM
This is one of the most important museum in the world, carrying over thousands of sculptures, tapestry, paintings as well as other art pieces. The pieces are amassed over the centuries by the Pope and contains some of the most famous masterpieces by the world most talented artists. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display.
Within the museum, the most important and famous piece of work is The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The creation of Adam better known as the picture where the hands of God and Adam touch is as iconic as the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed within the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is situated in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. The room will notably be the last room you visit and also the most brilliant.
Some of the hallway of the museum with art pieces and paintings in every corner and area.
Bramante Staircase is the name given to two staircases in the Vatican Museums, the original one was built in 1505 while the more modern one in 1932. The one pictured above is the modern one and is at the exit of the museum so you will definitely not miss it. The stairways; designed by Giuseppe Momo; is a double helix having two staircases allowing people to ascend without meeting people descending; and the main purpose of this design is to allow uninterrupted traffic in each direction.
For general visitors, it will take almost 1.5 hours to finish visiting the museums due to the size of the building but for the visitors interested in art, it will probably take another half a day.
Entry Fee: The entry to the museum is at €14 and a skip the queue ticket is at €33 as the normal queue is at 2 – 3 hours.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
From Monday to Saturday | 9.00 AM to 6.00 PM (final entry 4.00 PM)
Every last Sunday of the month | 9.00 AM to 2.00 PM (final entry 12.30 PM)
3. Castel Sant’Angelo
This beautiful cylinder shaped building which was featured in the Angels and Demon films was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) is now a museum. Much of the content and decorations of the original tomb has already been destroyed since it was converted into a military fortress. The building was also used as a palace and place of residence by many of the Popes in the past. One of the more interesting facts is that Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St Peter’s Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. This passage is mainly used by the Popes as an escape route.
Entry Fee: €10.50
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 9 am – 7 pm
4. Ponte Sant’Angelo
The main bridge linking the Castel Sant’Angelo to the rest of the city is the Ponte Sant Angelo. The bridge is faced with marble and spans the Tiber with five arches with 5 angels on each side of the bridge.
With a full day of artistic and religious sight seeing, it is perfect to end the 2nd day with a beautiful sunset amidst the ancient buildings in the area of the Vatican. While there is so much more to see in Rome, the things covered in these 2 posts are the most key to any visitor to the city.