The Vatican is the smallest independent State in the world, founded on the place where Saint Peter was martyred and buried. Its capital, the Vatican City, is the world capital of Catholicism and the official residence of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope. To date, the city has hosted 266 Popes since 1377, the date when the Vatican became their official residence.
The Square and Basilica of St. Peter, the Vatican palaces that house the Vatican Museums with its relics and the majestic Sistine Chapel, are all unmissable treasures that you need to explore here.
It was on our second day in Rome that we decided to visit the Vatican. The feeling of leaving the cosmopolitan city of Rome to enter a religious city with a sacred space that is the Vatican is totally unique. The truth is, regardless of anyone’s religion, the Vatican City houses some of the most impressive collections of artwork in the world. We were totally blown away by St. Peter’s Basilica, we took hundreds of photos and we tried to take the most of the atmosphere we felt in this sacred city.
The Vatican is simply a must. Here are our tips for what you have to visit and how:
ST. PETER´S SQUARE
Passing through the columns that line St. Peter’s Square (the square if often compared to a keyhole because of its architectural movement), right away the view is breathtaking. There were few people that morning as the sun rose on the Vatican City but it wasn’t hard to picture the huge crowds that gather there every Easter Sunday to attend the service led by Pope Francis.
ST. PETER´S BASILICA
As soon as you walk into the square, though, all eyes turn to St. Peter’s Basilica and we instantly found ourselves trying to find the window from where Pope Francis addresses the crowd (it’s the one right in the center, right above the Bronze Gates created by Filarete). On our trip through Italy, we had seen many basilicas, but nothing compares to St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s without a doubt one of the most impressive buildings ever built. It took 150 years to build it and it’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed by its architecture – practically every architectural master from the Renaissance and Baroque participated in the construction of the most important building in Catholicism. Among the most famous artworks you’ll find Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s Dome and Pietà, a sculpture that features Jesus deceased in the arms of Virgin Mary, and Bernini’s canopy that covers the tomb of St. Peter.
Near St. Peter’s Basilica (some 10 minutes on foot), you’ll find the Vatican Museums – ancient palaces where Popes lived in the Renaissance times. These museums receive some 4 million visitors every year which means there will be a line to get it. We recommend you buy your ticket in advance online so you can get into the museums more quickly and relaxed.
The museums are huge. There are some 7km of galleries showcasing some of the most famous masterpieces in the world by artists like Michelangelo, Rafael (the Rafael Room is a must) and Leonardo da Vinci. The collections here span over all time period starting with Egyptian art, passing through the Assyrian, Greek and Roman civilizations, the Middle Ages and everything from the 15th through 19th centuries.
The biggest attraction in the Vatican Museums is really the Sistine Chapel. After visiting some of the most interesting parts of the museums and having photographed a bit of what we could see of the Vatican gardens (a separate ticket is needed to visit them and you must purchase it about a week in advance), we followed the signs to the Sistine Chapel, passing through luxurious corridors and going down a tiny stairwell to finally reach it.
As the main chapel of the Vatican palace, this is where the conclave happens (the process by which the Pope is chosen). As we entered, we admit that our first instinct was to look up to the famous ceiling that Michelangelo embellished. It’s impressive! Images like the Creation of Adam, the Original Sin – it was something we had been wanting to see in person; but there was art everywhere, from Michelangelo’s Final Judgement to Botticelli’s Punishment of the Rebels! The greatest masters decorated these walls with the most impressive frescoes and that left us speechless – and we’re not even huge art lovers! But it’s definitely an overwhelming experience.
The Vatican is open to visitors from 9am to 6pm (last entrance at 4pm) from Monday to Saturday. Tickets are €16 per adult and €8 for children between 6 and 18 years old. To buy your ticket online and skip the line, you have to pay an extra €4. See more information about ticket prices and opening times here.
Don’t forget that on the last Sunday of every month, entrance to the Vatican is free! You’ll need to arrive many hours before opening time because the line quickly grows and the Vatican is only open on these days between 9am and 2pm (last entrance at 12:30pm!).
honeymooners, Vatican City 09/2014