Tour of Italy: The Vatican

This was the day we learned the advantage of booking with a guided tour company – in our case, Trafalgar. Someone else was responsible for our transportation to the Vatican, for booking tickets with specific entry times, and knowing when we should go where. We started at the Vatican Museums, went to the Colosseum, and then back to the Vatican for St. Peter’s to make the best use of our time and avoid crowds as much as possible.

Our included tours for this day were the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Colosseum. Our optional tours were the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.  We also had an optional group dinner. We did it all! Throughout our whole trip, we did it all!

Not only was our day in Roma very long (16,433 steps) but it would be a novel of a blog post!  This post will detail only our time in Vatican City.

Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, a city-state within Rome.  It is a monarchy with the pope as head.  It was established in 1929 when Mussolini signed Vatican City into existence after the resolution of a dispute between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church.

Vatican City is a UNESCO World Cultural Site but is not a member of the United Nations.

This picture shows a portion of the two mile wall that surrounds the 109 acres of Vatican grounds.  

There are gates to enter Vatican property.

In the middle Ages, the Swiss Guard were hired as mercenaries and body guards for monarchy. Pope Julius II hired them in 1506 and the Swiss Guard has served at the Vatican ever since. The only unit of the Swiss Guard remaining is the one at Vatican City. 

The Vatican is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and is home to the pope. The top row of windows are those of the papal apartment however the current pope, Francis, chooses to live in the more humble clergy quarters.   

We were told that the citizens of Roma revere Pope John Paul II.  This memorial to him is outside the Vatican.  Pope Benedict was not favored and the opinion is still out on Pope Francis.

Our day started with a visit to the Vatican Museums. We had timed entry and allowance to visit areas not available to those on a public ticket.

We went up the original Bramante circular staircase, built in 1505. This did not appear to be accessible to most guests. We had a nice view of Roma.

The museums house a vast amount of iconic art, artifacts, and ancient Roman sculptures.   

Renaissance frescoes and tapestries line the museum corridors.  

Every ceiling is decorated! 

This ceiling is painted, not carved. It is flat surface! The depth the artist was able to simulate is impressive!

A gorgeous hallway in a Vatican Museum!

Papal and church ornamentation displayed.

The newer Bramante’s Staircase, built in 1932, leads you out of the Vatican Museums.

Our morning continued with a timed entry into the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling. This chapel is also where conclave is held for electing a new pope. Think white or black smoke.

Because silence is required within the chapel, there are placards outside where guides explain what visitors will see.  Our tour guide, or local specialist as Trafalgar calls them, was in the family business as both his mother and sister are also guides within the Vatican. He introduced them both as we ebbed and flowed with other groups on the grounds. Each guide has their own flag, umbrella or sign for visitors to follow.

Photography was not allowed in the Sistine Chapel and that rule was enforced vigorously.  There are photos on the internet if you want to see inside.  It is a small chapel, separated into two sections with limited bench seating around the perimeter.  Michelangelo’s ceiling is thought to be one of the most significant works of art in the world.  

Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel.  Pope Julius II insisted and offered him a large sculpting commission in addition to payment for the chapel ceiling.  Michelangelo spent the years between 1508 and 1512 completing the works and damaging his eye sight in the process.

The Sistine chapel frescoes were cleaned between 1980 and 1994.  The restorers purposely left a dirty patch and the difference is stunning. The cleaned art work is very bright and colorful – even decades after cleaning.

At the far end is St Peter’s Basilica, with the piazza in front bordered by palaces and gardens. 

Atop the columns on two sides of the piazza are 140 statues of saints and martyrs.

This is from the basilica looking towards the other end. Notice the obelisk.

The history of St Peter’s square dates back to the great fire of Rome in 64 AD.  Nero accused the Christians of starting the blaze that almost leveled Rome.  In retribution he had many Christians killed, including Peter, disciple of Jesus and leader of the Apostles. Peter, first bishop of Rome, and considered to be the first pope, was buried on Vatican Hill with other early Christians.

Four centuries later, Emperor Constantine, offering official recognition to Christianity in Rome, began building a basilica atop the graveyard.  

The present basilica, built in the 1500s, sits over a maze of catacombs and St. Peter’s tomb.

The altar sits directly above St Peter. It is possible to go below to see the tomb, as well as many others, but we did not. Darn.

This is the entrance to the grotto below. There are 90 previous popes and high ranking priests entombed at St. Peters.

The former Queen Kristina of Sweden, who died in 1689, is one of only three women buried here and is in the the tomb next to Pope John Paul II. She abdicated her crown in favor of her cousin Carl Gustav. After converting from Lutheranism to Catholicism, she spent her final years in Rome. The other two women are Countess Mathilda of Tuscany (1046-1115) and Marie Clementina Sobieski of Poland (1702-1735).

This pope or saint lies in a glass coffin upstairs in the basilica proper. My notes and research failed me for knowing who he was.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest religious building in the world.  It was very impressive inside!

Michelangelo’s Pieta is behind a protective shield.  It was vandalized in 1972.  Michelangelo sculpted three Pietas.  The others are in Florence and Milan.

The priests came through quietly.

This is the dome of St. Peter’s. It is possible to go up there but we didn’t. Darn again!

The US Capitol dome is modeled after the dome at St. Peter’s.

Here is a close up of the obelisk seen earlier. Built over 3000 years ago from a single piece of red granite, the obelisk was brought from Egypt after the Roman conquest. Emperor Caligula (37-41AD) set it up as a jewel in his Roman amphitheater It was moved to St. Peter’s Square in 1586 under the direction of Pope Sixtus V.

The sculpture, Angels Unawares, sits in St. Peter’s Square and was dedicated by Pope Frances in 2019 for the 105th World Day for Migrants and Refugees. The sculptor was Timothy Schmalz. It was very touching and thought provoking.

That was a lot, I know! And it was only about half of our busy day touring Roma! Next time – the Colosseum!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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4 Responses to Tour of Italy: The Vatican

  1. Ann Guy Shadiow says:

    Serene, Amazing!!! I can only imagine what your eyes did see… I so love your blogs.

    Have you thought about writing a book Wonder often Wander always

    Cheers!!! Ann

  2. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mark McClelland says:

    Wow, that sounds like a full day! You got to see so many iconic sites.

  4. Teri McClelland says:

    Gosh, you did do it all!
    Beautiful pictures. The real thing must be stunning.

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