The world’s smallest sovereign state, Vatican City is a country built on rich history. Apart from being the holiest destination for Roman Catholics worldwide, Vatican City serves as the hub of art and architecture. From St. Peter’s Basilica to Sistine Chapel, the beauty of Vatican will leave you spellbound. You know before you visit Vatican, you think you will be all engrossed in the thoughts of almighty. When you come here you realize that you are talking and thinking more about the master Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante, Perugino and many such greatest artists the world has ever seen because these are the people who literally put Vatican together. If you are a city dweller then a walk amongst the greatest treasures of Vatican is going to give you an other-worldly feel. Every single place and edifice within the city (or should we say country) precincts is impeccably maintained. Whether you are a devout Christian or belong to other religion, this is a destination that everyone must see for its glorification of god and its people alike!
St. Peter’s Basilica
In this city of spectacular churches, none can be compared to St Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro). Expect to feel humbled when you stand in front of the largest, richest and most astonishing basilica of Italy. Built on the top of an earlier 4th century church, it took 120 years of construction after finally being completed in the year 1626. Considered as one of the holiest sites of Christendom, it has three of the world’s most celebrated masterpieces; Michelangelo’s Pietà, his soaring dome, and Bernini’s 29m-high baldachin over the papal altar. The original church was built by Emperor Constantine, on the site where St. Peter is believed to have been buried between AD 64 and 67.
In the mid-15th century, the church was falling into ruin and Pope Nicholas V decided to restore and enlarge the church on plans of Bernardo Rossellino. Later the restoration work was restarted by Pope Julius II and he appointed Donato Bramante as the chief architect. In 1506, construction began on Bramante’s design for a new basilica based on a Greek-cross plan. After Bramante passed away in 1514, a number of architects tried to modify the design, especially Michelangelo Buonarroti who simplified the plans and made designs for what was to become his most praised architectural achievement, the dome. After the death of Michelangelo, it was left to Giacomo Della Porta and Domenico Fontana to finish the constructions in 1590. Later in 1605, Carlo Maderno designed the monumental facade and lengthened the nave towards the piazza on request of Pope Paul V. Ever since the St. Peter’s Basilica has been drawings tourists from around the world.
St. Peter's Square
Once you arrive at St. Peter’s Square, you might start to get flashbacks and that feeling of Deja' Vu. This is the square you have seen on the news numerous times, and yes there is the balcony from where the Pope waves his hands....rings a bell?! It was created in the seventeenth century based on the design by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When seen from above this magnificent elliptical esplanade resembles a giant keyhole with two semicircular portico, each consisting of four rows of Doric columns, encircling a giant ellipse that straightens out to direct believers down a path into the basilica. The 140 statues of saints that you see atopthe colonnades were sculpted by Bernini and his assistants. You will be thrilled to touch the Obelisk Vaticano in the centre of the square that was brought to Rome from Egypt. Now that is crossing over to worlds!
Thanks to Michelangelo’s two of most famous artworks, ceiling frescoes and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment); Sistine Chapel is a heaven for art lovers. Michelangelo’s famous ceiling design depicts scenes from the Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve, The Fall and the plight of Noah in dramatic and moving detail, while the Giudizio Universale on the end wall is mesmeric and striking. Don’t skip the side walls of the chapel that are covered with superb frescoes painted by an elite team of Renaissance artists including Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, Perugino and Luca Signorelli. The frescoes on the wall depict biblical scenes and contemporary popes. Apart from being the home of some of the priceless works of art, Sistine Chapel also serves as a religiously important place where the conclave meets to elect a new Pope. Yep! that chamber which remains locked until a pope is elected with consensus!
Pinacoteca Art Gallery
In Pinacoteca Art Gallery, located upstairs in the centuries-old Accademia di Belle Arti, you will get to see one of the main and exquisite art collections of Renaissance art in Italy with over 500 works dating from the 14th- 20th century. The collection contains masterpieces by some of the greatest artists including Piero Della Francesca, Raphael, Mantegna, Bellini, Caravaggio, Tintoretto and Veronese. There is also a small section on modern art which includes paintings by Modigliani, De Chirico and Carrà. The daring Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna will surely impress you.
Pope’s Private Estate
The Papal Palace of Castle Gandolfo is a 17th century palace perched dramatically above Lake Albano 20 miles south of Rome and you can easily reach there by boarding a train from Vatican City. Now a museum, it has served for centuries as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the pope. Pius XI modernized the whole place in the 1930s for papal holidays. John XXIII used to hang out with locals in the town that surrounds the estate. John Paul II spent five years and 16 days of his 16-year pontificate here and built a swimming pool on the grounds. It was not open to public before but courtesy to Pope Francis’s express orders, you are now allowed to take a glimpse inside the life and luxuries of the Pope. You will also find cypresses, pine and cedars guarding the place like devoted disciples.
Such a tiny country and so many places to see! Vatican Gardens located in the west of the Vatican City covers more than half of the country! The gardens and parks, decorated with fountains and sculptors were established during Renaissance and Baroque era. Although not open to general public, guided tours are available. Made of mostly hedges and manicured lawns, it is but obvious that general picnicking is not the kind of activity you can indulge in here. Don’t leave Vatican City without seeing these wonderful gardens. Just dig in to this... you would miss seeing half of this tiny country if you do not visit the gardens! Besides, look at the picture above, no one needs to sell this!
Vatican Mosaic Studio
Hidden between two arches, in the shadow of the Sala Delle Audienze of the Pope lies the small Studio of the Mosaic, where you will find patient artists working to restore mosaic masterpieces using delicate hammers. This workshop was established by Pope Gregorio XIII in the 16th century who brought Venetian mosaic craftsmen to Rome for teaching the techniques of working with mosaic to the locals. Originally, this mosaic studio was created for decorating parts of the Basilica such as the Gregorian Chapel and the Dome of Michelangelo, however, the technique proved to be one of the most popular decorative styles and was extended to all the cupolas of the Basilica.
Vatican's Apostolic Palace
Located at the North-East of St. Peter’s Basilica and next to the Bastion of Nicholas V and the Palace of Gregory XIII, Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the reigning Pope. It is also referred as the Papal Palace, Vatican Palace, Palace of the Vatican and the Sacred Palace. The Apostolic Palace consists of several Papal Apartments, the Vatican Museums, some of the Catholic Church’s government offices, the Vatican Library, and a number of both private and public chapels among other buildings. Take a peek into the home of the most powerful religious leader of the world. Take a stroll outside the palace which has several beautiful gardens, museums, fish ponds, natural conservatories. In the Pope's private chapel, you will have the once in a lifetime opportunity to see two lesser-known masterpieces of Michelangelo - La Conversione di Saul (The Conversion of Saul) and La Crocifissione di San Pietro (The Crucifixion of St. Peter). The Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s Loggia are some of the most famous attractions of the Apostolic Palace.
Recommend- Skip the line: Vatican Museum Tickets
Trust us, this is an experience you don’t want to miss. You will have the privilege to see the Pope by attending the papal audience. At the Pontifical State’s discretion, the papal audience is celebrated almost every Wednesday when the Pope is in Rome, either in the glorious surroundings of the St. Peter’s Square or in the beautiful Nervi Hall, decorated by massive wooden sculptures. Keep a handkerchief at hand because this moving experience will make you all teary. Yes, you can see many people crying their heart out because imagine telling your friends you saw the POPE for real!
Bookings are essential if you'd like to attend a Papal Audience with Pope Francis I at the Vatican. Tickets are free of charge but they are limited and you must have a confirmed reservation to attend. Book ahead and you won't waste precious vacation time whilst in Rome.
Recommended: Papal Audience Ticket
Vatican City not only offers a divine window where you can feel the presence of almighty but also provides a glimpse of masterpieces within and on its walls. When we started, we told you that Vatican is as much about celebrating god as it is about celebrating us, the human civilization. Renaissance was one of the biggest and brightest milestones of our existence.
How to Reach Vatican
Vatican is situated within Rome and thus it is public transport of Rome that you need to take to get to Vatican. Besides, Vatican does not ahve a public transportation system of its own.
By Bus: Bus number 40, 60 and 64 from Rome take you to different sites in Vatican. But Rome's traffic is killer and one has to be really cautious of pickpockets! Which brings us to better option given below.
By Metro: Now metro here has only two lines and for your way in, you need to take red line to Ottaviano-San Pietro which is close to St. Peter's Basilica or Cipro-Musei Vaticani which as the name suggests drops you at the Vatican museum.
We recommend the following tours for your visit to vatican
Vatican is an example of the glory and spectacular divine work we humans are capable of! Hope you liked this short tour of Vatican. If you have been here do share your experience with us. And if you are planning a trip to Vatican, then just check out these amazing tours in this spectacular country!