Vatican City, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, is a city-state located within Italy’s capital, Rome. It is home to a population of under 1000 people, and is made up of an area only 44 hectares, making it the world’s smallest country by both area and population. The country serves as a home to Pope Francis, the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church; St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world; the Vatican Museums, the 6th most visited museum in the world; and many more Catholic cultural and religious sites. In this post, I will be guiding you throughout the tiny country, going through info on transportation, accommodation, and attractions in the Vatican.
It is quite easy to get to the Vatican from anywhere in Rome, due to Rome’s great public transportation system! For more info on how to get to the Vatican from certain spots in Rome, click this link. As for transportation within Vatican City, there isn’t really much to say… as the country is so small, you pretty have to rely on walking to get from one spot in the Vatican to the next. This may sound slightly daunting, but it’s really not that bad as you won’t have to walk anything more than about 2 km.
Obviously you can’t stay in a hotel in the country itself, however you can stay in one of many hotels located close to the Vatican. When we visited Rome, we stayed in the Casa Vacanze A San Pietro da Susy, a hotel-apartment in central Rome. It is a less than 10 minute walk from the Vatican, and it is very close to tons of different shops and restaurants. The hotel is perfect for any families, as it has three separate rooms, and even for a solo traveller, if you want some extra space. If you’re visiting Rome anytime soon, I would definitely suggest booking this hotel, which you can do here!
St. Peter’s Square / Piazza San Pietro:
With construction of the square beginning in 1655, after Pope Alexander VII was elected, and completed in 1667, St. Peter’s Square is a symbol of the Vatican. On special occasions, like the election of a new Pope or a important holiday like Easter, close to 400,000 people can fill the square. Every Wednesday at 10:30 AM, the Pope will ride through the square, then precede to an hour to an hour and half long service in multiple languages. This is the best way to see the Pope up close, and tickets to this are issued free after being reserved. For more info on these Papal Audiences, click this link. Another way to see the Pope is during his Sunday Angelus, where the Pope appears from his window of his apartment and gives a short speech. These occur on Sundays at noon, when the Pope is in Rome, and you do not need tickets to see the 15-20 minute event.
Surrounding the square on two sides are the square’s colonnades, that are said to symbolize the “stretched arms of the church embracing the world”. The square has 284 of these columns surrounding it, as well as 140 statues featuring popes, evangelists, martyrs, and other religious figures above the columns (right). In the middle of the square you will find the Vatican Obelisk (Obelisco Vaticano), a pillar 25.5 metres tall alone and 41 metres tall including its pedestal. This obelisk (left) was originally built in Egypt, moved into the Vatican in 35 AD, and moved to its current spot in front of the Basilica in 1585.
Focal point of the square, and maybe even the country itself, St. Peter’s Basilica is built upon the burial site of Saint Peter, the first pope. The first version of the basilica was built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine, before it was decided that a new one would be built as the original was becoming very timeworn. Laid by Julius II in 1506, the first stone of the basilica was put in place over 100 years before the church was completed in 1626. St. Peter’s Basilica is now the largest church in the entire world, and it serves as the centre of Christianity.
The Vatican Museums, being one of the most prestigious museums in the world, are Christian art museums that display collections from previous Popes that include some of the most renowned art pieces in the world. They are the 6th most visited museums in the world, with over 6 million visitors in 2016. Some of the museums’ galleries include the Lapidary Gallery, home to Vatican’s largest lapidary collection; the Ethnological Museum, with artifacts from Colombia to Australia; the Chiaramonti Museum, home to over a thousand vintage sculptures; and many more one of a kind galleries.
My favourite gallery out of the many we explored in the museums was the Gallery of Maps. This gallery was constructed beginning in 1580 after orders from Pope Gregory XIII, and was completed in 1583. The gallery was created by Ignazio Danti, an Italian priest, geographer, and mathematician. These maps depict the sum of the Italian peninsula, with views of both the regions as well as each regions most important city at the time. Despite the fact that the maps were made over 400 years ago, the maps are impressively said to be around 80% accurate. Above are photos of the stunning ceiling of this gallery, as well as a couple photos of some of the maps that can be found in the gallery. Above are some photos of the gallery, showing the ceiling in the top left and bottom right, and some of the maps on display in the top right and bottom left.
Another area in the museums that I really liked was the Hall of Muses. The Hall of Muses displays many sculptures of the muses, all of which date back to the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Above is a photo of this hall’s ceiling, one of the most intricate and beautiful pieces you will find in the museums.
Being the main pull of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel possesses some of the world’s most well known works of art based on the Bible. The most famous of this room’s paintings is the one on its ceiling, which depicts nine central stories from the Genesis. In the chapel you will also find the famous ‘The Last Judgement’ painting, which is based on the moment when the verdict of the Last Judgement is spoken. The ceiling of the chapel and ‘The Last Judgement’ were both painted by Michelangelo in the early 1500s, and the chapel as a whole is visited by five million people annually. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited in the Sistine Chapel, so I don’t have any photos of my own to show of the chapel. However, if you are interested in seeing the chapel, click this link for a 360° view of the ceiling and walls of the chapel.
Just outside of the Vatican Museums, you will find the Belvedere and Pigna Courtyards. The Belvedere is the lower and larger plaza, and the Pigna is the upper and smaller plaza. Both of these 16th century courtyards are the perfect spot to take a nature break while exploring the museums, as they are located pretty much “inside” the museums (if that makes any sense!). In the upper courtyard, you will find the Fontana della Pigna, or Pinecone Fountain in English (left) . Found in a niche of one of the walls surrounding the plaza, this fountain originally stood by Rome’s Panthenon, was moved in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, was moved to the Pigna Courtyard in 1608, and has stayed there ever since.
Covering over half of the country’s area, the Vatican’s Gardens can be found all throughout western Vatican City. These green areas, built during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, are some of the world’s prettiest gardens and parks. Sadly, these gardens are private areas owned by the Pope, and there is no public access to them excluding private tours. We didn’t get to visit the gardens due to this, though I wish we had been able to go on a tour of them. If you’re visiting the Vatican anytime soon, learn from our mistakes and definitely book a tour of the gardens! For more info on tours, click this link to book one by Maya Tours.
Though we didn’t get to visit the official Vatican Gardens, we did get to visit the Giardino Quadrato, or Square Garden in English. This gorgeous garden is classical Italian, being almost a hectare large with four lawns all bordered by hedges. The Square Garden was once reserved for only the Pope’s guests, but it was open when we visited. I’m not sure if it is open to the public at the moment, but if it is I would definitely recommend visiting it!
That brings us to the end of my post all about the Vatican! I really enjoyed my visit to the Vatican back in 2015, and I’d love to go back to the country in the future. I hope that this post was helpful to any of you planning a visit to the Vatican. Have you ever been to the Vatican? If so, comment below your favourite spot you visited in the country. If not, would you like to visit the country? Let me know in the comments down below.
Thank you for reading!