Once the capital city of the Papal States, the Vatican City (Città del Vaticano) is today a pocket-sized, 44ha city-state. In fact, it comprises of St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) and the Vatican City Gardens (Giardini del Vaticano). Surprisingly, the city is within the core of the metropolis of Rome, and is easily accessed via public transport.
A Kingdom with No King!
For centuries, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran were the administrative centre of the Holy See. In other words, the two churches were the centre of a spiritual empire with extensive territories, an army and a structured tax system. However, after the unification of Italy in 1861, the Papal States were dismissed. The Vatican City came to be in 1929, as a result of the Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Holy See. The governor of the Vatican City is, of course, the Pope! A sovereign with no crown, the pope remains in power for life and is elected by a collective of bishops. The Pope is therefore both a religious and a political leader.
Keen to experience the Pope yourself? He delivers a papal address every Wednesday in front of St. Peter’s Basilica! See the official Vatican City website for details!
Heavenly Beauty on St. Peter’s Square
Splendour is the one word that describes best what you’ll experience in Vatican City. Order and idyllic beauty are, in Christian art, a mirror of godly perfection. Consequently, from the second you step foot in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro), perspective and proportion will rule your stay within the walls of the holy kingdom. This is more than likely where your visit will start. Be sure to cast your eyes above the colonnade to see the 140 statues of saints by Bernini’s students.
The obelisk at the centre of the square, which was carried from Egypt by Emperor Caligula’s men i 1586, is the last effigy of the city’s pagan past. Here, where the obelisk stands, is where St. Peter himself lost his life at the then circus arena (think Roman entertainment arena). Despite its history of violence, the obelisk is now an important sight in the square, and an embodiment of its dynamic geometry.
To the west is St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica San Pietro), one of the holiest Catholic churches. Read more about it here.
The Vatican Museums
Beauty doesn’t end on the outside of the city, since every hall and room in the Vatican has rich furniture and spectacular paintings and frescoes. A walk inside the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) will reveal almost 7km of some of the best artwork the world has to offer! The collection includes everything from Egyptian artifacts to masterpieces by Caravaggio, da Vinci and Tintoretto.
Among the highlights of the city and museums is the acclaimed Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina), which will make you shiver in awe. Michelangelo’s world-renowned work of brilliance took 4 years to complete! Don’t forget to check out the Bramante Staircase just off the chapel. The stairs are wide and shallow to allow horses to climb them! The Vatican Museums are a collection of everything and anything ever painted or sculpted to represent sacred scenes and the lives of saints and Popes.
Lastly, the Gardens of Vatican City will send you to heaven with its peaceful atmosphere and blossoming nature. In this case, it’s definitely far better to show than to tell! Check out the gardens below:
Top Tips: Expect long queues, and be sure to bring water and refreshments!