The Vatican City has been in the news a lot lately what with there being a new Pope elected and all. I first visited the Vatican City in 2004 on my very first trip to Europe, and I will be returning to the world’s smallest country once again this upcoming May. In anticipation of my return visit to the Vatican, I am hosting a guest blog from Sarah Murphy of Dark Rome tours. If you’ve been wondering what all the hype is about at this holy center in the middle of Rome, read on a for a brief rundown of what makes this enclave such a magnetic draw for visitors.
The Vatican City-state is probably one of the most known locations in the world, particularly for most any Catholic. But that does not mean you have to be catholic to enjoy and appreciate the place often called the Holy See (Not Sea). In fact, there are plenty of beautiful and wonderful places to visit if you decide to take a Vatican tour, but here are just a few that are probably the most important to take a gander at when you stop by.
Saint Peter’s Square
There is probably no better place to start than Saint Peter’s Square as well as the Basilica that it leads in to. This massive forum has not only a wide expanse of space surrounded by three-hundred year old architecture, but also runs one of the rarer things still alive today: an obelisk straight from Egypt. At the very least you must see the obelisks all around the Vatican city, as they are something you will only find elsewhere in Egypt, and even then they are rare occurrences.
The basilica itself happens to be a completely free place to visit, just make sure you are dressed properly. It also happens to be one of the world’s largest churches and it even covers the tomb of Saint Peter himself. If you do happen to be religious, you can even show up there for the Mass, just be ready to hear plenty of Italian. If you aren’t religious, you can still enjoy some wonderful artwork in the Basilica such as some of Michelangelo’s works, or better yet, climb the dome of the basilica for a spectacular view.
Speaking of Michelangelo and his impossible artwork; the Sistine chapel is yet another religious spot that sports the most famous ceiling piece ever painted that shows off scenes from the Old Testament. Although this chapel has a lot of famous Catholic history, particularly with being the spot where the College of Cardinals meet to select a new pope with the signature black and white smoke, there is plenty else to be found in the Sistine chapel. You can find more works by Michelangelo all over this chapel, including behind the altar and above it.
Don’t expect to get away with exploring this place for yourself though, you will most likely have to go through the Vatican Museums to get there, and usually it requires you going in large tour groups these days. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beauty; you’ll even get to learn some of the history in the group. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars though, if you really want to see some of the wall designs from up close. This place is a must for any art enthusiast.
Speaking of the Vatican Museum as access to the Sistine Chapel, you won’t find a more interesting collection of artwork, relics and other items collected by the Catholic Church over the years. This is a museum similar in expanse to the Smithsonian in America. There are hundreds of rooms to explore over the course of an incredibly long walk and just some of those include the room covered in ancient maps, or the Octagonal Courtyard, or even the room devoted to Egyptian works solely.
Just remember that this is a major tourist spot, so it is best to get there early if you don’t want to be stuck in lines all day, and don’t forget you will be walking a lot in there for a museum!
If you are looking for something less arty and a little more outdoors, there is always the fountains, statues, and greenery of the Vatican gardens. Unfortunately this place requires a reservation and will generally cost you to get in, since you have to do a guided tour, but that doesn’t take away from the brilliance of a place you could not truly imagine seeing. Much of the gardens were erected back when there was a focus of sculpting bushes, and creating unique looks with the shrubbery or water flow. Some of the fountains alone are quite a wonder. If you or anyone with you happens to have any kind of green thumb then the place where popes generally take their leisure strolls, is exactly the kind of place they need to see.
There are of course plenty of other sights to catch in the beautiful holy city, but at the very least these are some of the necessary spots you should be stopping by at least to have truly experienced the Roman Vatican world. Above all else, remember to enjoy yourself. You are on vacation, after all!
Sarah Murphy has worked in Dublin for the last two years as a blogger, web content manager and marketing coordinator. A journalist by training and travel junkie by nature, she regularly travels to Italy for both business and to experience some of the Rome tours, where she mostly spends her time in search of the perfect gelato.
[Photo Credits: Swiss guards, xinquinhosilva or Flickr; Saint Peter’s Square, Paul Stevenson on Flickr; Sistene Chapel, Keith Laverack on Flickr; Vatican Museum, xinquinhosilva on Flickr; Vatican Gardens; David Paul Oehmer on Flickr]