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A trip to Rome is not complete without a visit to the Vatican City. Measuring just under 44 hectares, the Vatican is the smallest country in the world. The religious centre of the Roman-Catholic Church is a separate state that doesn’t require a passport to enter. The residence of the Pope draws millions of pilgrims and visitors a year and only counts 800 official residents.
The Vatican museum is one of the most beautiful museums in the world: it displays countless masterpieces of paintings and sculptures. Over the course of time, several popes have also amassed an impressive art collection; the popes were among the first art lovers who opened up their collections to the public. The Vatican museum first opened in 1503 with Pope Julius II’s collection of sculptures. These sculptures are still on display and can be admired in the Cortile Ottagono.
The Sistine Chapel was built on the same site where the Cappella Maggiore, the Greater Chapel, once stood. The ruins of the larger chapel were demolished, making room for a new chapel by order of Pope Sixtus IV in 1473, and was named the Sistine Chapel in his honour. The first mass was held during the celebration of Mary Ascension, when the Sistine Chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1508, Michelangelo was commissioned to repaint the ceiling of the chapel. His paintings and frescoes consist of more than 300 figures, the most famous of which is of course 'The Creation'. Michelangelo was also responsible for the painting above the altar, ‘The Final Judgement’.
For a whole other perspective of the Vatican, join a ‘Scavi-tour’ which leads to the Necropolis below St. Peter’s Basilica. Here we find the tomb of St. Peter. His final resting place was discovered by chance when digging a grave for another Pope. For believers, a visit to the Scavi is a fascinating experience because it brings them into close contact with the early days of Christianity. In addition to the tomb of St. Peter, you will see graves that have been practically untouched for 2,000 years – even in Ancient Rome that is quite unique.
Visitors may also enjoy a guided tour of the Vatican gardens. These gardens cover more than 23 hectares, more than half the size of Vatican City, and are located behind the St. Peter’s Basilica, immediately behind the Vatican Museum. In addition to the vegetation, the gardens feature fountains, monuments and buildings, some dating back to the 9th century. These tours are very popular so it is best to reserve a few days ahead.
St. Peter's Basilica is located on the famous St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. The Basilica is not only Rome’s cathedral, but also the first of the 7 Pilgrim churches in the city. The original St. Peter's Basilica was built in 324 A.D. but fell into disrepair. In 1506, architect Bramante began the construction of the second basilica which was completed in 1626. Most of the church’s decorations were created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The crypt with the tombs of 148 popes is located below the central nave in the cathedral. Just before leaving the Basilica, have a look at Michelangelo's masterpiece 'Pietà'.