No visit to Rome can possibly be complete without a trip to Vatican City. With a surface area of just under 500 square metres, this is the smallest country in the world. The spiritual centre of the Roman Catholic church is a city state that anyone can enter without a passport. With only 800 official residents, the Pope’s home base attracts millions of pilgrims and visitors every year.
The Vatican Museum is known as one of the world’s most beautiful due to its countless extraordinary paintings and sculptures. The art collection compiled by various Popes over the years is very impressive. Popes were among the first art lovers to open their collections to the public. The Vatican Museum started with collecting the statues of Pope Julius II in 1503. These works can still be admired in the Cortile Ottagono, one of the many areas within the museum.
The current location of the Sistine Chapel used to house the Cappella Maggiore, the ‘large chapel’. After it was torn down, all that was left was a ruin of crooked walls. Pope Sixtus IV ordered the renovation of the chapel between 1473 and 1481, and renamed it the Sistine Chapel after his own name. The first ever mass in the chapel was held on 9 August 1483 on Assumption, as the Sistine Chapel was devoted to the Virgin Mary. In 1508, Michelangelo was asked to repaint the ceiling. His work includes over 300 figures, of which the most famous is his ‘Creation’. Michelangelo was also responsible for the painting above the altar, ‘The Last Judgment’, one of his most remarkable achievements.
St. Peter’s Basilica is situated on St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. As well as being the main church of Rome, it is also the first of seven pilgrim churches in the city. The construction of this second St. Peter’s Basilica (the first dated to 324 AD, but was later destroyed) was started in 1506 by the architect Bramante, and completed in 1626. Most of its decorations were created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Below the nave of the Basilica is a crypt with the tombs of no less than 148 Popes. Make sure you admire Michelangelo’s masterpiece the ‘Pietà’ when leaving the Basilica.
An enthralling surprise is the so-called ‘Scavi tour’, which leads visitors underneath the Vatican to the Necropolis, St. Peter’s grave. His resting place was discovered by accident while digging a new grave for another Pope. A visit to ‘Scavi’ is especially meaningful to Christians as it takes them close to the origins of their faith.
Not many people are aware of the tours that are available of the Vatican Gardens. Their 23 hectares cover over half of Vatican City and the gardens are located behind St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. In addition to a wide range of flora, the gardens feature many fabulous fountains, monuments and buildings, including some dating back to the ninth century. The tours are increasingly popular, so booking in advance is recommended.
More information on: www.vatican.va