A visit to the Vatican City is a must for any tourist in Rome. It was built over the tomb of Saint Peter. Peter (Petrus, Petros or Petra) means rock, so it is the rock or the foundation on which Catholicism was built. It is also the smallest country in the world.
Since we were only a five minute walk to the Termini Station, we decided to take the bus to the Vatican City. When we got off, we just went with the flow, following the majority of people walking. After a while, we found ourselves at Saint Peter’s Square.
Positioned just below the Renaissance basilica and above Constantine’s 4th century basilica, the grottos contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating from the 10th century. The holiest place is Peter’s tomb, containing the “memory”, built in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine, on the spot were the Apostle’s tomb was venerated.
At almost any time of year, specially during peak tourist seasons, the queue for the museums can be hours long. I did not believe it until I was there to witness it first hand. It was the line from hell. It is a good thing that I booked all our tickets in advance including tour, train and entrance tickets. That, however, was just the beginning…
It took us some time to walk from St. Peter’s Basilica to the Vatican Museum, so we were late for our 9:15 tour of the Vatican Gardens. Even if we were asked to wait for another hour to join the next tour, we were still fortunate enough to see the Gardens.
The Vatican Gardens have been a place of tranquility, conducive to meditation done by popes since 1279. This was the year that Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277-1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace. Within the new walls, which he had built to protect his residence, he planted an orchard (pomerium), a lawn (pratellum) and a garden (viridarium).
After the tour of the Vatican Gardens, we went straight to the museums.
The Sistine Chapel was built between 1475 and 1483 and named after the Pope who had it built, Sixtus IV. It has the exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as detailed in Christianity’s Old Testament: 40 feet wide by 130 feet long.
The Chapel is most famous for its ceiling, painted by Michelangelo; but the Chapel also has paintings on the walls by such famous artists as Botticelli.
Some of my tips on how to maximize your visit to the Vatican City:
- Eat a heavy or decent breakfast before making the early morning trip to the Vatican City to tide you over until after the tour. It is very likely that you won’t have a proper meal once you start your visitation to the museums and the church. The surrounding area is not much known for decent dining due to the heavy tourism found here.
- Bring bottled water and bread or sandwiches for snacks. The museums are purposely lacking in eateries or places to buy food. Do not bring huge backpacks or big bags because you are asked to fall in line to deposit them which could be quite time consuming. (Line from hell, remember?) Since we went to St. Peter’s Basilica first, my mother bought a few statues of Mother Mary and a large glass cross. I thought I lost her once we entered the museum, only to find her after thirty minutes still waiting in line just to deposit her loot.
- While there is a sizable fee for entering the museums, St. Peter’s Basilica is free. However, this doesn’t mean you have to choose one for the other. Both are equally important and please make sure you get to visit both as it offers different attractions. I also suggest doing the Vatican Garden tour with their open bus. It is worth it!
- I have found that it is best to visit the Vatican Museum first before going to Saint Peter’s Basilica. The museums are huge and frankly, you need a day, if not more, to be able to see everything there is to see. It took me at least an hour before I got to see the Sistine Chapel. In fact, my mother was not able to tour the museum because she was already tired from walking from Saint Peter’s. Approximately, there is a twenty minute walk between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum
- Third, have a guide book with you. There are many things to see in St. Peter’s Basilica as well as in St. Peter’s Piazza, just outside, but without some guidance, you will miss important attractions inside during your visit. Do not miss La Pieta, Baldacchino, the four huge anchored statues near Baldacchino and the dome above. Search for Alexander VII’s Monument, the Statue of St. Peter, the cathedra (Chair of St. Peter), the Apse. Spend time finding and admiring the Holy Door and the wonderful facade with statues welcoming you into St. Peter’s Basilica. You might also want to spend time at the Crypt and in the Treasury as well as viewing the many wall frescos and mosaics found throughout St. Peter’s.
- Wear a really good pair of walking shoes in order to deal with the uneven cobblestones and streets. You will do a lot of walking and support is a must. There are not many places to take a seat and rest, so please be kind to your feet.
Overall, the Vatican City has got to be the most stunning worship place in the world. Everything was just overwhelming. The magnitude and the atmosphere give it the exact feeling that it should have. That we are small and that God is great.