Everyone has heard of the Vatican, that’s obvious! Through films, books, reports… but what do you really know about this small country located in the heart of Rome? Because yes it is a country with an area of only 44 ha.
The Vatican is a State, to name it in full it is the State of Vatican City, (in Italian Stato della Città del Vaticano). There is the seat of the Catholic Church (of the Pope), it is located in the center of Rome.
It is one of the favorite tourist destinations in Italy with 5 million visitors per year. It’s not nothing! It is better to prepare your visit with care and method to capture the maximum amount of sensations and especially to avoid long queues. It is also a destination full of monuments and museums, each the most incredible. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, we will tell you about them below.
The Vatican is a must-see on your trip to Rome. Everything is impressive!
This article is written following our family trip: 2 adults + 2 children (5 and 9 years old). We made our stay the first week of September. You should know that Rome is very popular with travelers between March and September. So a word of advice: prepare your trip in advance.
WHAT TO VISIT IN THE VATICAN?
THE SANT PETER’S SQUARE
To get you in the mood, this monumental square gives you a glimpse of the grandeur of the Vatican. This is where Pontifical Masses are held, accommodating up to 300,000 people. It is also here that you can witness an endless ballet of visitors from all over the world. It’s really impressive to see all nationalities, all faiths concentrated in one place.
The most striking are the columns that border the square. In all, 140 statues stand proudly above the colonnades. Several sculptors participated in the creation of the statues including Lazzaro Morelli, Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, Pierre-Étienne Monnot, Jean-Baptiste Théodon, Giovanni Maria Baratta, Bartolommeo Cennini.
- Free visit.
- Security passage at the Rome / Vatican border.
- Provide comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing.
SANT PETER’S BASILICA
There are treasures in the world, and what is certain is that St. Peter’s Basilica is one of them. You have certainly visited many Churches in your life but what happens when you walk through the threshold of this Basilica is unique. I don’t know what it is. Its dimensions, the richness of the ornaments and statues found there.
St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican owes its name to the tradition that the apostle Peter’s burial place is located there.
Already, during Peter’s lifetime, after the crucifixion of Christ, the Acts of the Apostles relate the fact that he held an important place in the nascent Christian Church. Indeed, Christ had told him: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.
We loved it:
- Michelangelo’s Pietà
- The dome
- The bells
- The nave
- The canopy
- Chair of Saint-Pierre
We liked less:
- The 45-minute queue outside in bright sunlight. Better to have a skip-the-line ticket.
- Access to the Basilica is free, but if you want to skip the line, you can book your ticket here.
PASSETTO DI BORGIO
Also linger a little while at the Passetto di Borgo or Passetto. This fortified and elevated passage connects St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City with the Castle of St. Angelo in Rome.
THE SISTINE CHAPEL
The Sistine Chapel is one of the must-see visits to plan during your stay in Rome. You can access it by visiting the Vatican Museums.
It takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who was responsible for the restoration of the Cappella Magna between 1477 and 1480.
What makes the Sistine Chapel exceptional are the frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The most notable and famous of all is the fresco painted by Michelangelo: “Last Judgment”. This testifies to the genius of Michelangelo as a painter and his evolution as an artist.
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was best known for his talents as a sculptor.
Known the world over as Michelangelo, the Florentine was only 24 when he sculpted his famous “Pietà” on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, a tender representation of the Virgin Mary on which rests the lifeless body of his son.
We also know his imposing statue of David who had revealed his mastery of sculpting human bodies. You can admire this work at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
We loved it:
- Sit in the Sistine Chapel and admire the frescoes painted on the walls.
We liked less:
- The crowd to access the Sistine Chapel. Luckily we booked skip-the-line tickets in advance. It saved us a long wait at the entrance.
THE VATICAN MUSEUMS
The Vatican Museums form a museum complex located in the Vatican. In all, there are 12 museums, 5 galleries, 1400 rooms dedicated to Art, History … You can admire one of the largest art collection in the world.
Impressive exhibitions that result from the work of assembling all the Popes who have succeeded one another over the centuries.
You can admire works by Dali, Henri Matisse, Chagall, Van Gogh….
We loved it:
- The Contemporary Art Gallery
- The gallery of maps. Grandiose! gilding and colors. Incredible tapestries!
- Chiaramonti Museum: impressive white marble statues retracing the history of Rome and the mastery of sculptors of the time.
- Raphaël’s rooms: frescoes in shimmering colors.
- The Borgia Apartments: Rich decorations with works of modern religious arts.
THE NECROPOLIS – The little-known cemetery
The Vatican necropolis or Scavi is a curiosity that is located under the Vatican City. It is true that it is less well known than Saint Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums. It’s also hard to imagine that back in the day the Vatican was a huge open-air cemetery.
It was brought to light only during the mid-twentieth century, at the end of the 90s.
The Vatican necropolis is located between 5 and 10 meters deep under the Vatican. Archaeologists are digging for evidence to uncover 2,000 years of history.
This very fragile sanctuary was abandoned and completely covered up before being preserved. which explains the limited number of visits.
THE VATICAN GARDENS
The Vatican Gardens were born in the 13th century, they are among the oldest in Europe.
It was Pope Nicolas III Orsini (1277-1280), the Pope who began construction of the first papal residence on the hill to the north of the Basilica, then known as “Mons Saccorum”.
Initially, they were not strictly speaking gardens, but rather vineyards, vegetable gardens and alfalfa fields, conforming to the medieval idea of gardens for the needs of the popes and their retinue. These plantations are essentially utilitarian in character. Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) will add a botanical garden to it.
Today, the Vatican Gardens form a set of urban gardens that cover more than half of the Vatican’s area, or approximately 23 hectares.
During your visit, you can explore the botanical gardens, fountains, sculptures, parks.
We loved it:
- The calm of the place
- The variety of plantations.
- Sculptures and artificial caves.
- The Saint-Jean Tower.
THE CASTEL SANT’ANGELO
The Castel Sant’Angelo or Castel San Angelo is a monumental Roman building that has accompanied the growth of Rome for 2000 years. Strictly speaking, it is not located in the Vatican but on the right bank of the Tiber. All you have to do is cross the bridge facing St. Peter’s Square to reach it.
From the outside, the castle surprises with its circular architecture. The Castel Sant’Angelo has undergone many transformations.
It is the Emperor Hadrian who is at the origin of its construction between 135 and 139. At the origin, the monument was to have for finality its mausoleum but it will become the counterpart of the tomb of Augustus located north of the field of March on the left bank of the Tiber.
The Saint-Ange castle will become a prison in 1906 and a museum. Allowing visitors to discover a part of the important history of Rome and the Vatican.