Forty four hectares; 1,000 people; an Egyptian obelisk dating back to 30BC; a basilica with a Constantinian frame dating back to 329; a chapel adorned with frescoes by Michelangelo; an independent city state since 1929 – the smallest in the world – under the jurisdiction of the Holy See, led by the Pope; the seat of the Catholic Church. Amazing that someplace so very small could become larger than life in it’s meaning with all of these attributes. Welcome to Vatican City.
First things first, people, when you visit The Vatican: cover up those shoulders and knees, ’cause RESPECT. Though I’m totally sure that if Jesus or the Pope were there they’d just invite you in as Godly hospitality turns no one away who wants to be there. This dress code is actually a basic rule for the majority of Catholic facilities in Italy, though this was the only place I saw it enforced, and even then, it was by a tour guide and they helped the person find some things to cover up with. I myself came dressed to meet Pope Francis, which I will tell you, I did not. However, I did see an abundance of really glorious things in the largest church in the world.
When you tour Vatican City you see the majority of the cultural and historical sites of a entire country, albeit very tiny, in just a few short hours. There are the Apostolic Palaces, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, and everything else the small population needs to make a country run – even its own post office!
I highly recommend paying the little bit of extra money for a guided tour that let’s you skip the line and go in with your tour guide at your designated time. Mom and I spoke to some people who were in line for three plus hours!! And you learn so much more by taking a guided tour; it is well worth it. Our tour first took us through the gorgeous Vatican Museums, which had so much more to see than just paintings of cherubs, nativities and crucifixions. There were incredibly intricate tapestries, frescoes, and even modern art by artists including Dali and Picasso.
This is a tapestry, y’all!!!
I had two favorite parts of the Museum Galleries. The first was the Gallery of Maps. The walls of this great hall are frescoed with 40 maps of the different regions of Italy that were mapped out at the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) and were drawn by the geographer Ignazio Danti. The maps line the hall from the floor up to the ornate arched ceiling. It is walls of blue and green and gold, and displays the genius of the scientists and artists of the time.
My other favorite part was seeing Raphael’s Rooms. Pope Julius II (1503-1513) had his papal quarters painted by the Renaissance master Rapheal between the years of 1508 until his death in 1520. One of my most favorite paintings is frescoed here in one of these rooms. The School of Athens depicts ancient philosophers demonstrating their expertise and knowledge, to include Plato, Aristotle, and many more, even Raphael himself.
Rapheal’s School of AthensThe Fire in the Borgo -School of Raphael
We moved on to St. Peter’s Basilica. Completed in 1612 after over 150 years of reconstruction, the church is the largest in the world and sits perched at the top of St. Pete’s Square, surrounded by a marble colonnade designed by the great Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Inside the Basilica is all marble and gold and glory, like the heavens opened up and did their own interior design. The baldacchino, also by Bernini, is said to sit above of the tomb of St. Peter himself and devotees make pilgrimages to the basilica all the time. Along with this spiritual site, people travel from far and wide to also see Michelangelo‘s masterpiece Pieta sculpture, completed in 1499.
Mom at the Holy water font
On from there, we visited the Sistine Chapel, whose ceiling and alter wall are covered in frescoes by Michelangelo depicting Biblical themes such as the Creation of Adam and the Last Judgement. Alas, the Vatican does not allow photos in the Chapel. You just have to be in the space and appreciate it for what it is – a great Renaissance masterpiece.
Of course after such an amazing and meaningful time, mom and I had to refresh ourselves with some gelato. A guide steered us to a shop called Gelateria Old Bridge that serves huge portions to nuns. I think they were kind enough to serve us nun sized portions as well.
Click through the gallery below for more pictures from our day at the Vatican!