Ciao Italy: The Vatican

Before I get to my last post on my travels in Italy, I thought that I would take a little detour to the Vatican. Although situated in Rome, the Holy See it is unto itself its own city state. It is the smallest state in the world, both in terms of population and size. In order to honour just how small the Vatican city is, this post is going to be likewise concise!

As a normal tourist you won’t have free reign in the Vatican City. Instead, you’re confined to some well-trod hot spots, mainly the Vatican museum and St Peter’s Basilica. There are some tours that will take you around the gardens and the catacombs as well but they can be rather expensive or difficult to organise so I just stuck to this iconic duo.

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St Peter’s Basilica actually opens at 7 am. If you’re keen to avoid the queuing the earlier you get there the better. I only managed to make my way there at 8:30 am expecting a crowd, but I found getting through security to St Peter’s square an absolute breeze. It felt oddly appropriate to be looking up at the balcony where the Pope is usually sighted with rays of Italian sun hitting me straight in the face.

Entry into the Basilica is free. Leisurely walking in and out of the dimmed church was a bit of a joy in and of itself. It seems that at any time, various parts of the Basilica are sealed off from tourist foot traffic. In spite of this, the sheer size of the church and spacious open area doesn’t make it seem like you are missing out on much. Even after seeing all the other churches all over the country St Peter’s Basilica was still mesmerising. Every surface that could be adorned was full of beauty and detail.

Gorgeous artworks and architecture aside, St Peter’s Basilica is clearly an important site of religious pilgrimage. Although I’m not so inclined, watching other people make this important journey was worth reflection.

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To get this iconic shot of the Vatican and Rome a climb to duomo is a must. (Fun fact! Apparently, Michalengelo was inspired by the duomo of Florence when creating this structure!) I figured that taking the steps would give me a greater sense of accomplishment so off I went. This was actually one of the easier climbs that I had encountered on my trip. Although I had already seen many photos of this view I was still wowed. What people usually don’t tell you about when you get up to duomo is that there’s also a great view of the beautifully manicured lawns and houses in the Vatican city that normal visitors don’t have access too. From here I could also see the crowds at the Vatican museum!

The museum itself is something else altogether. Walking along I was gradually stupefied by the crowds and amazing artwork after artwork. Furthermore, it was difficult to stop and admire some of the rooms due to the throngs of people pushing us through the narrow rooms with only a cursory glance at everything. This was a real shame because I wanted to linger everywhere a little. Especially in the maps room and closely admire all the wonderful hand-drawn maps of Italy and pinpoint all the places I had been on my travels.

Without a doubt, the Sistine Chapel is the most visited area of the museum. There is a no photos policy, but that didn’t seem to stop tourists from taking many sneaky photos. Suffice to say, even with the people all around, the Chapel is an incredible example of High Renaissance artwork. I craned my neck and spun around so many times, but even that wasn’t enough to take it all in.

When things got too much to handle, I spent some time sitting in the more modern wing of the museum enjoying the aircon and lack of people. The garden within the museum didn’t have many chairs, but it was also pleasant to wander in and get a breath of fresh air, before doubling back to have a proper look at some of the things which we had walked past a little too quickly.

What really stunned me was just how different the frescos and statues were. All of them beautiful in their own right, but clearly from different painters and art periods. Personally, I was very taken with Raphael’s frescos and Melozzo da Forli’s radiant angels.

Current day Rome owes much of its wealth and status to the power of the Roman Catholic church. Nowhere is the grandeur and power of what was once the Holy Roman Empire more evident. Sometimes it does get to be a bit too much, with the gift shops everywhere and tourists in every other corner but there’s also beauty everywhere. From the ceiling right down into the ground.


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Tips
Pre-booking a ticket to the Vatican museum is fairly straight forward and an absolute must (https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking). The line to get in can be hours long, especially on Mondays as the museum is closed on Sundays. With a pre-booked ticket you can by-pass the long line you see outside the Vatican walls and instead make a bee-line for the advanced sales line. From this much shorter line, you then go through security before exchanging the online voucher for a proper ticket.

There are two options when it comes to climbing the duomo of St Peter’s Basilica. A trip on the lift will save you some 300 steps straight up to the cafe and gift store. Walking up will save you a few euro and test your fitness. That said, the steps are well maintained and fairly wide up to a certain point, so if you’re of good health walking all the way up should be fairly doable. Getting here early also saved me from a long wait and left me with a lot of time to get good photos and take in the views without people in my way.

As always with churches, it is important to make sure that you are properly attired. That is, knees and shoulders covered. In my case, a pair of opaque stockings under a relatively short skirt never received any warnings.

Although I did not have the stamina for it, it’s possible to see both the chapel and museum in one day so long as you start as early as possible on one of them!

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