Are you wondering what are the best things to do in Vatican? I visited the Vatican a couple of times during my visit to Rome, Italy. The Vatican (The Holy See) is the centre of the Roman Catholic faith. I felt so privileged to have the opportunity to step and witness the beauty of this sacred place. I grew up in a Catholic family, and it is a dream come true to visit the Vatican city.
The Vatican has been an independent state ever since the Pope struck a deal with Mussolini in 1929, making it the smallest state in the world with a total land area of only 0.44 square kilometers. However, there are sufficient attractions and activities within its walls to keep tourists occupied for several days, which is why it is important to prioritize your sightseeing activities.
Therefore, I would like to share with you some of the more well-known attractions to the lesser-known gems, here is the definitive list of the best things to do in Vatican.
Best Things to Do in Vatican (The Holy See)
1. St. Peter’s Basilica
A visit to the Vatican won’t be complete without paying respect inside the St. Peter’s Basilica. The massive domes of the basilica are impossible to miss. The first time I saw St. Peter’s Basilica was bliss. The Vatican was one of my personal dream destinations to visit.
The magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, replacing earlier structures that had begun in 326 on what is believed to be where St. Peter was buried. It is the focal point of the Vatican and one of the world’s best places to visit. Ironically, the sale of indulgences to finance this building in the 16th century prompted Martin Luther to begin the Protestant Reformation. These indulgences were sold to pay for the construction of this building.
The work of well-known artists can be seen even before a person steps inside the church. Bernini’s equestrian statue of Constantine and Giotto’s mosaic fragments can be found in the church’s portico, located just outside the main entrance. It was taken from the previously mentioned old church, along with the double bronze doors.
The enormous nave measures 185 meters in length and 46 meters in height, and it rises to a dome 119 meters above the ground. The nave has the capacity to hold more than 60,000 people. Examine it in comparison to the measurements marked on the floor of other significant churches. Behind the tempered glass to your right is Michelangelo’s famous Pietà, which the artist sculpted when he was only 24 years old.
Also located on the right is the ornate Chapel of the Sacrament, which features a tabernacle designed by Bernini and a bronze grille created by his rival Borromini.
The papal altar is located below the dome designed by Michelangelo and supported by four enormous pentagonal piers. Bernini designed a magnificent baroque bronze Baldacchino to cover the altar. The tomb of Saint Peter can be found down here. Bernini is also responsible for the bronze throne in the apse and is flanked by papal tombs. The right aisle contains the tombs of additional Popes.
You can climb 330 steep steps inside the dome to the lantern for a closer look at the dome’s structure and magnificent views over St. Peter’s Square. The stairs to the roof are located near the Baptistery (a lift is located outside near the Gregorian Chapel), and from there, you can access the roof. The Vatican Necropolis can be found underneath the church; it is the final resting place of several former Popes and is also rumoured to contain the remains of Saint Peter himself.
2. Vatican Museum
If you want to see the gems and treasures of the Vatican, then visiting the Vatican Museum is a must. I had a chance to visit the Vatican museum, I strongly suggest going early to avoid the long queues and big crowds. I also would like to highlight dressing appropriately (no sleeveless, plunging necklines and shorts above the knee!) plus wearing your comfy shoes.
The Vatican Museums are undoubtedly one of the most significant draws to Vatican City. It was first established in the 16th century by Pope Julius II, and it is currently home to one of the most extensive art collections of any nation.
The Vatican Museum is home to a staggering fifty-four distinct collections housed within its walls. The Museums include works by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo, ranging from paintings to sculptures and mosaics, covering an area equivalent to nine miles of masterpieces. It is estimated that the collection’s total value is greater than 15 billion euros. Therefore, it is most definitely a location that is worthy of one’s time to investigate further.
Some of the most well-known museums within the complex include the Gallery of the Maps, the Gallery of the Statues, the Vatican Historical Museum, and the Raphael Rooms. However, if you have the time, each museum is well worth your while; in many instances, this is a literal statement.
You should make it a point to see the Raphael frescos and the classical statuary in the Pio-Clementino Museum. Cortile della Biblioteca, Cortile della Pigna, and Cortile del Belvedere are the three breathtaking courtyards that can be found inside the building.
Walks of Italy offers tours that can be customized to meet visitors’ needs with various time constraints. These tours can take visitors on an in-depth journey through the Vatican or simply show them the highlights of the collections.
3. Sistine Chapel
I love visiting churches around the world and the Sistine chapel is probably one of my favourites. When I first stepped inside the Sistine Chapel, it felt like being transported to a big canvas of a magnificent work of art. This whole experience was something that I would treasure for a lifetime and memory. Unfortunately, photography is strictly forbidden inside the chapel.
The Sistine Chapel is a rectangular hall that was constructed by Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1484. It serves as the Pope’s domestic chapel and is also used for services and special occasions. The conclave to choose the next Pope is held here following the death of the current Pope.
The ceiling and wall frescoes by Michelangelo and others, which are regarded as the best examples of Renaissance art, underwent extensive restoration work between 1980 and 1994. This work involved removing layers of overpainting, varnish, grease, and candle soot to reveal the frescoes’ vibrant original colors.
Large frescoes depicting Biblical scenes against a backdrop of Umbrian and Tuscan scenery are painted on the side walls for Sixtus IV by the most renowned artists of the time, including Perugino, Botticelli, Rosselli, Pinturicchio, Signorelli, and Ghirlandaio. The concepts of humanism, which acknowledge people as unique individuals who play significant roles in history, are already evident in these paintings from the late fifteenth century. Scenes from the Old and New Testaments are displayed on the left and right walls, respectively.
Between 1508 and 1512, during the pontificate of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the frescoes on the ceiling almost entirely without the assistance of assistants. The ambitious plan of Michelangelo was to depict the Creation as it appears in the book of Genesis, starting with God dividing light from darkness, creating the sun and moon, dividing land from the sea, creating Adam and then Eve, and continuing through the story of Noah.
The prophets and sibyls are depicted as enormous figures below in the vaulting. The large fresco on the altar wall, which depicts the Last Judgment, the conclusion of the world’s story, was started by Michelangelo in 1534. It ranks as one of the pinnacles of European painting due to its dramatic presentation and artistic skill.
4. Gardens of Vatican City
In the 13th century, Pope Nicholas II commissioned the construction of the first sections of what would later become the Vatican Gardens in order to provide a place for quiet meditation. The landscaped gardens, grassy spaces, and orchards have grown to cover nearly one-half of the area of the tiny city-state and compete with some of the most beautiful gardens in Italy over the course of the past few centuries.
The Vatican Gardens are a tranquil haven in the middle of the hustling and bustling Vatican City. The gardens are designed in three different styles: Italian, English, and French.
In addition to the formal French Garden, visitors will discover a large number of individually potted plants along the paths. These plants, which contain stunning azaleas and other lush flowers, are scattered throughout the garden. A number of uncommon trees, such as an Australian silk-oak, as well as a significant number of trees that were brought as presents by official visitors have been planted among these and in the adjacent orchard.
Olive trees were given to Pope Francis by the state of Israel as a gift to symbolize peaceful relations with the head of the Catholic Church. Of all of these trees, the olive tree may be the one with the most historical significance.
5. Apostolic Palace
The Apostolic Palace serves as the official residence of whichever pope is currently in office. Located in the northeastern part of Saint Peter’s Basilica, in close proximity to the Palace of Gregory XIII and the Bastion of Nicholas V.
The building’s origins can be traced all the way back to the 16th century. It is also referred to as the Vatican Palace, and it houses a number of papal apartments, various offices of the Catholic Church government, the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Library, the Vatican Observatory, as well as a number of private and public chapels.
Approximately one thousand rooms can be found within the palace. The Sistine Chapel and the rooms that Raphael worked in are both located in this area.
In addition to serving as the official residence of the Pope, the Apostolic Palace is home to a number of administrative offices that are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Vatican State. The fact that the Pope’s residence has been turned into a tourist attraction in Rome is probably the aspect of the building that is most significant.
The numerous gardens, fishponds, interesting museums, and natural conservatories, to name a few, are among the few notable features that the Palace is known for, and it is a location that should be explored because of this reputation. The palace is also known as the Papal Palace, the Vatican Palace, the Vatican Palace, and the Palace of the Vatican. Another name for the palace is the Palace of the Vatican.
6. Vatican Necropolis
A treasury of archaeological finds is waiting to be discovered beneath the magnificent dome and priceless frescoes of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Many people are familiar with the papal grottoes that are located just beneath the cathedral. Within these grottoes, former Popes are entombed in private chapels, and they are accompanied by a church that was built in the 12th century.
Some people are unaware that there are extensive ruins that have been excavated even further in the earth below, revealing burial grounds that date back to as early as the first century BCE. The level that is the deepest of the three contains a pagan burial site, and the level that is the next level up from that contains both pagan and Christian graves, in addition to ruins including stone crypts and arches that date back to the 5th century.
The Vatican Necropolis, also known as the City of the Dead, is located beneath the Vatican and is home to a number of historic tombs and mausoleums that have been kept secret for many years.
However, the most important discovery is a gravesite that is thought to contain the remains of Saint Peter himself, a relic that the Vatican is continuing to excavate with painstaking care. This discovery is taking place at the Vatican. It is highly recommended that tourists book a pre-arranged private tour of the Vatican necropolis in order to ensure admission.
There is a daily cap on the number of tourists who are permitted to visit, and tickets must normally be purchased directly from the Vatican Excavations Office.
7. St. Peter’s Square
Between 1656 and 1667, Bernini designed the opulent Piazza San Pietro in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to serve as a venue for the worldwide faithful to congregate. It still does an excellent job of fulfilling that function and is completely packed on Easter Sunday and other significant days.
The large oval space is 372 meters long and is surrounded by semicircular colonnades at either end. A balustrade with 140 saint statues adorns the top of the colonnades. A 25.5-meter Egyptian obelisk that was brought from Heliopolis and placed in the center of the oval by Caligula in AD 39 is surrounded by fountains on either side. Since the monument weighs 350 tons, moving it here in 1586 was no easy task.
However, the basilica’s facade draws attention because it is from its central balcony that the Pope issues blessings and announces beatifications and canonizations. The senior cardinal of the College of Cardinals also announces the name of the new Pope chosen by the conclave from this location.
A 40-meter-tall Egyptian obelisk stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Pope Sixtus V ordered the placement of this obelisk on the square in around 1586. It is also known as the memorial needle or Obelisco Piazza San Pietro Città del Vaticano and has a colorful past.
The obelisk at St. Peter’s Square is the only ancient obelisk in the city that has survived since ancient times, despite the fact that there are many other Best Things to Do in Rome Italy, and obelisks to visit.
It is incredible to consider that this monument, which was carved out of red granite, was first built in Heliopolis, which is now a suburb of Cairo, more than 4,000 years ago.
I hope that helped you in planning your visit to the Vatican city. These are just some of the best things to do in Vatican, I’m sure there are a lot more worth visiting and mentioning depending on your interests in paintings, sculptures, tapestries and architectural designs.
Have you been to the Vatican City (The Holy See)? Which is your favourite attraction?
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