The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 177 nations and the Order of
Malta. The Holy See also maintains relations of a special nature with
the Russian Federation and the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine.
The Vatican City State (usually called the Vatican City) is located in the
middle of Rome and is an independent country with an area of approximately
half a square kilometer. Only limited sections of the Vatican City are open to the public,
but those available are exceptionally interesting and very popular with most
visitors to Rome.
A thorough tour of the Vatican will take most of the day if you
want to see both St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums. If you do not
have enough time for a complete tour of the Vatican, come back again, as it
should not be missed by any world traveler.
The best source for current
information about visiting the Vatican is at the Holy See's Website
Finally, you may also want to take a look at the web pages for the
City State, as they contain additional interesting information on the
If you visit the Vatican in "high-season" (anytime between June and
November) be prepared for crushing crowds, frustrated guards and rude
ushers. Be prepared to be bumped, pushed, rushed and otherwise herded
through the Vatican's main attractions. You will likely find solace
only in a reserved tour of the Vatican Gardens, or the Scavi (the tomb of
St. Peter) at St. Peter's Basilica.
You might ask, "Well, why go?" The answer is simple, as the sights are
unique treasures of civilization, such as the Sistine Chapel, that cannot be
experienced anywhere else. However, a tour of the Vatican during high
season may remind you of being at Disney World on a bad day. If you
have the money, consider the "private" tours that are offered by companies
If you are interested in attending a general Papal audience, they are held
in St. Peter's Square, the Paul VI Hall (Aula Nervi), or in Saint Peter's
Basilica. During the summer, general audiences may be held Castel Gondolfo,
the pope's summer residence (approximately thirty miles outside of Rome).
Tickets are free of charge and available from:
Prefettura della Casa Pontificia (the Pontiff's Household)
00120 Vatican City State
Tickets can also be requested through your local Catholic diocese.
If you do not have a ticket for an audience, you can attend the Sunday
Angelus, held at noon in Saint Peter's Square, which is hosted by the Pope,
unless is at his summer residence or traveling.
Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world and one that is linked
with Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and other famous artists.
The present St. Peter's was not the first church on this site and the building that
we see today was put into construction in the early 16th century.
St. Peter's was a work in process for the remainder of the century and
the original plans were altered numerous times
The exterior design and architecture of St. Peter's are stunning, although
eclipsed by its interior, which is richly decorated and awe-inspiring. The paintings, statues and architecture of St. Peter's
are noteworthy and the sights numerous. In addition, you may want to
climb to the top of the Dome for an excellent view of the St. Peter's Square
and the Vatican.
See our one-page guide to
Saint Peter's Basilica for details on its construction and photographs of the interior and
exterior showing the grandeur of this most
If you are a follower of Catholic Church history, you should consider
touring the excavations beneath the Basilica. These tours require advanced
reservations, so see the
Vatican website for details on whether this tour would be of interest to
You have seen it on the evening news but it will
seem even grander when you
explore it on your own. Designed by Bernini and completed in the 17th
century, the square is dramatic and impressive. However, it is just the
start of an unforgettable day of touring the Vatican.
Elliptical in shape and designed so that its perspective leads to St.
Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square is comprised of several outstanding
elements. Bernini's curved colonnades run along on each side of
the Square and are comprised of equidistantly-spaced, four-column supports
throughout its extent, producing a formal and majestic border for the
Square. The colonnades are topped with 140 statues of saints, who were
crafted by followers of Bernini, who were members of his school of artists.
center of St. Peter's Square is an obelisk of Egyptian origin that was moved
to this site and erected by Fontana before Bernini began his renovation. There are fountains
on each side of the Obelisk, although the second was added by Bernini to
balance the first, which had been added earlier. The size of the
Square was limited by the then existing Papal Apartments, but it was designed
specifically to be impressive, while allowing room for large crowds to
assemble and receive the Pope's blessings.
Alterations have been made
to the entrance of the Square since Bernini's original work. The widening of the entrance and
the establishment of a broad thoroughfare
leading to Castel Sant'Angelo continues to be the subject of great debate as to
whether it enhanced or detracted from the beauty of Saint
The Vatican Museums include significant art collections and interesting
cultural museums. Several tours are offered and all include a visit to the
Sistine Chapel. Be sure to visit the
Vatican Museums web site before your
visit in order to prioritize what you want to see during your time in the
Guide to the Vatican Museums provides details on visiting, as well as
numerous photographs and a more detailed description of the major
attractions than provided here. If you do not want to read the
detailed guide now, each of the sections below provides a link to the
corresponding section of our Guide to the Vatican Museums that
provided more information on that attraction.
will see many minor yet stunning sights as you pass through the Vatican Palaces on
the way to the Sistine Chapel, including the marvelous Map Room and the
Sistine Hall, previously part of the Vatican Library. However, a visit to the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel
is clearly one of the major highlights of a visit to the Vatican.
Various portions of the frescos in the Sistine Chapel were created by
Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, and other world-famous artists from Italy.
Michelangelo's frescos of the nine scenes from the Old Testament on the
Chapel's ceiling are considered among the greatest artistic accomplishments
of all time. His enormous fresco of the Last Judgment, above the altar
at the far end of the Chapel, is an image of incredible complexity and
beauty. Click this link to the section of our guide to the
Vatican Museums for more details
on the fresco and the artist, as well as several beautiful photographs of
the most important works in the Sistine Chapel.
Created by Raphael and his school of artists, the frescos in these four
rooms are remarkable and include some of Raphael's most important works.
Click this link to the section of our guide
Museums that provides more detail and examples of
Pinacoteca (the Vatican Art Gallery)
Giotto, Melozzo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Bernini are just a
few of the artists' whose works you will see in the Pinacoteca.
The collection includes approximately 500 paintings and sculptures and much
of the work on display is extraordinary. See our guide to the
Vatican Museums for more details on the collection of art in the
In addition, you will find a number of other museums in the Vatican,
such as the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, the
Gregorian Etruscan Museum and the
Ethnological Missionary Museum. While some of the minor collections
will not appeal to everyone, there is much to see for those who are interested.
Vatican Gardens occupy a large portion of the Vatican City. They
are not formal gardens, as the area is mostly manicured, hilly park-land
dotted with fountains, statues, benches and a few quiet places to
reflect and renew. You will not be allowed to wander during your tour,
as access to the park is tightly controlled. You will go where you
tour leader takes you and not be allowed to dawdle.
Language specific guided tour of the gardens are offered every day at 10 am, except
Wednesdays and Sundays. Tickets can be purchased online. There are
guided tours for individuals and
groups. The gardens are not guaranteed to be open every day and the
Vatican reserves the right to cancel reservations without previous warning.
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