Perhaps the Vatican needs no introduction. The center of Catholicism, and encompassing the Vatican City state, as well as the surrounding Roman neighborhoods of the Vaticano, Prati, and Monte Mario, this small slice of the city is packed with more history and artwork than most cities in the world.
Vatican City (Citta del Vaticano), also incorrectly known as but popularly synonymous with the Holy See (Santa Sede), is the latest and only current Papal state in existence and the temporal seat of the Pope, head of the worldwide Catholic Church. Situated within the city of Rome in Italy, the Vatican is the world's smallest state. Outside the Vatican City itself, 13 buildings in Rome and Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence, also enjoy extraterritorial rights. On April 19, 2005, Josef Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI.
The origin of the Papal States, which over the years have varied considerably in extent, may be traced back to AD 756 with the Donation of Pepin. However the popes were the de facto rulers of Rome and the surrounding province since the fall of the Roman Empire and the retreat of Byzantine power in Italy. Popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid 19th century, when many of the Papal States were seized by the newly united Kingdom of Italy. In 1870, the pope's holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed.
Disputes between a series of "prisoner" popes and Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy. On 11 February 1929, three treaties were signed with Italy which, among other things, recognized the full sovereignty of the Vatican and established its territorial extent.
In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion.
The pope is elected for life by the College of Cardinals. When the election was last held (Tuesday, April 19, 2005. Benedict XVI), it attracted large crowds. Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor Pope John Paul II's Inauguration Day (he was never crowned) of 22 October 1978 was also a major event.
Present concerns of the Holy See include interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About 1 billion people worldwide profess the Catholic faith.
The Vatican sits on a low hill between 19 m and 75 m above sea level. With a boundary only 3.2 km around, the enclosed land area is smaller than some shopping malls. However the buildings are far more historic and architecturally interesting. When talking about terrian, most of the country's area is the vatican gardens
Although 1000 people live within Vatican City, many dignitaries, priests, nuns, guards, and 3,000 lay workers live outside the Vatican. Officially, there are about 800 citizens making it the smallest nation in demographic size on the globe. The Vatican even fields a soccer team composed of the Swiss Guard who hold dual citizenship.
It's easy to get to the Vatican by taxi, bus or by foot from Rome—the closest neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber being Navona. A beautiful experience can be get to San Peter walking from Piazza Venezia, along Via del Plebiscito, Corso Vittorio Emanuele and then Via della Conciliazione (or, if you want, from Termini, walking along Via Nazionale), in the closest aproximation to the Whashingtonian "National Mall" or Parisian Voie Imperiale that Rome has to offer you. Take the Metro line A to Cipro for the Museums, or Ottaviano for St. Peter's, or the tram to Piazza del Risorgimento.
From Central Rome, the #64 bus goes right to the southern end of the Vatican, but it is filled with pickpockets so guard your valuables!
With 109 acres (44 hectares) within its walls, the Vatican is easily traveled by foot; however, most of this area is inaccessible to tourists. The most popular areas open to tourists are the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican Museums.
If you're heading up Monte Mario, wear comfortable shoes—it's quite a climb!
Swiss Guards Corps (Corpo della Guardia Svizzera) Swiss Papal Guards are posted at entrances to the Vatican City to provide security and protect the Pope. They wear very colourful clothing, similar to the uniforms worn by Renaissance era soldiers; winter palette of clothing differs from summer palette. In contrast to popular belief, the design of the Papal Guard uniforms was modeled after the colors of the Medici family (4 of whom were popes), not from Michaelangelo. The Pontifical Swiss Guards is also the smallest and oldest standing army in the world founded in 1506 by the warrior pope Julius II (the same pope who kick started the construction of this 'new' basilica and making Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel). The origins of the Swiss guards, however, go much further. The popes, as well as a lot of European rulers, regularly imported Swiss mercenaries since the 1400's. Swiss mercenaries were a major export of Switzerland before they started making watches.
The centre of the Catholic world, this magnificent basilica with its Michelangelo designed dome has an awe-inspiring interior. This place is huge, but everything is in such proportion that the scale escapes you. To give you a comparison, you can fit the Statue of Liberty, statue and pedestal (height from ground of pedestal to torch: 93m), underneath the dome (interior height of 120m from floor to top of dome) with room to spare.
To get in, you will first go through a metal detector (after all,this is an important building). Don't be put off if there is a long line in front of the detectors; the whole thing moves quickly. The line is usually shorter in the morning and during mid week.
Aside from going inside, you can take an elevator up to the roof and then make a long climb up 323 steps to the top of the dome for a spectacular view. It costs €7 for the elevator (€5 to climb the stairs) and allow an hour to go up and down. During the climb and before reaching the very top, you will find yourself standing on the inside of the dome, looking down into the Basilica itself. Be warned that there are a lot of stairs so it is not for the faint at heart (literally or figuratively) nor the claustrophobic as the very last section of the ascent is through a little more than shoulder-width spiral staircase. Instead of leaving out the doors you came in, go down into the crypt to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II, the crypt leaves out the front.
Note: A strict dress code is enforced (as in many other houses of worship), so have shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and take your hats off (which is the custom in churches in Europe, women must wear scarves or some thing to cover their heads. You might be required to check bags at the entrance. Photos are allowed to be taken inside, but not with a flash. The lack of light will probably cause your pictures not to turn out very well, so you may want to buy a few postcards to keep as souvenirs.
The basilica is open daily April to September 9AM-7PM and October to March 9AM-6PM; closed Wednesday mornings for papal audiences.
Daily mass at 8:30AM, 10AM, 11AM, 12PM, & 5PM Monday to Saturday, and Sundays & holidays at 8:30AM, 10:30AM, 11:30AM, 12:10AM, 1PM, 4PM, & 5:30PM.
Free 90 minute tours leave daily from the Tourist Information at 2:15PM, many days also at 3PM. Telephone: 06-6988-1662. €5 audio-guides can be rented from the checkroom.
Tours are the only way to see the Vatican Gardens, €12, book at least a day in advance by calling 06-6988-4676, Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday at 10AM, depart from tour desk and finish in St. Peter's Square. To tour the Necropolis and Saint's Tomb, call the excavations office at least a week in advance at 06-6988-5318, €10 for 2 hour tour, office open Monday to Saturday 9AM-5PM.
If you want to see the pope, you can either see a usual blessing from his apartment at noon on Sunday, just show up (but in the summer he gives it from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 25 miles from Rome) or you can go to the more formal Wednesday appearance. The pope arrives in the popemobile at 10:30AM to bless crowds from a balcony or platform, except in winter, when he speaks in the Aula Paola VI Auditorium next to the square. You can easily watch from a distance, or get a free ticket, which you must get on the Tuesday before. There are a number of ways:
The pope may occasionally be away on a state visit, however.
The Piazza di San Pietro is actually an ellipse. There are two stones (one on each side of the square) between the obelisk and the fountains. If you step on either of these stones, the four columns on the colonnades merge into one. The fountains were made by two different architects, Maderno and Bernini.
The obelisk in the middle of the square was transported from Egypt to Rome in 37 A.D. by the Emperor Gaius Caligula to mark the spine of a circus eventually completed by the Emperor Nero. The so-called Circus of Nero was parallel to and to the south of the east-west axis of the current Basilica. It was in this circus that St. Peter was killed in the first official persecutions of Christians undertaken by Nero beginning in 64 A.D. and continuing until his death in 67 A.D. The original location of the obelisk is marked with a plaque located near the sacristy on the south side of the Basilica, where it remained until it was moved in 1586 A.D. by Pope Sixtus V to its present location.
During the Middle Ages, the bronze ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. When it was relocated, the present reliquary, the Chigi Star in honor of Pope Alexander VII, was added containing pieces of the True Cross. This is the only obelisk in Rome that never toppled since it was placed in ancient Rome and is the second largest Egyptian obelisk after the Lateran obelisk. This celebrated obelisk nearly shattered while it was being moved. Upon orders of the pope, no one was to speak a word otherwise he would be excommunicated. However, a sailor shouted to water the ropes to prevent them from burning. He was forgiven and in gratitude for saving the day, the palms for Palm Sunday still come from the sailor's home town of Bordighera. The moving of this obelisk was celebrated in engravings during its time to commemorate the Renaissance's recovery and mastery of ancient knowledge.
One of the greatest art galleries in the world, the museum is most famous for its spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms and the exquisitely decorated Sistine Chapel famous for Michelangelo's frescos. It's organized so you follow a one-way route. Price: €15 for visitors, €8.00 for concessions. Open Monday to Saturday 9:00AM-6:00PM, closed Sunday except last Sunday of the month, when its free, crowded, and open 9:00AM-2:00PM. Last entry 120 (90 mins on open Sundays) minutes before closing time, Sistine Chapel closes before rest of museum does. The museum is closed for holidays on: January 1 & 6, February 11, March 19, April 4 & 5, May 1 , June 29, August 14 & 15, November 1, and December 8, 25, & 26.
The Museum is usually the most hot & crowded Saturday, Monday, the last Sunday of the month, rainy days, and days before or after a holiday. Dress code: no short shorts or bare shoulders. Telephone: +39 06 69884947. There are often lengthy queues from the entrance that stretch around the block in the early morning. Non-guided visitors should join the queue that is to the left as you are facing the entrance; the queue on the right is intended for guided group visitors. Two hour English tours cost €31 and includes museum admission, and leave at 10:30AM, 12PM, & 2PM in summer, 10:30AM & 11:15AM in winter. To reserve, book online . Other contact details: for groups email@example.com, for individuals: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. + 39 06 69883145 or +39 06 69884676, fax + 39 06 69873250.
With a booking you skip the queue and enter through the exit, next to entry, to go to the guided tours desk. There are also audio-guides available from the top of the escalator/ramp for €7. Two people to share a single unit plugging in a standard set of earphones.
Accessing the Sistine Chapel requires walking through many other (spectacular) halls and buildings (including the Raphael's Rooms) and it takes about an hour. Note that although the Museum is quite large, no free map is available - you must bring your own, or purchase a guidebook in the shop for €10 or more.
Also, be aware that it is not allowed to take pictures or talk loudly in the Sistine Chapel. While one may agree with this policy or not, the visit would be a much more pleasant one without the guards having to yell out Shh! or No foto e no video!! every two minutes. The bottom line is: respect the rules and let every visitor enjoy the best of the experience. If you try to sneak a picture (like most people do), you'll get a bad photograph and a screaming guard as your reward.
Latin enthusiasts rejoice! There is one country in the world that holds Latin (in addition to Italian) as its official language, and you can indeed get by within the city state only using the "dead" language. Italian, however, remains the more useful of the two. English is widely spoken here, as are most major languages of the world—this is the Vatican, a city for the world's Catholics and all who wish to see St. Peter's Basilica.
The two main entrances to Vatican City for tourists are A) the Vatican Museums, accessible from Viale Vaticano on the North side of the city state and B) St. Peter's Basilica, on the Southeast side of the city and accessible from Via della Conciliazione. St. Peter's Basilica is open usually from 7-7. The Vatican Museums is open to the public from 9 AM - 4 PM Monday - Saturday. Visitors can stay inside until 6 PM. The Vatican Museums are closed on Sundays except for the last Sunday of each month when it is open from 9-12:30. Visitors can stay inside until 2 PM. Take note that this day is usually extremely busy so it is preferable to visit another day if you are able to afford it.
While guidebooks do their best to provide an aid for viewing the collections inside the Vatican, a guided tour is a far better way to make sure you get the most out of your visit.
Guided tours are provided by the Vatican itself for the cost of 30.00 Euro. These may be requested in advance by fax from one month to one week before the requested tour date, or online from two months before the requested tour date. The Vatican is notorious for failing to reply via fax, and repeat requests are often necessary. Full details on booking such tours are available at
The Vatican has a unique, noncommercial economy that is supported financially by contributions (known as Peter's Pence) from Roman Catholics throughout the world. It also sells postage stamps, tourist mementos, and publications. Fees for admission to museums also go into church coffers.
Rome/Vatican has the euro (EUR, €) as its currency. Therewith, Rome/Vatican belongs to the 23 European countries that use the common European money. These 23 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. These countries together have a population of 327 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse as well as all bills look the same throughout the eurozone. Nonetheless, every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
The Vatican euro is the rarest in circulation among the European countries, so don't spend it! It is worth a lot more than its face value.
The Vatican is the only country in the world where ATM instructions are available in Latin.
The Vatican Museums have a reasonable cafeteria style restaurant, a bar, and a pizzeria, all of which are open during museum opening hours, and until about one hour after closing. See also Rome.
Seasoned travelers will know how to tip, and how to ask for the price at the counter, instead of buying at the over-rated 'sit-down' full-price. Better to tip and be welcome again the next day, than ridiculing everyone by paying triple or at least double.
Coffee in the morning (un caffè, per favore!, grazie!), mineral water for lunch (gassata/non-gassata? or frizzante/fizzante), and try to find rosé wine in the evening: it goes very well with all Italian traditional dishes, and keeps one and one's company fresh and summery. Care and solid experience is advised when arriving from colder climates, to absorb the many new, ever so pleasant, enviroments and tastes, and the delicates of balancing wine and water, with creamy sauces and vinegars.
Unless you count the Pope as a good friend (and he concurs), there are no lodging opportunities in the Vatican City itself. However, there are many hotels in the surrounding Vaticano neighborhood of Rome.
Since Vatican City is a Papal state, such respect and reverence to the Roman Catholic Church and its practices and doctrine is encouraged.
Sleeveless shirts and short pants or skirts are not permitted within the border of the Vatican.
Mail a letter - Since Vatican City is a separate country, it also has its own postal system, which is generally considered to be a bit more reliable than that of Italy. Send a postcard to your friends and it will be postmarked from Vatican City.