Vatican City, or The Holy See, is a land-locked sovereign city-state enclaved by a wall within the city of Rome. Vatican City has a tiny population of 850 citizens, is the smallest state on earth, but has the 6th biggest & most visited museum in the world and is now ruled by the arguably most famous leader of recent time, Pope Francis. (I have to mention his name, personally I think that he is a very cool guy.)
The two best-known landmarks of Vatican City must be the Vatican Museum & St. Peter’s Basilica, of which I only managed to visit the latter. I’d love to take my time in Vatican Museum, and well, time was not something I had. After reading numerous reviews and accounts of people having queue for hours to get inside the museum, how packed the Sistine Chapel is, how congested the flow of humans inside the museum can get, and how off-putting an experience it can be due to the sheer amount of tourists, my desire to see the museum totally died out. I mean look at this:
As I passed by the entrance to the museum after visiting the Basilica, my eye balls almost fell out of their sockets. Absolutely the most horrendous line I had ever seen in my life (and it was just almost 9 in the morning). Guess what, I will wait until 1/ I have more time in Rome or 2/ our Pope sees the need to set a quota of tourists per day to step inside the museum. On another note, my bf was in Rome in 1994-95(?) and told me that there was no crowd, he just walked right in. Ugh. I knew that I was born at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Anyway this is the view of the Vatican museum from the top of St.Peter’s Basilica:
Don’t, however, underestimate the crowd at St.Peter’s Basilica. It is the largest and most famous church in the world. It is the holiest place of all Catholic sites and it is where, well, you can see the Pope (told ya I really like him). Designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (aka all the big names in architecture), this 17th century, Renaissance-Baroque-styled, basilica is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter and the first Pope. I am not a religious person, but I am having goosebumps looking at my photos, just like how overwhelmed I felt the moment I saw the basilica in Rome. The sheer size and grandeur of this Catholic pilgrimage destination may well be the most incredible thing you see in your life.
Before taking a look at the exuberant interior of the basilica, stop for a moment to appreciate the incredible view of St.Perter’s Square stretching before your eyes. At the center of the square are the 4000-year-old Egyptian obelisk erected in 1568 as witness to St. Peter’s death, and a granite fountain constructed by Bernini in 1675. But what really catch your eyes and make your knees jitter and your jaws drop are the ‘arms of God’/’the maternal arms of Mother Church’. This most famous colonnade in the world consists of fourfold rows of columns adorned with the figures of 96 saints surrounding an elliptical space. There is no better/more empowering/more intimidating way to say Welcome like Bernini’s design:
A bonus photo of Swiss guards at the Vatican :D Why Swiss guards? This may be your answer.
After admiring the Square, time to find your way inside the basilica. No you can’t just go straight in. Look to the right of the colonnade, where you will see a line (if you arrive late) or some metal detector doors looking like those at the airport. Of course you don’t expect us ordinary folks to step in the holiest Catholic place on earth unchecked right? In the summer, pay attention to what you wear too. No shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders, no big bags. Overall, try to look as modest as possible, and it’s time to remove those statement necklaces/earrings for a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica.
I have read quite a few testimonies about people having to queue to visit the basilica and how ridiculously congested the inside can be. Here is an old but gold piece of advice: try to arrive there as soon as possible. The basilica opens its doors at 7am, so arriving about 15 minutes in advance should give you some ample time to admire the Square and go through security. I was the first to step inside the basilica and boy it was an amazing feeling :D
The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica is breathtakingly gorgeous. It is huge alright, spanning a whooping “186 metres of length (218 if we consider the porch too), a height of 46 metres in the central aisle, a main dome 136 metre high and 42 metres large in diameter; the huge façade is 114 metres wide and 47 metres high” (source). The total surface amounts up to 22000 square metres and 20000 people can fit in it. TWENTY THOUSAND PEOPLE folks. TWENTY FUCKING THOUSAND.
But right, I was talking about the interior. The basilica has a form of a Latin cross. Wide aisles framing the names lead to a number of smaller chapels. The interior is a feast of scuptures, paintings, papal tombs, mosaic and metalworks. You perhaps need at least 45 minutes to slowly and carefully take in the whole grandeur, intricacy and beauty of this place. Look up and let those ceiling artworks mesmerize you. Pause for a moment in front of each and every statue, study its expression, movement, and perhaps, feelings.
As I got inside the basilica very early, I got the chance to watch a mass. It was somber, solemn and quite… beautiful. Saw some people crying… oh well…
But the best part about St.Peter’s Basilica is its view from the top of the cupola (opens at 8am; so after 1 hour inside the basilica, I was right on time to go to the ticket office for my cupola ticket). Believe me it is thrilling. It is unbeatable. It is so moving you are made to feel so small, so fragile and so.. mortal when you watch the St.Peter’s Square below, when you look afar and see Roma expand before you, when you look over the mountains and see a majestic sky and first light of the sun touching the earth. Indescribable.
The view, of course, comes at a price. In order to climb the ‘cupola’, you have to pay either 5 euro (for stairs) or 7 euro (for lift). I highly recommend you take the later option because no the lift doesn’t take you straight to the top. It is a real hike to the very top >-<
After getting off the lift, follow the sign to hike to the top. On your way you will pass by some breathtaking views:
Not for big people, claustrophobic people and those with bad knees. I am serious. The staircase is ridiculously narrow and steep.
See my foot there? Now you can imagine how narrow it is:
After about 10 minutes climbing, I was gasping for breath but not because of the strenuous hike but because of this…
I remember holding my heart and trying my hardest to not swear.
I mean look… :((((
I could see the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel:
the Vatican gardens:
But let’s come back to this incredible view. Any photo taken of this view can go straight to printers and out as a postcard:
Back to the roof, you have access to the restrooms, a gift shop, a coffee bar and water fountains. Don’t go straight back to the lift yet. Take a walk around the roof, admire the view of the square once more and spend time studying those huge statuts on the facade and the Cupola you just climbed.