Vatican City & The Vatican Museums

Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Singapore, Baarle-Hertog / Baarle-Nassau, Neutral Moresnet, Malta, Gibraltar. I love-love-love microstates, small nations and other quirks of geopolitical history. Primus inter pares is of course the Vatican or Vatican City in Rome. Last time I went, was in 2016, with Steve

Swiss Guards.

The Vatican City State (Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano; Latin: Status Civitatis Vaticanae), is the Holy See‘s independent city state, an enclave within Rome. 

The Vatican City State became independent from Italy with the Lateran Treaty (1929), and it is a distinct territory under “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” of the Holy See, itself a sovereign entity of international law, which maintains the city state’s temporal, diplomatic, and spiritual independence With an area of 49 hectares (121 acres) and a population of about 825, it is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population.

This video explains it well. 

No worries, independent or not, the euro is the currency and your European Union sim card works just as well. 

Saint Peter’s Square

Saint Peter’s Square is publicly and freely accessible and is a very visible landmark of the Vatican. 

St. Peter’s Square (Italian: Piazza San Pietro, Latin: Forum Sancti Petri) is a large plaza located directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. At the centre of the square is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected at the current site in 1586. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the square almost 100 years later, including the massive Doric colonnades, four columns deep, which embrace visitors in “the maternal arms of Mother Church”. A granite fountain constructed by Bernini in 1675 matches another fountain designed by Carlo Maderno in 1613. 

The colonnades symbolize an embrace of the world and it works. The square is huge, but also feels cosy. 

Saint Peter’s Basilica

The Renaissance style Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican is designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. 

Or is it? The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire or Ivory Coast claims to be bigger. I didn’t check it myself. 

While it is neither the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome (these equivalent titles being held by the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome), St. Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.

Catholic tradition holds that the basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, chief among Jesus‘s apostles and also the first Bishop of Rome (Pope). Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the basilica. For this reason, many popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period. 

A church has stood on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Old St. Peter’s Basilica dates from the 4th century AD. Construction of the present basilica began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

Vatican Museums

Yes, in plural. The Vatican Museums (Italian: Musei Vaticani; Latin: Musea Vaticana) are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. 

The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.

Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. The Sistine Chapel with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. In 2019, they were visited by 6,882,931 persons, which combined made them the third most visited art museum in the world. They are one of the largest museums in the world.

2016 visit

We got up very early that morning in spring 2016. We had an early slot for the Vatican Museums. It provided photos of a quasi empty St. Peter’s Square. It also meant we has to queue less to get in. 

As both Steve and I are classicists – Steve was my Latin and Greek teacher in high school – we drooled at all those Roman sculptures.

Quidquid it est timeo, Danaos et dona ferentes.” “Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts”, Trojan high priest Laocoön exclaimed when Troy welcomed the Trojan Horse. He was punished by the Gods. They sent serpents to kill him and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. There are other versions. 

The Vatican is full of world heritage artworks and architecture. ‘The School of Athens‘ by Raphael. 

And of course the Sistine Chapel. But no photos in the Sistine Chapel. Guards yell continuously “no photos”. There’s just too many people wanting to admire Michelangelo’s utter masterpiece. No time to take photos. It really is a “human sausage”. 

So in quite a few hours we saw what there is to see. And that’s a lot. But the pace is quite high. You have to. So many palaces, halls and rooms. And there’s the Basilica. And there are gardens. And there are Swiss Guards. And there was a car exhibition as well. 

And there’s what you don’t get to see. 

At least once in your life

When in Romen you must visit the Vatican at least once in your life. You event don’t have to be religious. But Rome and the Vatican are part of those places which are at the core of our history and culture. 

That list of better-than-A-list places is short, but must include the Acropolis in Athens, Jerusalem, the Great Wall of China, Mecca, … and Rome. 

But organise yourself. Don’t improvise a visit or you will lose valuable time. 

36 Comments Add yours

  1. pedmar10 says:

    ah yes had better pictures too, nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      Thank you 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pedmar10 says:

        You are welcome

        Liked by 1 person

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