If you were given opportunity to spend only 3 hours in Vatican City, would you hurry through and see what you could or not even bother? I chose to go for it and did my best, see what you think!
During a Mediterranean cruise, one port of call was Civitavecchia, which allowed us to visit Rome. My friends and I, for a total of eight of us, hired a private guide through Viator to take us to the major attractions in Rome as well as to Vatican City. We were shuttled in a Mercedes van, which was incredibly comfortable and clean, and filled with fun facts from our English speaking guide. Upon arrival at the Vatican, we had a separate guide who shared her enthusiasm for one of the greatest museums in the world. We had exactly 3 hours in Vatican City to explore.
Vatican City is the world’s smallest municipality. It contains the residence of the Pope and is the world’s largest church. The Vatican has its own stamps, post office, and is protected by a small army of Swiss guards in regalia that some say was designed by Picasso. The Papal Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 and still march the grounds today.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Facing St. Peter’s square sits the amazing St. Peter’s Basilica, officially known as San Pietro, built on the site of the apostle Peter’s crucifixion. It is the largest church ever built and many famous architects and artists, such as Raphael, Bramante, and Michelangelo, participated in the process. The inside of the Cathedral covers 15,000 square meters and can hold 60,000 people. St. Peter’s Square was designed by Bernini and built around 1656. The top of the Basilica is ornately decorated with 284 pillars and statues of 140 saints. It was great to see the enormous Baroque papal canopy, also referred to as Baldachino canopy. Standing 98 feet tall, it is made up of 100,000 pounds of bronze stripped from the ceiling of the Pantheon and it’s the focal point of the entire basilica. The tomb of Saint Peter is located under the altar inside the Basilica. Peter’s Basilica contains 45 altars and has 11 chapels. The Michelangelo Dome, made up of 16 segments, was the most beautiful work I have ever laid eyes on. It is truly breathtaking; the architecture, the mosaics, the colors, and the detailing,were just unbelievable.
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel, perhaps the most noteworthy place in Vatican City, was commissioned in 1477 by Pope Sixtus IV. Lorenzo de’ Medici, of Florence, sent many leading artists of the time, including Botticelli and Perugino, to decorate the interior of the chapel with frescoes. At a later time, between 1508-1512, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint his famous frescoes of the Creation and the Fall of man; still to date, the largest work ever completed by a single artist. Signs are posted within the Sistine Chapel for no photography but the majority of people were disregarding this request. My group made our way into the Chapel shoulder-to-shoulder with the hundreds of others doing the same. It was scorching hot and though it is a once in a lifetime visit for me, it was nothing short of miserable. The painting was beautiful and detailed, but I did not feel it was anything more spectacular than other things we had seen inside the museum.
The Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum contains thousands upon thousands of exhibits and works, with the world’s most famous religious sculpture being Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, a marble sculpture of the virgin Mary and dead Christ, completed in 1499. The “Pieta” on display is a plaster cast of the original. It is said that one could visit the museum daily for a month and still, not see every piece. The Museum actually consists of eight museums, five galleries, and the Sistine Chapel. Other items you will see along your tour include hand-painted walls, ceilings, and frescoes, mosaics, busts, statues, fountains, crypts, gems, art, stones, marble works, inlaid parquet floors, and old masterpieces. My favorites were the Gallery of Statues and the bronze Hercules of the Theatre of Pompey.
The Piazza San Pietro, the square of Rome, stands before St. Peters Basilica and holds 400,000 people. It is surrounded by 284 Doric columns and was designed by Bernini. In the midst of the square is an Egyptian obelisk, which was originally located in Heliopolis, Greece. In 37 AD, Caligula decided to transport the obelisk to Rome and it was installed at the Circus of Nero. In 1585, it was moved to its final destination, at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Note: Many exhibits I was introduced to at the Vatican Museum, I later saw touring on display at the Hermitage Museum in Russia.
Hint: It is extremely hot and muggy inside the museum. Bring your own bottled water and a sweat cloth, which will come in handy.