Vatican Information



Visiting the Vatican

The following is information about visiting the Vatican.  Please also see our page about the top sights in Rome.


Piazza San Pietro (Saint Peterís Piazza)- The Pizza San Pietro is the entrance to the Vatican and is considered one of the worldís greatest public spaces.  The piazza, designed by Bernini, is surrounded by a Doric-pillared colonnade  that is topped with statues of 140 saints.


As you enter the piazza, straight ahead of you is the Basilica di San Pietro.  Above the colonnade to your right are a series of dark brown buildings, these are the papal apartments and the Vatican Museum.  In the center of the piazza is an Egyptian obelisk brought from the ancient city of Heliopolis on the Nile.  On either side of the obelisk are fountains by Carlo Maderno and Carlo Fontana.  On the right side of the Basilica is the Vatican Post Office and on the left side is the tourist office, which has maps of the Basilica.


Basilica di San Pietro (Saint Peterís Cathedral)- The Emperor Constantine commissioned a sanctuary to be built over the tomb of St. Peter in the year 324.  This original basilica stood for over 1000 years until it was about to collapse.  The Renaissance and Baroque version today was begun in 1503 with designs by Sangallo and Bramante.  Michelangelo was appointed to do the dome in 1547 but he died in 1564 before it was completed.  The basilica is so large that it is a workout for some to walk from one end to the other.  The sheer opulence will amaze you.


As you enter, to the right is Michelangeloís Pieta, which is now behind glass because of vandalism in the 1970s.  Above the nave is Berniniís 96 foot high baldacchino or canopy, supported by decorated columns.  This was criticized when it was completed in 1633 because the bronze had been taken from the ceiling of the Pantheon.  This canopy stands above the alter by Bernini which is located over the top of St. Peterís tomb.  The bronze statue of St. Peter marks the tomb.  The right foot of the statue has been worn away by thousands of pilgrims who kiss the foot as a sign of devotion to the pope.


Beneath the basilica are grottoes that are the site of archeological excavations.  You can visit the tombs of popes and parts of the original basilica.


You can go to the top of the massive dome for an amazing view.  There are 491 steps leading to the top.  It is an all or nothing affair since the stairs are one way and you cannot turn back once you start.  There is an elevator that saves 171 steps, but there is often a long line to use it.


Note- The Vatican has a strict dress code.  No bare shoulders,  no shorts or dresses above the knee, and no bare midriffs are allowed.  Please come prepared or you will be turned away.


Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums)- This is an enormous complex of museums that contain Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Renaissance art.   Upon entering you must decide which one of 4 itineraries you will take to visit the museums.  These itineraries range from 1.5 hours to 5 hours, but all end at the Sistine Chapel.


The Capella Sistina or Sistine Chapel is the masterpiece by Michelangelo and reason that most people visit the museums.  He painted this ceiling while lying on his back on scaffolding.  The highlights include; The Creation of Adam, the Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Last Judgment.


It is a neck breaking view so you may want to consider binoculars or a hand mirror.


Giardini Vaticani (Vatican Gardens)- Most people think that the Vatican is made up of the Basilica and the Museums, but there are actually quite extensive gardens there as well.  These gardens are not open to visit on your own.  If you like to tour gardens, you must sign up for an organized tour at the entrance of the Vatican Museums.


Rome deserves a minimum stay of 3 nights.  But we realize that many people visit Rome as a day trip from cruise ships, so we offer Private Tours from Civitavecchia to make the best of limited time.


Travels with Friends: Learn more about other European destinations and tips for traveling within Europe.

Private Guides: See Europe and learn about its history with your own private guide. 


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