Visiting the Vatican, Rome

Basilica di San Pietro, St Peter

The Vatican state’s Basilica di San Pietro and the Bernini-designed Piazza San Pietro. The curved lines of huge columns encircling the square symbolically welcome visitors to the Catholic church with open arms.

Why visit St Peter’s in the Vatican?

St Peter

Varied Vatican buildings with St Peter’s Basilica on the right.

The Vatican/Vatican City has been a sovereign (self-controlled) state within Italy since 1929, with around 1, 000 inhabitants living in spacious, attractive and well-protected surroundings. Security indoors is famously provided by Swiss guards in colourful stripey uniforms designed by – no prizes for guessing – Michelangelo.

Castel Sant’ Angelo

The Castel Sant

Castel Sant’ Angelo.

The pope’s retreat in troubled times, the Castel Sant’ Angelo, was in fact built by Emperor Hadrian as his own mausoleum (tomb). The circular castle is a short and protected walk from the Vatican and now functions as a pleasant and interesting museum, with free tours in English on weekend afternoons.

View of Vatican from Castle Sant Angelo, Rome, Italy

The view of the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica from Castel Sant’ Angelo.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

St Peter

The ceiling of St Peter’s Basilica, Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vatican, in Vatican City, Rome.

St. Peter’s Basilica (as it’s known in English) and the Vatican Museums are one of Rome’s must-dos, even if you’re not a Christian and don’t like crowds, as the size, affluence and history of the place is fascinating while the amazing works of art are world-beating. St Peter is supposedly buried directly beneath the basilica’s dome, Rome’s largest at 41m diameter.

St Peter’s Basilica is homebase for Christians around the world and appropriately has the world’s largest Christian interior, with standing room for 60, 000 sinners.

Michelangelo’s wonderful Pieta statue (created at the age of 24) is unfortunately behind glass after attack by a headcase, but St Peter’s Basilica also offers a bronze statue of St Peter whose feet pilgrims line up to rub smooth, a bizarre marble-cloaked Death by Bernini and various other colourful creations though the majority of hand-waving white marble popes are extremely dull.

It is believed by many that St Peter is buried beneath the main altar.

St. Peter’s interior, Vatican

St Peter

St Peter blessing the crowds lining up to rub his feet inside the Vatican’s prime property.

The Grottoes are of little interest but those with strong legs, resistance to claustrophobia and a few euros to spare may be prepared to pay to climb the narrow stairs up to the platform circling the outside of the dome for spectacular views over to the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the Tiber River.

St Peter

One of St Peter’s more interesting sculptures, by Bernini (most Vatican works involve defunct popes blessing the hordes)

This work involves winged death – in gold on the right, clasping an hour glass – partly trapped under a (marble) cloak on which Pope Alexander VII is kneeling in prayer (out of sight).

Statue of Pieta, St Peter

La Pietá by Michelangelo in Saint Peter’s. Photo by Colin.

In 1972 a crazed geologist St Peter’s and battered La Pietá with a hammer shouting “I am Jesus Christ, I have risen from the dead! “, smashing off Mary’s arm and her nose. Helpful onlookers took many pieces of the marble shrapnel, never to be seen again so parts of Mary had to be restored without the benefit of original parts.
La Pietá is now back in St. Peter’s to the right of the entrance, but protected by bulletproof acrylic glass.

The nave of Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican, Rome, Italy

An unusually empty Basilica di San Pietro looking down to Bernini’s Cathedral Petri and Gloria, photo by Stefan Bauer

St Peter

St Peter’s altar and baldachino, an astounding bronze pavilion by Bernini, by Ricardo Frantz.

Vatican Museums lines, avoid them!

Vatican Museums queue, Rome, Italy

The normal line outside the Vatican Museums, Rome.

And if the next stop after St Peter’s is the Vatican Museums beware the lines/queues which are always long, especially early in the day in the summer months but relatively fast moving and the sights inside are remarkable. It’s worth every hour spent in the sticky sunshine to shuffle under Michelangelo’s artwork.

However, if your Rome holiday is time-short there is a way to skip the queue. Vatican Museums information.