Perhaps the Vatican needs no introduction. As the centre of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican City state - along with the surrounding Italian districts of Borgo, Prati and the area around the Monte Mario - is filled with more history and artwork than most cities in the world.
Vatican City (Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano) is an independent state, the temporal seat of the Pope, head of the worldwide Catholic Church; entirely surrounded by the city of Rome, in Italy, the Vatican is also the world's smallest state. Outside Vatican City itself, thirteen buildings in Rome and one at Castel Gandolfo (the Pope's summer residence) also enjoy extraterritorial rights. On March 13, 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pontiff and thus ruler of the Vatican, taking the name Francis.
Borgo is the fourteenth rione (ward) of Rome and is also the closest neighbourhood to the Vatican. Despite its historical, cultural and artistical importance, parts of it were razed in the 1930s in order to build the grandiose - and, arguably, ugly - via della Conciliazione. What remains today of the district is located in the area between the Tiber river, via di Porta Cavalleggeri, Vatican City, Castel Sant'Angelo and piazza del Risorgimento. The ward itself can be divided as follows:
The main streets in the ward are also called borghi (and not vie as in the rest of the city); generally speaking, the further you get from St. Peter's, the less touristy the neighbourhood becomes. Of course, always keep in mind that often it's not possible to escape completely the touristy hustle-and-bustle of the city centre.
Prati is the twenty-second, and last, rione of the city. An elegant district laid out in the late 19th century, it was designed to house (along with the Esquilino neighbourhood and the area around piazza della Repubblica) the civil servants of the newly-established Kingdom of Italy. Unlike the Esquilino - which housed the less wealthy among the State employees - the district was home to the city's rising burgeoisie, and it showed in 1912 when Prati was the first neighbourhood in city to be provided with electricity. Its most important squares are the recently renovated piazza Cavour and piazza del Risorgimento (near the Vatican Museums) while the main boulevard is via Cola di Rienzo, also one of Rome's most famous shopping streets.
The neighbourhood was built during a time of tensions between the Pope and the Italian state and therefore, city planners designed its street layout in such a way to make impossible for anyone to see St. Peter's dome from its wide and carefully planned streets. The district hosts, among the other things, a Waldensian church (on piazza Cavour).
With its 139 metres, Monte Mario is the highest rise in Rome; however, it's not part of the historical seven hills. From its summit, locally known as the Zodiaco (meaning "zodiac"), you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city. Between the hill's foot and Vatican City, there are two districts - Trionfale and Della Vittoria; both are relatively recent (early 1900s/1960s) and provide cheaper housing alternatives than Prati. The Trionfale neighbourhood is also home to a food market, located on via Andrea Doria.
The origin of the Papal States, which over the years have varied considerably in extent, may be traced back to AD 756 with the Donation of Pepin. However, the Popes were the de facto rulers of Rome and the surrounding province since the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent retreat of Byzantine power in Italy; the Popes, in their secular role, ruled parts of the central portion of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until 1860, when most of the Papal States were seized by the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy. On September 20, 1870, the Papal States ceased to exist when Rome itself was annexed.
Disputes between a series of "prisoner" Popes and the Kingdom of Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties which established the independent state of Vatican City, established its territorial extent and, among other things, granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy.
In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and the Italian Republic modified some of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion.
The Pope is elected for life by the College of Cardinals. When the election was last held (March 13, 2013 - Pope Francis I), it attracted large crowds.
Present concerns of the Holy See include interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of Church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About a billion people worldwide profess the Catholic faith.
It is widely believed that the Vatican City and the Holy See are one and the same, whereas in reality they are not. The Holy See dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of more than a billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. Ordinances of Vatican City are published in Italian; official documents of the Holy See are issued mainly in Latin. The two entities have distinct passports: the Holy See, not being a country, issues only diplomatic and service passports whereas Vatican City State issues normal passports.
The Vatican sits on a low hill between 19 m and 75 m above sea level. With a boundary only 3.2 km around, the enclosed land area is smaller than some shopping malls; however, the buildings are far more historic and architecturally interesting. Note that, when talking about the country's terrain, most of it's part of the Vatican gardens.
Although roughly 1,000 people live within Vatican City, many dignitaries, priests, nuns, guards, and 3,000 lay workers live outside the Vatican. Officially, there are about 800 citizens making it the smallest nation in demographic size on the globe. The Vatican even fields a soccer team composed of the Swiss Guard who hold dual citizenship.
It's easy to get to the Vatican by taxi, bus, Metro (the adjacent Prati district is served by line A), tram or by foot from Rome (the closest neighbourhood on the other side of the Tiber being the area around piazza Navona). A beautiful experience can be get to St. Peter's by walking from piazza Venezia, along via del Plebiscito, corso Vittorio Emanuele II and then via della Conciliazione (or, if you want, from Termini walking along via Nazionale) in one of the closest approximation to the Washingtonian "National Mall" or the Parisian "Voie Imperiale" that Rome has to offer you (the other is via dei Fori Imperiali). Take Metro line A to the "Ottaviano - S. Pietro - Musei Vaticani" for the Museums and St. Peter's or tram #19 to piazza del Risorgimento.
From central Rome, the #64 bus goes right to the southern end of the Vatican... however, it's a favourite among pickpockets so guard your valuables!
Visitors and tourists are not permitted to drive inside the Vatican without specific permission, which is normally granted only to those who have business with some office in the Vatican.
With 109 acres (44 hectares) within its walls, the Vatican is easily traveled by foot; however, most of this area is inaccessible to tourists. The most popular areas open to tourists are the St. Peter's basilica and the Vatican Museums.
If you're heading up Monte Mario, wear comfortable shoes - it's quite a climb!
Latin enthusiasts rejoice! The Holy See holds Latin as its official language, and the able traveller is invited to check out the urban legend that you can indeed get by within the city only using the "dead" language. Italian, however, is the official language of Vatican City and remains the more useful of the two.
English is widely spoken here, as are most major languages of the world; this is the Vatican, a city for the world's Catholics and all who wish to see St. Peter's Basilica.
The Swiss Guard (Italian: Guardia Svizzera Pontificia; French: Garde Suisse Pontificale; German: Päpstliche Schweizergarde; Latin: Pontificia Cohors Helvetica) is tasked with protecting the Pontiff himself. They wear very colourful clothing, similar to the uniforms worn by Renaissance-era soldiers; winter palette of clothing differs from summer palette. Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo did not design the Guards' uniforms - rather, they were created by one of the Guard's commanders, Jules Repond, in the 19th century. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is also the smallest and oldest standing army in the world, founded in 1506 by the "warrior Pope" Julius II (the same Pope who kick-started the construction of this 'new' basilica and making Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel). The origins of the Swiss guards, however, go much further; the Popes, as well as a lot of European rulers, regularly employed Swiss mercenaries since the 15th century. Said Swiss mercenaries were a major "export" of Switzerland (before they decided in 1515 not to be involved in military conflicts anymore) and turned particularly useful during the Sack of Rome of 1527.
St. Peter's Basilica
The centre of the Catholic world, this magnificent basilica with its dome (designed by Michelangelo) has an awe-inspiring interior. This place is huge, but everything is in such proportion that the scale escapes you. To give you a comparison, you can fit the Statue of Liberty, statue and pedestal (height from ground of pedestal to torch: 93m), underneath the dome (interior height of 120m from floor to top of dome) with room to spare.
To get in, you will first go through a metal detector (after all, this is an important building). Don't be put off if there is a long line in front of the detectors; the whole thing moves quickly. The line is usually shorter in the morning and during mid week.
Aside from going inside, you can take an elevator up to the roof and then make a long climb up 323 steps to the top of the dome for a spectacular view. It costs €7 for the elevator (€5 to climb the stairs) and allow an hour to go up and down. During the climb and before reaching the very top, you will find yourself standing on the inside of the dome, looking down into the basilica itself. Be warned that there are a lot of stairs so it is not for the faint at heart (literally or figuratively) nor the claustrophobic as the very last section of the ascent is through a little more than shoulder-width spiral staircase. Instead of leaving out the doors you came in, go down into the crypt to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II, the crypt leaves out the front.
Note: a strict dress code is enforced (as in many other places of worship), so have your shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and men must take your hats off (which is the custom in churches in Europe. You might be required to check bags at the entrance. Photos are allowed to be taken inside, but not with a flash. The lack of light will probably cause your pictures not to turn out very well, so you may want to buy a few postcards to keep as souvenirs.
The basilica is open Apr-Sep 09:00-19:00 daily and Oct-Mar 09:00-18:00; closed W mornings for papal audiences.
Daily masses M-Sa 08:30, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, and 17:00, and Su and holidays at 08:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:10, 13:00, 16:00, and 17:30.
Free 90 minute tours leave daily from the Tourist Information at 2:15PM, many days also at 3PM. Telephone: 06-6988-1662. €5 audio-guides can be rented from the checkroom.
Tours are the only way to see the Vatican Gardens, €12, book at least a day in advance by calling 06-6988-4676, Tu,Th, & Sa at 10:00, depart from tour desk and finish in St. Peter's square. To tour the Necropolis and the Saint's Tomb, call the excavations office at least a week in advance at 06-6988-5318, €10 for 2-hour tour, office open M-Sa 09:00-17:00.
If you want to see the Pope, you can either see a usual blessing from his apartment at noon on Sunday, just show up (however, in the summer he gives it from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 40 km/25 mi from Rome) or you can go to the more formal Wednesday appearance. The pope arrives in the popemobile at 10:30 to bless crowds from a balcony or platform, except in winter, when he speaks in the Aula Paolo VI auditorium next to the square. You can easily watch from a distance or get a free ticket, which you must get on the Tuesday before. There are a number of ways:
Note that the Pope may occasionally be away on a state visit, however.
St. Peter's square
St. Peter's square is, actually, an ellipse. There are two stones (one on each side of the square) between the obelisk and the fountains. If you step on either of these stones, the four columns on the colonnades merge into one.
The fountains were designed by two different architects, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The obelisk in the middle of the square was transported from Egypt to Rome in 37 A.D. by the Emperor Caligula to mark the spine of a circus eventually completed by Nero. The so-called Circus of Nero was parallel to and to the south of the east-west axis of the current basilica. It was in this circus that St. Peter was crucified in the first official persecutions of Christians undertaken by Nero beginning in 64 A.D. and continuing until his death in 67 A.D. The original location of the obelisk is marked with a plaque located near the sacristy on the south side of the basilica, where it remained until it was moved in 1586 A.D. by Pope Sixtus V to its present location.
During the Middle Ages, the bronze ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. When it was relocated to the present reliquary, the Chigi Star in honour of Pope Alexander VII was added, containing pieces of the True Cross. This is the only obelisk in Rome that never toppled since it was placed in ancient Rome and is the second largest Egyptian obelisk after the Lateran obelisk. This celebrated obelisk nearly shattered while it was being moved. Upon orders of the pope, no one was to speak a word otherwise he would be excommunicated. However, a sailor shouted to water the ropes to prevent them from burning. He was forgiven and in gratitude for saving the day, the palms for Palm Sunday still come from the sailor's home town of Bordighera. The moving of this obelisk was celebrated in engravings during its time to commemorate the Renaissance's recovery and mastery of ancient knowledge.
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums, . M-Sa 09:00-18:00 (last tickets at 16:00). Closed Su except last Su of the mo; when it is free, crowded, and open 09:00-14:00. The museum is closed for holidays on: 1 1 & 6 Jan, 11 Feb, 19 Mar, 4 & 5 Apr, 1 May , 29 Jun, 14 & 15 Aug, 1 Nov, and 8, 25 & 26 Dec. One of the greatest art galleries in the world, the museum is most famous for its spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms and the exquisitely decorated Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's frescoes. It's organised in such a way that the visitor has to follow a one-way route; do see it! Don't put it off, because it closes before the rest of the museum does! €16, Concessions €8. edit
You can get to the Vatican Museums by taking Metro line A (direction: "Battistini") and getting off at the "Ottaviano - S.Pietro - Musei Vaticani" or "Cipro" stops (10 minutes walk). Bus #49 stops in front of the museum entrance, buses #32, #81 and #982, along with tram line #19, stop on piazza del Risorgimento (5 minutes walk); buses #492 and #990 stop at via Leone IV and via degli Scipioni, respectively (5 minutes walk).
The Museums are, usually, most crowded on Sa, M, the last Su of the mo, rainy days, and the days before or after a holiday. Dress code: no short shorts or bare shoulders. Telephone: +39 06 69884947. There are often lengthy queues from the entrance that stretch around the block in the early morning. Non-guided visitors should join the queue that is to the left as you are facing the entrance; the queue on the right is intended for guided group visitors. Two hour English tours cost €31 and includes museum admission, and leave at 10:30, 12:00, 14:00 in summer, 10:30 and 11:15 in winter. To reserve, book online . Other contact details: for groups email@example.com, for individuals: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. + 39 06 69883145 or +39 06 69884676, fax + 39 06 69873250.
With a booking you skip the queue and enter through the exit, next to entry, to go to the guided tours desk. There are also audio-guides available from the top of the escalator/ramp for €7. Two people to share a single unit plugging in a standard set of earphones.
You can book on-line for admission only (no tour) for an extra €4pp and still skip the queue.
Accessing the Sistine Chapel requires walking through many other (spectacular) halls and buildings (including the Raphael's Rooms) and it takes about an hour, but if you are confined to a wheelchair or travelling with a baby pram or stroller you can use the lifts and go straight to the Sistine Chapel. It takes 5-10 minutes unless you stop along the long corridor. Note that although the Museum is quite large, no free map is available - you must bring your own, or purchase a guidebook in the shop for €10 or more.
Also, be aware that it is not allowed to take pictures or to talk loudly in the Sistine Chapel (although everybody flagrantly violates these rules). While one may agree with this policy or not, the visit would be a much more pleasant one without the guards having to yell out "Shh!" or: "No foto e no video!" every two minutes. The bottom line is: respect the rules and let every visitor enjoy the best of the experience, even if no one else does. If you try to sneak a picture (again, like everyone does), you'll get a bad photograph and a screaming guard as your reward.
The two main entrances to Vatican City for tourists are A) the Vatican Museums, accessible from viale Vaticano on the northern side of the city state and B) St. Peter's basilica, on the southeastern side of the city and accessible from via della Conciliazione. The basilica is open usually from 07:00-19:00. The Vatican Museums is open to the public M-Sa 09:00-16:00. Visitors can stay inside until 18:00. The Vatican Museums are closed on Su except for the last Su of each month when it is open from 09:00-12:30. Visitors can stay inside until 14:00. Take note that this day is usually extremely busy so it is preferable to visit another day if you are able to afford it.
While guidebooks do their best to provide an aid for viewing the collections inside the Vatican, a guided tour is a far better way to make sure you get the most out of your visit.
Guided tours are provided by the Vatican itself for €32. Tours can be booked, 60 days before the requested tour date, here: . Guided tours are also offered by several other companies.
The Vatican has a unique, noncommercial economy that is supported financially by contributions (known as Peter's Pence) from Roman Catholics throughout the world. It also sells postage stamps, tourist mementos, and publications. Fees for admission to museums also go into church coffers.
Rome/Vatican has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
The Vatican Museums have a reasonable cafeteria-style restaurant, a bar and a pizzeria - all of which are open during museum opening hours and until about one hour after closing. Furthermore, the Vatican Apostolic Library and Vatican Secret Archives, which are only open to admitted researchers and Vatican staff, share a courtyard that has access to an Italian-style bar with cafe fare and a limited selection of alcoholic beverages. See also Rome.
Numerous other eateries are just outside the walls of Vatican City.
Coffee (caffè) in the morning, mineral water for lunch - either gassata/frizzante (sparkling) or liscia (plain mineral water) - and try to find rosé wine in the evening: it goes very well with all Italian dishes, and keeps one and one's company fresh and summery. Care and solid experience is advised when arriving from colder climates, to absorb the many new, ever so pleasant, enviroments and tastes, and the delicates of balancing wine and water, with creamy sauces and vinegars.
Unless you count the Pope as a good friend (and he concurs), there are no lodging opportunities in the Vatican City itself. However, there are many hotels in the surrounding neighbourhoods of Rome.
Although there is little crime in the Vatican, pickpockets and scammers from the surrounding city do sneak in so be careful how you hold your money on you and be weary of a deal that seems too good to be true (especially since many items these people bring are cheap and possibly dangerous product rip-offs that are illegal to buy). Possession of these illegal rip-offs or stolen products may earn you a fine. Homosexuality, although legal, is considered a sin by the Roman Catholic Church and the people there may not be open to you showing your affection in public or private.
Mail a letter. Since Vatican City is a separate country it also has its own postal system; send a postcard to your friends and it will be postmarked from Vatican City.
Respect and reverence to the Roman Catholic Church and its practices and doctrine is encouraged. Those who aren't Catholic and are openly declaring it by blatantly attacking the Church's views and beliefs might be treated as less than an equal, or at less looked down on. Try to keep your beliefs to yourself and don't get in a debate over them.