Vatican City: Vatican City has been an independent sovereign state since 1929. It is completely independent of the Italian State. Vatican City has its own stamps, railroad station, flag, national anthem, own security service, and real police force: the famous “Swiss Guards” who have been protecting the person of the Pope since the early 16th century. In addition to being the head of the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church, the Pope has full legislative, executive and judiciary powers. There is a city wall that divides the Holy See and Rome, Italy.
You would need at least one day to visit everything in that you can see in the Holy See. You can combine Castle Sant’Angelo (which is in Rome, I talked about visiting Rome separately under Rome, Italy) and Vatican City in one trip. But do keep that in mind that you spend a lot of time standing in the line for St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museum, and Sistine Chapel.
Time of Travel: We went to Rome, Italy beginning of November 2011 and spent about a week. The day we went to Vatican City was a rainy and wet day. We actually made 2 trips to see the Holy See. One was after evening just to enjoy the quiet environment of St. Peter’s Square. I think that’s the best time to enjoy the grand look of this basilica from outside. The next day went to back again for the whole day, which was a Sunday. Sunday is a great day to visit Vatican City if you want to catch the Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Basilica; I think its takes place every hour. Then at 12pm the Pope comes in one of the windows (the one with red curtain) in Apostolic Palace on the right side of the basilica and waves hands at the crowd in St. Peter’s square. BUT THERE IS ONE BIG PROBLEM visiting Vatican City on Sunday. That is, Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are closed on Sundays. So it’s up to you how you want to plan your visit.
What to buy from Vatican City: There are 2 souvenir shops that I spotted right in St. Peter’s Basilica, both side by side. You can get lots of religious goodies from there. You can get religious wall hanging decors, posters, paintings, Christmas items, CDs, book, DVDs, jewelries, and a lot more. Some are really cheap while other gifts on the pricey side. One good thing is you can get any religious gifts/items blessed by the Pope and delivered to your hotel at no additional cost, all you have to do is fill out a
So as I’ve mentioned before that we visited Vatican City on a Sunday. So the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel were both closed. So I gave info only on St. Peter’s Basilica.
1) St. Peter’s Basilica: To make it less confusing, let me just say that St. Peter’s Basilica is located in St. Peter’s Square. You can see the basilica nice and clear if you are walking towards the Holy See from Sant’Angelo Castle. It is a grand entrance to the Vatican City. There are 2 beautiful fountains and an obelisk in the square. It is surrounded by boundaries of columns on both sides and the basilica is in the front of
It is free to enter St. Peter’s Basilica for the main floor. But there is a big line to cross the security, which moves relatively fast I thought. If you are traveling with kids, you cannot take stroller inside the basilica. There is a cloakroom on the right side just after security check where you can keep stroller or other bags and etc.
Just to give you a short history, the original Saint Peter’s was completed in 349 by Constantius, son of Constantine, and over the centuries was embellished and renovated by donations and restoration work carried out by the Popes and munificent princess. In 1547, Michelangelo was appointed by Paul III for modifying and designing the basilica. He designed the soaring dome to crown the renovated basilica. Then in 1607, work on the façade begun under the architect Carlo Maderno when he added three chapels to each side of the building. After Carlo’s death, the next director was Bernini, who left his unmistakable mark on the building, which is the Baroque character it now displays.
We have visited many churches, cathedrals, basilicas before; nothing really comes close to St. Peter’s Basilica. You have to see it to believe it. The sculptures, ceiling, altar, prayer halls, mosaic floor, bold pillars, decorations … everything is intriguingly marvelous.
After visiting the basilica we went to the dome and the Copula from where you can get a 360 view of Vatican City and Rome. Who would miss that? There are 2 options to go to the dome and Copula.
Let me just tell you something about these steps to the top. They become very very very narrow as you get closer to the Copula. We were traveling with a 5 ½ years old and a 20 months old. Again you cannot take your stroller here. My 5 ½ years old daughter did really great climbing up and down the stairs. And we carried the little one. At times it gets a bit claustrophobic, but I thought it was an amazing experience to first go to the dome, from where you can look down at the main prayer hall and altar and then to the Copula which gives you a nice panoramic view of the Holy See. St. Peter’s Square looks absolutely beautiful from the top. Climbing those narrow steps really paid off when I saw the St. Peter’s Square from the Copula.
2) The famous Swiss Guard: In the medieval era, the Swiss Confederation were loaning its troops, who were widely known as excellent mercenary soldiers. To protect the holy land, Vatican City appointed Swiss Guards as its private police force. Today, the duties of the Guard are to stand guard in certain areas of the Vatican Palaces and to defend the Pope during various ceremonies and as he moves within the Vatican and travels outside its walls. Candidates applying to serve in the Guard must be single male Swiss citizens of the Roman Catholic faith, between 19 and 30 years of age, and must meet the height requirement of 1.74 meters. The minimum term of service is 2 years. Another interesting fact about their Renaissance-looking dress uniform was designed by Michelangelo.