Inside the Vatican Walls
Being the smallest sovereign state in the world, the Vatican City State, slightly larger than Disneyland, is located in the city of Rome and attracts every year over 5 million people. Besides being an holy place for believers, it is also a culturally rich place for all the non-believers.
It was our 4th day in Rome, and the timing was perfect, the last Sunday of the month, which literally means two things:
- A chance to see/hear Pope Francis, live!
- Free entry to the Vatican Museum!
We woke up quite early just like always, to avoid all potential queues, and by 8 a.m we were following the signs leading to the “Holy Door”. On our way we passed next to Castel Sant’Angelo, one of the few monuments in our Rome’s Bucket List that we didn’t get to visit during our vacation.
From far away on Via della Conciliazione, we could now have a better look at the Square and the Basilica. As soon as we approached it, we discovered it was not as crowded as we were expecting it to be. Well guarded by the police, we were now just about to enter the sacred site. Having to go through security scanners was starting to become an ordinary thing in Rome, as we had to go through the same system when entering the Colosseum.
St. Peter’s Square was practically empty, which would let me have a better look at the fountains, the statues and the Egyptian obelisk located right in the center. With google’s help, I found out more about this piece of history, that had been brought by the Emperor Caligula, all the way from Alexandria, in the north of Egypt. This same object has been moved more than once, but it has remained in the center of Piazza San Pietro since 1586.
Still during the morning, and before the Pope’s appearance that was scheduled for 12 p.m, we managed to visit St. Peter’s Dome, which in my opinion, was the best part of the day. When buying the tickets to access the Cupola, you’ll be given two options:
- Taking the stairs (551 steps) for 10 Eur
- Taking the lift to the terrace level (320 steps) for 12 Eur
We took the lift to the terrace, where the view was starting to get very interesting! We entered a different door now, that gave us access to the inner part of the dome, few meters away from the ceiling. A gold ceiling painted with angels, saints and stars.
The lantern, is the name given to the little tower above the dome. That’s where we were now heading to. A few more steps, across this tight corridor which would get tighter and tighter. In just a few minutes we reached the top. We could feel the cold breeze in our bones and hear it whispering through the columns of the basilica. The view from here was amazing. Something one isn’t able to describe, it must be seen through your own eyes. A 360 degrees view above Rome, mixed with the morning fog.
All those steps made us very hungry, so, on the way down, we stopped by the bar in the terrace named “Bar Cupola San Pietro”. Now this, I had no idea it existed… a bar located in the dome of the world’s most famous cathedral?
As soon as we reached downstairs we entered the main area and ground floor of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a lot more crowded than when we first entered the Vatican at eight in the morning. In this floor, on the right side after entering the main door, you will find John Paul II’s Tomb.
Outside, the square was now getting very crowded, thousands of people from all around the world holding their flags. It was 11 a.m and we wanted to see the Pope, so we waited before heading to the Vatican’s Museum. At 12 p.m, Pope Francis showed up at the window for the Sunday blessing, waving at the people, just the way you watch it at the television. After some short minutes the speech was over and a large number of people started rushing to the museum which has free entry every last Sunday of the month.
Little di+d I know about the size of this museum when I entered the first room. Walking one room at a time, in the direction of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s greatest creation. Filled with paintings, sculptures and artifacts from different backgrounds, maps of the foundation of Rome and the world itself, ceilings painted with the smallest details, Musei Vaticani holds one of the largest collections of art.
As soon as we got to the Sistine Chapel we had “No Photos Allowed” signs and a few security guards shouting out loud “No photos, no videos!”, but yet it wasn’t enough to stop all the photographers. In the middle of the crowd, using your smartphone looking up and pressing a button is quite easy and fast. I couldn’t imagine why it was forbidden to shoot photos of this place, but later when I got home I searched online for the real reason and I found out that Nippon TV, a Japanese corporation, purchased the exclusive rights in the 80’s in exchange for a major restoration, and created this rule, which was later kept by the Vatican when the contract expired.
We were getting hungry and it was time to exit the walls of the Vatican City. Even though I am not planning on going back any time soon, I strongly recommend visiting the holy place at least once in your lifetime!
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