Visiting the Vatican

Visiting the Vatican

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

Whether you are a devout Catholic or not, Vatican City in Rome is a fantastic place to visit for some serious world history. Established in 1929, Vatican City is an independent city-state within Rome. It is currently ruled by Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Covering just 110 acres with a population of around 1,000, it is the smallest city-state in the world. Though small in size, it packs quite a punch when it comes to some of the world’s most astounding paintings and sculptures. Within Vatican City, you will find the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. 

A brief history

The Sistine Chapel was named for patron Pope Sisto IV della Rovere who wanted to build a new area to house papal court meetings. Construction on the chapel lasted from 1475-1483 and it is dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. From its arched windows to a barrel-vaulted roof, this stunning piece of architecture is nothing short of magnificent, with mosaic pavement from the 1400s still intact! Florentine painters like Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Signorelli and of course, Michaelangelo, made the Chapel famous with their immense skills. I could drone on and on about the incredible detail this chapel holds, but instead, I think you should just see it for yourself! Open Monday - Saturday from 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

The Sistine Chapel | Photo by Rui Baiao

St. Peter’s Basilica originally dates back to the reign of Emperor Constantine, but the current structure construction began in 1506. Emperor Constantine had the structure built to make a tomb for St. Peter. Until the early 1300s, pilgrims would flock to the basilica to worship at the tomb of the “Prince of the Apostles.” Donato Bramante was in charge of the new basilica design in 1506. In 1547 Michaelangelo was commissioned to draw up a new plan. Carlo Maderno and Glan Lorenxo Bernini also played a role in the design. The dome was finally completed in 1590. The basilica is one of four major basilicas in the world. The interior is decorated with marble, reliefs, sculptures and gilding. Many popes have their tombs here, which are considered artworks themselves. St. Peter’s Basilica not only dominates the Rome skyline, but it also dominates as one of the holiest sites of Christianity and the Catholic tradition. Add the UNESCO World Heritage Site title to the laundry list of reasons you should be booking a flight to this outstanding location right now! Open in the summer from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. and in the winter from 7 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. 

St. Peter's Basilica | Photo by tomas1111

The Vatican Museums are home to works of art and human genius on display, but there’s so much more than just paintings and sculptures. Here you’ll also find archaeological objects of art and relics of Pontifical Military Corps. The Vatican Museums collectively are one of the largest museum complexes in the world due to art being continuously collected by popes since the Renaissance. The museums are open Monday - Saturday from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., last entry at 4 p.m. Open last Sunday of the month from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m., final entry at 12:30 p.m. Tours can be booked online for the museums, villas and gardens and archeological areas. 

Vatican Museum's main entrance | Photo by Inna Felker

Quick facts

  • To enter the basilica, make sure knees and a shoulder are covered, pants and long sleeve shirts preferred. 
  • St. Peter’s Square and Basilica are free, however, there will be long lines to get into the basilica unless you purchase skip the line tours.
  • You can climb to the top of the St. Peter’s Basilica dome, but there is a fee of 10 euros.
  • Skip the line tours are totally worth it.
  • No photographs are allowed in the Sistine Chapel, which is at the end of the Vatican Museum route. You cannot buy tickets only for the chapel. 
  • A non-guided, open tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel is 17 euros. 

There is so much history wrapped up in one small location. Plan to spend the day learning about the artists who spent lifetimes creating these magnificent buildings and looking at the priceless objects amassed by the popes in the museums. Start planning your epic trip to Rome and the Vatican today!


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