If you are in Rome, then you should definitely stop in at St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. This is not just only the largest Christian church, but also the seat of the pope. No church comes close to this all magnificent building, which also houses some amazing artwork collected over the centuries.
If you feel like a bite of relaxation, take a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens. These gardens have been a place where popes have come to meditate since 1279. The tour today is very different from the first orchards planted in the Vatican Gardens. The gardens now take up half of the Vatican City.
St Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City
St Peter’s Basilica is the largest Christian church and is located in Vatican City, which is an enclave of Rome. When you arrive at the basilica, you will be greeted by pigeons flying in all directions and cooing about in front of the church in St Peter’s Square. From the square you will be able to see the balcony the pope gives speeches and from where he delivers his mass sermon to the public.
St Peter’s Basilica is built on the site where St Peter was crucified and buried – he was also considered to be the first pope.
This massive basilica is by no means disappointing from the outside. It’s grand and somewhat breathtaking if you are into history. The square is surrounded by huge colonnades that symbolize outstretched arms. On the balustrades of the colonnades is sculptures of saints. This beautiful square is decorated with fountains and an Egyptian monument transported to Rome in 37 AD.
The basilica’s main door which dates back to 1455 is covered in scenes from St Peter and St Paul. The interior is quite magnificent and you can’t help but feel in awe at the architecture and the grandeur of the building. Walk upon marble-lined floors and cast your eyes to the ceiling that is filled with frescoes. There is a Latin cross from the 1600s and the statues and mosaics are a bit overwhelming. The nave is filled with pillars depicting various saints. Facing the altar, in the first chapel visitors will see Michelangelo’s masterpiece Pietá. This artwork dates 1499 and was completed when he was just 24-years-old.
When you make your way back to the nave, take a look at the statue of St Peter. Walk over to 4 statues reflecting moments from Christ’s life: St.Longius, the soldier who pierced Christ’s side, St Veronica – the woman who whipped Christ’s face while he carried his cross and St Andrew who was crucified in Greece. There is also a statue of St Helena, Constantine’s mother. The tomb of St Peter is located beneath Barberini’s monument.
The impressive dome of the basilica was constructed between 1603 and 1613. Look up and see the gold inscription which reads: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and I will give you the keys to heaven.” Visitors can climb to the top of the dome. You can climb a set of stairs all the way or ride the elevators part of the way, climbing a flight of stairs the rest of the way to the top. From the top of the dome you can enjoy picturesque views of the Vatican and Rome.
After you have explore the interior of St Peter’s Basilica, head to the Vatican Grottos. The grottos contain tombs of kings, queens and popes. The earliest of these dates to the 10th century. The tomb of Pope John Paul II who died in April 2005 is also located at the grottos. It is not unusual to find devote Catholics weeping at the tombs.
Make your way to St Peter’s Treasury where you will get a glimpse of ornaments, statues and gifts given to the pope by royalty.
To see more of papal history, go to the Vatican Museums. Here you will see various pieces of artwork collected by popes over the years. Feast your eyes on the incredible Sistine Chapel, Chapel of Beato Angelico, the Rafael Rooms and Borgia Apartment.
Don’t miss this wonderful site while you are in Rome. It’s a must for lovers of art and history and of course devote Catholics. Take a guided tour to enjoy this attraction to its fullest.
Need to know information about the Vatican
- St Peter’s Basilica: Open every day from 7am to 7pm (April – September). And in October to March from 7am to 6pm. Audio guides can be rented at the entrance to the basilica.
- The Treasury: Open 9am to 6.15pm (April-September). And in October to March from 9am to 5.15pm. Gain entrance from inside the basilica.
- Visit the Dome: Visits to the Dome are allowed every day. From 8am to 6pm (April – September). And in October to March, 7am to 5pm. Entry is at the portico of St Peter’s Basilica.
- Vatican Grottos: Open every day from 7am to 6pm (April-September). And in October to March, 7am to 5pm. Gain entrance at the transept of St Peter’s Basilica.
- Vatican Museums: Open weekdays from 10am to 1.45am during November – February (except during the Christmas period when they are open from 8.45am to 4.45pm). March – October the Museums are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4.45pm and Saturdays from 10am to 2.45pm. On the last Sunday of each month there is free entry to the museums from 9am to 1.45pm. Entrance to the Museums is not possible from 75 minutes before closing time.
Located on the banks of the Tiber River, the Castel Sant’Angelo first served as a mausoleum, then functioned as a fortress. Later the building was converted to papal residences and then functioned as a barracks and military prison. Nowadays, Castel Sant’Angelo is a national museum. Legend has it that the castle got its name after an archangel appeared on top of the fortress in 590.
Enter the beautiful rooms of what once were papal apartments and get to see exquisite frescoes. Below these apartments are prison cells which even has a torture chamber. On display at the museum is a collection of paintings, sculptures and weapons. The views of Rome from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo are mind-blowing.