Vatican City Tour: Ish Meets The Pope

As a Roman Catholic a once in a lifetime trip to Vatican City was in my bucket list. For non-Christians, the place is still worth a visit because it is steeped in history and magnificent architecture. This isn’t only a destination for the religious, it’s a great place to discover important parts of the history of human civilization. Here’s a list of highlights from a quick visit to the holy city.

1. St Peter’s Square: The square is perhaps the most famous landmark associated with Vatican City. However, it’s actually a part of Rome. It lies outside the borders of the city-state.That’s a good thing because most of Vatican city is actually off-limits to the public.

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Swiss Guards watch over the entrances to Vatican City

The square itself is like an open-air museum. In the middle stands a towering Egyptian obelisk which has now been popularized by the movie “The Da Vinci Code.” The relief sculptures on the ground also featured prominently in the movie. The obelisk, which was moved here from Egypt during the heydays of the Roman empire, also functions as a gigantic sundial.

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Ancient Egyptian obelisk

The square is designed by famous renaissance artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He also designed one of the fountains that flank the obelisk. The other fountain can be credited to Carlo Maderno.

One of Bernini’s relief sculptures featured in “The Da Vinci Code.”

2. St. Peter’s Basilica: Known as the burial place of St. Peter, this place is one of the holiest shrines in Christendom. after St. Peter, many successive Popes have found their final resting place here.

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A crowd gathers in St. Peter’s Square to await the Pope’s appearance.

In recent years, the Pope often holds mass and other religious functions from a platform erected in front of the church at St. Peter’s Square. This provides a better view for thousands of spectators.

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The main altar inside St. Peter’s Basilica
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The facade of St. Peter’s Basilica

Inside the church itself, there are hardly and pews. The space is open for visitors to roam around and admire the stunning collection of renaissance art and architecture.

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Intricate details on the ceiling of the main cupola
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The church is a museum in itself with a large collection of art on display

Read more about St. Peter’s Basilica here: Visita Iglesia: Ish Meets the Best Churches in Europe

3. Sistine Chapel: I now consider myself to be a seasoned traveler but I have had my fair share of mishaps due to carelessness and lack of research. It took me three trips to Rome/Vatican City to finally see the Sistine Chapel.

Because I didn’t do my research, I didn’t know that the world-famous Sistine Chapel can only be viewed as part of the Vatican Museum tour. On my first attempt to see it, I missed the hours of operation. It was winter and they apparently closed at 2pm. I didn’t have time to return the next day because I had to fly out of the country.

On my second attempt, I didn’t learn my lesson. I followed all the signs leading up to “Capella Sistina.” When I came across the entrance to the Vatican Museums, I promptly walked past it thinking that the chapel is my priority. After walking nearly half a kilometer around the circumference of Vatican City, an Italian woman that I spoke to along the way told me that I should have gone INSIDE the museum!

That’s my fist pump of victory after I made it to the chapel on my third attempt!

By the time I got back, they were no longer accepting visitors for the day. Ugh. Fast forward to a couple of years later, I finally made use of my dear friend, the internet. I booked a guided tour for early in the day and achieved my goal.

“The Creation of Adam” by Michaelangelo
“The Last Judgement” by Michaelangelo

The Sistine Chapel is quite small, compared to the grandeur of its reputation. One isn’t allowed to take photos inside so please pardon the sneaky shots (no flash). The famous paintings by Michaelangelo are all too familiar. Seeing them in person made them even more impressive, compared to the underwhelming effect that the Mona Lisa gives.

4. Vatican Museums: As I mentioned earlier, most of Vatican City is actually off-limits to the public. However, the museum tour provides more than enough to see. The extensive exhibit includes 54 galleries and thousands upon thousands of renowned classical and renaissance works.

Only a quarter of the museum’s works are actually on display at any given time. Even then, it could take days if you actually stop to admire each piece for a couple of seconds Make sure you get a guided tour to help point out the highlights of the exhibit!

Some of the sculptures on display at the Vatican Museums
The walls and ceilings of the Vatican Museums are valuable works of art in themselves.

Despite having been here several times before, Vatican City will always be part of my list every time I visit Europe. If you have any tips and secrets to share, please comment below!