The city of Rome and its environs has two distinct sections; one contains the ancient ruins, the Roman Forum, triumphal arches, and remains of temples and homes. The other is a more religious enclave and is known as Vatican City. Vatican City is actually a country in its own right, located “right down the road” from the ruins of ancient Rome. Besides being the Catholic Church’s seat of authority, Vatican City has a wealth of attractions to keep the anxious traveler busy for quite a few hours (or days, if you’re lucky enough to have them!)
For those who want to take the less-traveled route, and those who have a sense of the bizarre, check out the Roman Necropolis. This eerie cemetery mixes the pomp and splendor of Vatican City with Rome’s shadowy past. Be warned that sunlight-lovers will most likely not choose to spend their time here; the Necropolis is located underneath a very famous church known as St. Peter’s though few people probably know exactly where this cemetery is. You will not be allowed to visit unless you make reservations for a tour early enough. You will find old tombs, ancient streets, and sculptures, and maybe some sensations you didn’t plan.
When you “return” to the modern world and are already at St. Peter’s Basilica, you will probably want to take advantage of your location and check out this place known around the world. The first thing you should do is have your camera handy; such beautiful places should always be captured on film (or memory card). Check out the basilica’s official website to find out if it will open at the time of day you plan to visit. If you want to attend a special Mass, also find out if this can be done and when. Keep in mind that things like this are always heavily attended and you’ll have to plan carefully.
There is a dress code at St. Peter’s and you should check into this as well. Visitors can actually walk to the huge round “duomo” or dome at the top of St. Peter’s, but be warned; there are over 300 steps. For those not particularly athletically-inclined, don’t be afraid to make good use of the elevator. You can shop and eat here as well. A seperate ticket is needed to climb. If the panorama of the city doesn’t entrance you, then surely the views inside the bottom part of the basilica will. Known for stunning architecture and artwork that surpasses anyone’s wildest dreams, St. Peter’s is a treat for anyone lucky enough to explore its halls.
Another famous Vatican City sight is the Sistine Chapel, known in Italian as Cappella Sistina. It was constructed in the 15th century and is the famous home of Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece. As for the exterior, if you look carefully at certain walls and towers you will notice a strong resemblance to Roman and early Christian structures throughout Italy and the Holy Land; the plain color of these walls is alleviated by the bright decoration within. Again, you will need to discover when the chapel is open, if any special rules apply, and if any special events will be held at a particular time.
For a fascinating museum that rivals every learning experience in the world, stop by the Vatican Museum. Actually a collection of different museums, it is home to many artifacts from ancient cultures, religious history, and other great categories. The Vatican Museum is a huge complex, so keep in mind that you will need enough time to find all you want to see. You probably will not be able to see everything in one day (or in several) so decide what you want to see most. The Egyptian Museum, Etruscan Museum, Raphael’s Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel rooms are some offshoots of the complex. The Etruscan Museum is particularly interesting because history shows that it may have been from the ancient Etruscan culture that the Roman Empire sprang.
St. Peter’s Square is definitely worth a visit but it is almost always congested. The views of famous buildings and hallowed ground will make for some great memories, and cameras are always flashing here. Consider grabbing a bite to eat and finding a quiet (well, at least semi-quiet) part of the square to overlook St. Peter’s while you relax). A map is helpful in determining what’s where, and identifying each building you see.
Most people traveling to Vatican City would consider it a great honor to see Pope Benedict XVI in person. The Vatican website explains when speeches and appearances occur. Check out the details and find out if you will be visiting at a time when this is happening.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer