A trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without visiting The Vatican City! It is definitely a must-visit despite the long queue. Even the rain couldn’t stop us. 😋
Since we stayed in Trastevere area, we only needed to take a short train ride from Trastevere station to San Pietro station and continued for another 10-15 minutes by foot from San Pietro station to the Vatican City (depends on how fast you walk, though!).
The Vatican City
This independent micro-state is home to tons of fine arts, relics and other historic wonders. We can even start seeing them once we go past the colonnades surrounding Piazza San Pietro. Like the 25.5 m Egyptian obelisk standing right in the middle of the square. It was Emperor Caligula who arranged this obelisk to be shipped to Rome in 37 AD and then placed in the famous circus (the current location of the Vatican and where many early Christians were murdered by the government).
Saint Peter’s Basilica
There are entrance fees applied to the museums and other areas, but getting inside Saint Peter’s Basilica is free. So if you are on a strict budget when visiting the Vatican or just simply don’t have much time, then going inside the church is a must. The security here was as strict as in the airport. I’m talking about X-ray machines and metal detectors with security guards (and the Swiss Guards!) watching us like eagles. They would also conduct further physical checks if needed. And food and drinks were not allowed inside, so we finished our chips and drinks while queuing up (there was plenty of time to do that 😁).
Some interesting facts:
- The current Saint Peter’s Basilica is actually the second rebuild of the older version that was built on the same site in the 4th century AD after the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity. The rebuild involved famous names like Donato Bramante, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Carlo Maderno. There were actually many more involved considering the construction took around 120 years to complete (1506-1626)!
- It is not a cathedral despite being one of the most popular and largest churches in the world and the place where important events are held. The cathedral of Rome – the official seat of the Bishop of Rome a.k.a the Pope – is Basilica di San Giovanni di Laterano (St. John of Lateran), about 5 km southwest off Vatican.
The interior of the church is so astonishing, probably the most amazing that I have ever seen until now. The walls and ceilings are full of intricate details that could not be captured entirely by any cameras. The one that immediately caught my attention was il Baldacchino, a 28-meter-canopy with four beautifully carved and decorated bronze columns right under the dome and over the main altar.
Right under the Baldacchino is the tomb of Saint Peter the Apostle, who was crucified upside down and died in the Circus of Nero. During an excavation in the 1950s, a set of bones were found. And although the tests showed that the bones did belong to a man in his 60s, the archaeologists in the excavation team did not have a unanimous opinion about it. Some of them were not convinced if those were really Saint Peter’s.
There are more tombs / mausoleums underneath Vatican in addition to Saint Peter’s tomb… and these are actually open to visitors. By special permission, of course, from “Fabbrica di San Pietro” (check your ticket if it already includes a tour to Vatican Necropolis).
The Artworks in the Basilica
Four big statues of the venerated figures stand majestically in the niches of the piers under the dome around the Baldacchino: Saint Veronica, Saint Helena, Saint Andrew the Apostle and Saint Longinus. By the way, there is a cathedral dedicated to Saint Andrew in Amalfi that also keeps his remains since the 13th century AD. And the last one (Longinus) was the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus on the cross with his spear and later became one of Jesus’ followers.
In the apse of the building, right in front of il Baldacchino is Cathedra Petri or “Chair/Throne of Peter”. This wooden chair was believed to be the throne of Saint Peter, the first Pope of the church. But according to the later findings, the wood used in some parts of the chair dated back to the Byzantine times. We won’t be able to see the wooden chair anyway as it is now enclosed with a grandiose gilded bronze sculpture by Bernini.
Oh, while the basilica is open to people who just want to look around, there is an area to the left of the Baldacchino (Left/South Transept) used for the daily mass. I didn’t feel like praying at that time, so I went to the gift shop instead. 😁 I found one behind the door near the Left Transept, under Monument Pius VIII, that leads to the Sacristy & Treasury areas.
And of course, the (probably) most famous work of art in Saint Peter’s Basilica that a decent viewing of it takes quite a struggle: Pietà by Michelangelo. He created it from a block of marble when he was still 24. Thanks to the crazy guy who vandalized the statue in 1972, it is now protected by bullet-proof glass (in addition to the railing), so we could only view this masterpiece from meters away.