There is a common debate among experienced travelers of Rome -- which is better, Ancient Rome or Ecclesiastic Rome? As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, there is no 'right' answer, but to many devout Catholics, Vatican City is the preferred destination. However, one does not have to be a papist to appreciate the beauty and history of this extraordinary place.
Technically, Vatican City is a city-state unto itself, not part of Rome nor of Italy. Therefore, this site (correctly, I believe) treats Vatican City as equal in stature as the various other countries in Europe. On the other hand, Vatican carries little (apart from the religion) to distinguish itself from Italy -- it uses Italian currency and generally follows Italian law, except under circumstances where Italian law and holy dogma intersect, of course.
To those who are not Catholic, Vatican still a lot to offer -- especially in the form of pristine architecture and one of the most impressive collections of mural art and sculpture available anywhere in the world. And, there is always the opportunity to see the Pope, perhaps even celebrate Mass with him, and 800,000 of your closest friends.
Visitors to the Vatican are advised to get in line super early. The Vatican Museum (entrance to which is seen above) handles tens of thousands of visitors every day, and the line to get in (although fast moving) can circle several city blocks before 0800 hours. If you get there after 0730, expect to stand in line for a long time.
Also, be advised that conservative dress is compulsory. Women must wear dresses, and in some locations must bring along a sweater or other suitable clothing to cover the shoulders. Men must wear slacks and a collared shirt -- jeans are not allowed.
Once inside, you will be utterly amazed at the sight before you. There are over 2,000 ceiling paintings and murals, and 5,000 statues and sculptures inside. I show one example of ceiling art at right.
... and here is an example of a whole corner of a room filled with beautiful sculptures. I left the ladies in the picture to give an idea of the size of the room.
When shooting the murals (which is permitted), DO NOT USE FLASH! First off, you don't need it, as the rooms are all sufficient lit to begin with. Second, flash damages the paintings. Your camera will be confiscated.
To list the highlights of the Vatican Museum would take several megabytes. Of course, the place that most look forward to is the Sistene Chapel, near the end of the tour. The curators insist on complete silence when you enter (unfortunately, not all tourists oblige, but the curators try), and no photography. On the other hand, no photograph could possibly capture the glory of Michelangelo's masterful ceiling painting, anyway... you must see it for yourself.
St. Peter's Basilica (pictured at right) is after the end of the Museum tour, and is open to the public. The inside is absolutely astounding in size and artwork (again, no photography is permitted). Also, from the square you will see the window (off the picture to the right) where the Pope will occasionally appear and wave to the crowd. No, he wasn't there on this particular day.
Also, look for the Swiss guard -- the troop that protect the Pope and the Vatican. They are easy to spot, with their flambouyant traditional blue, yellow, and red uniforms.
The Vatican is an incredible place that, regardless of your beliefs, will leave its imprint upon you. Between its immense size/stature and its extraordinary collection of classical art, you will leave awestruck!Trip taken 2 September 2000 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin