When in Rome, visit the Vatican City
No visit to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican City. With all there is to see and do in St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, you’d do well to allocate an entire day to your visit. You’ll want to spend at least 4 nights in Rome and there is no shortage of accommodation options, from 5* hotels for the luxury traveller, or Rome holiday apartments for budget-conscious traveller. We were fortunate enough to stay in the Visconti Palace hotel, courtesy of our travel club and found it to be a great, central base.
Taking an organized tour of the Vatican is undoubtedly the best way to see this historical and religious landmark. You’ll get to bypass the inordinately (even in winter) long queues and a professional tour guide will give you far more insight and knowledge than you could possibly gain on your own or through an audio tour.
Our tour started in the Vatican Museums, staring at the most impressive collection of marble statues and busts. It is estimated that there are so many treasures in the Vatican, that if you spent just 60 seconds looking at each one, it would take you 12 years to view each piece.
The statue of Laocoön and His Sons was particularly fascinating. Estimated to date back to 25BC, the statue was unearthed in 1506, with Laocoön’s right arm missing. Michelangelo (yes, he of the Sistine Chapel) proposed that the missing right arm was bent behind his head. Raphael (yes, the Renaissance painter) adjudged that the right arm was extended upwards and a replacement, extended arm was attached to the statue.
In 1906, an archaeologist discovered a bent marble arm in a Roman building yard and, believing it to be Laocoön’s arm, he donated it to the Vatican Museums. It lay in the museum storerooms for 50 years until the Vatican decided that perhaps, after all, Michelangelo had been right and affixed the bent arm to the statue.
Many of the museum rooms are dedicated to particular items, for example the Map Room, where the map of Venice is exactly correct, even though it was first drawn hundreds of years ago. Interestingly, each map was drawn with the assumption that Italy was the centre of the universe so many maps are “upside down” relative to what they should be.
A great addition to our tour was the chance to enter the “Vatacombs”, the underground part of the Vatican where the tombs of former Popes are located. Unsurprisingly, no photographs were allowed in this area and for many people this is perhaps the most religious part of the tour. Yes, even I kneeled at the tomb of Pope John Paul II and crossed myself!
Both the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica are highlights of the Vatican City. The size of St Peter’s is awe-inspiring and the focal points are both the central dome and the massive baldacchino, designed by Bernini. An optional extra to most tours is to take the lift and then climb the steps to the roof of St Peters. Affording 360° views of Rome, most impressive are the statues of Christ, 11 of the Apostles and John the Baptist. The sheer size of these statues makes you realize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
Be prepared to be amazed by all the Vatican has to offer and set aside at least an entire day to explore all the treasures – you’ll be glad you did!