Rome/Vatican

Capital Vatican City
Currency Euro (EUR)
Population 842 (July 2014 est.)
Electricity 230V/50Hz (European or Italian plug)
Country code +39
Time zone UTC +1

The Vatican City (Italian: Città del Vaticano; Latin: Civitas Vaticana) is the world center of Catholicism. As a district of Rome, it encompasses the Vatican City State (Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano; Latin: Status Civitatis Vaticanae), as well as the surrounding Roman neighborhoods of Borgo and Prati. This small slice of the city is packed with more history and artwork than most cities in the world, and indeed many countries.

Understand

The Vatican City is the temporal seat of the Pope, head of the worldwide Catholic Church. Situated within the city of Rome the Vatican is the world's smallest state. You may also hear the term Holy See (Italian: Santa Sede; Latin: Sancta Sedes), which is used to refer to the Diocese of Rome—that is, the ecclesiastical and administrative authority of the Pope, rather than the sovereign governmental entity that is the Vatican City State.

History

Vatican City is all that remains of the Papal States, the former temporal land holdings of the Pope. Over the years, this territory varied considerably in extent, and may be traced back to AD 756 with the "Donation of Pepin". However the popes had been the de facto rulers of Rome and the surrounding province since the fall of the Roman Empire and the retreat of Byzantine power in Italy. Popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid 19th century, when many of the Papal States were seized by the newly united Kingdom of Italy. In 1870, the pope's holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed.

Disputes between a series of "prisoner" popes and Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City, granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy, recognized the full sovereignty of the Vatican and established its territorial extent. In 1984, the agreement was revised to eliminate Catholicism's position as the only state religion of Italy, but the essential features of the agreement remain in force today.

Diplomacy

The Holy See — the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church which are housed in Vatican City — has diplomatic recognition from the overwhelming majority of countries in the world and has permanent observer status in numerous international organizations, including the United Nations General Assembly. However, though there are Papal nuncios (equivalent to ambassadors) in many foreign capitals, the Vatican does not house any diplomatic missions; instead, foreign embassies to Italy that are in other parts of Rome double as missions to the Vatican.

Terrain

The Vatican is between 19 m (62 ft) and 75 m (246 ft) above sea level. With a circumference of only 3.2 km (2 mi), the Vatican City itself is smaller than some shopping malls. Most of the area consists of the Vatican Gardens.

Population

Although 1,000 people live within Vatican City, many dignitaries, priests, nuns, guards, and 3,000 lay workers live outside the Vatican. Officially, there are about 800 citizens, making it the smallest nation by population on the globe. The Vatican even fields a soccer team composed of the Swiss Guard, who hold dual citizenship.

Get in

Although the Vatican City is not a signatory to the Schengen agreement, there are no immigration formalities involved in crossing the border from Italy to Vatican City and vice versa, making it a de facto part of the Schengen area. Entry to the Vatican is as simple as travel to any other part of Rome.

Map of the Vatican District

By taxi/bus/foot

It's easy to get to the Vatican by taxi, bus or by foot from Romethe closest neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber being Ponte. Take the Metro line A to Cipro for the Museums, and Ottaviano for St. Peter's. A fun trip is to take the tram to Piazza del Risorgimento. From Termini and Central Rome, the #64 bus goes right to the southern end of the Vatican, but it is filled with pickpockets so guard your valuables!

By train

Not known by most, the Vatican has its own train station. It is rarely ever used. Historically, it has been used by the Pope for special travel on Italian rail or to send off papal remains. By special arrangement with the Italy State railway, ordinary people (usually train enthusiasts) can arrange to arrive and leave the Vatican via the Vatican Station. This requires quite some time to arrange and is not remotely cheap.

Get around

With 109 acres (44 hectares) within its walls, the Vatican is easily traveled by foot; however, most of this area is inaccessible to tourists. The most popular areas open to tourists are the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican Museums.

Talk

See also: Italian phrasebook

Latin enthusiasts rejoice! There is one country in the world that holds Latin (in addition to Italian) as its official language, and the able traveller is invited to check out the urban legend that you can indeed get by within the city state only using the "dead" language. Italian, however, remains the more useful of the two. English is widely spoken here, as are most major languages of the world.

See

St Peter's Basilica

  St Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro). The basilica is open Apr-Sep: daily 07:00-19:00 and Oct-Mar: daily 07:00-18:00. It is closed Wednesday mornings for papal audiences. The centre of the Catholic world, this magnificent basilica with its Michelangelo-designed dome has an awe-inspiring interior. This place is huge, but everything is in such proportion that the scale escapes you. To get in, you will first go through a metal detector (after all, this is an important building). Don't be put off if there is a long line in front of the detectors; the whole thing moves quickly. The line is usually shorter in the morning and during mid week. A strict dress code is enforced, so have shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and take your hats off. Women must wear scarves or something to cover their heads. You might be required to check your bags at the entrance. Photos are allowed to be taken inside, but not with a flash. Free admission.

Baldacchino and Dome, St. Peter's Basilica

Construction of the basilica began in 1506 and it was not completed until the end of 1626. Thus it spans two architectural periods. The overall design by Bramante and Michelangelo is Late Renaissance but the façade designed by Maderno and the interior, which owes much to Bernini, are both Baroque in style. The interior is lavishly decorated and contains a large number of tombs of popes and others. There are also several sculptures in side chapels, including Michelangelo's Pietà.

Mass is held daily at 8:30, 10:00, 11:00, Noon, and 17:00 from Monday to Saturday, and Sundays and religious holidays at 08:30, 10:30, 11:30, 12:10, 13:00, 16:00, & 17:30. Visits to the basilica are still possible while Mass is in progress.

Free 90-minute tours leave daily from the Tourist Information at 2:15PM, many days also at 3PM. Telephone: 06-6988-1662. €5 audio-guides can be rented from the checkroom.

Tours are the only way to see the Vatican Gardens, €12, book at least a day in advance by calling 06-6988-4676, Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday at 10AM, depart from tour desk and finish in St. Peter's Square. To tour the Necropolis and Saint's Tomb, call the excavations office at least a week in advance at 06-6988-5318, €10 for 2 hour tour, office open Monday to Saturday 9AM-5PM.

If you want to see the pope, you can either see a usual blessing from his apartment at noon on Sunday, just show up (but in the summer he gives it from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 25 km from Rome) or you can go to the more formal Wednesday appearance. The pope arrives in the popemobile at 10:30AM to bless crowds from a balcony or platform, except in winter, when he speaks in the Aula Paolo VI Auditorium next to the square. You can easily watch from a distance, or get a free ticket, which you must get on the Tuesday before. There are a number of ways:

Interior of St. Peter's Basilica

The pope may occasionally be away on a state visit, however.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's

Most of the Piazza di San Pietro is actually an oval. There is a small, almost rectangular section immediately in front of the St Peter's and an opening to the Via della Conciliazione opposite the basilica. There are two stones (one on each side of the square) between the obelisk and the fountains. If you stand by either of these stones, the four columns on the colonnades merge into one. In total there are 284 columns. When Bernini came to design the piazza he had to incorporate the obelisk and a fountain designed by Maderno, both of which were already there. The symmetry of the square was enhanced by the addition of another fountain, designed by Bernini.

The obelisk in the middle of the square was transported from Egypt to Rome in 37 A.D. by the Emperor Gaius Caligula to mark the spine of a circus eventually completed by the Emperor Nero. The so-called Circus of Nero was parallel to and to the south of the east-west axis of the current Basilica. It was here that Saint Peter was killed in the first official persecutions of Christians undertaken by Nero beginning in 64 A.D. and continuing until his death in 67 A.D. The original location of the obelisk is marked with a plaque located near the sacristy on the south side of the basilica, where it remained until it was moved in 1586 A.D. by Pope Sixtus V to its present location.

During the Middle Ages, the bronze ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. When it was relocated it was opened and found to be empty. The present reliquary, the Chigi Star in honor of Pope Alexander VII, was added containing pieces of the "True Cross". This is the only Egyptian obelisk in Rome that has never toppled since being erected in Ancient Rome and is the second largest Egyptian obelisk after the Lateran obelisk. The obelisk nearly shattered while it was being moved. Upon orders of the pope, no one was to speak a word while it was being moved otherwise they would be excommunicated. However, a sailor shouted to water the ropes to prevent them from burning. He was forgiven and in gratitude for saving the day, the palms for Palm Sunday still come from the sailor's home town of Bordighera in Portugal. The moving of this obelisk was celebrated in engravings during its time to commemorate the Renaissance's recovery and mastery of ancient knowledge.

Until the Fascist era visitors approached St. Peter's Square from the Tiber River by two narrow parallel streets that did not provide the same views as seen today. Mussolini dictated that a warren of poor houses be knocked down to make way for the Via della Conciliazione and the new buildings alongside it. The name of the street commemorates the Lateran Treaty of 1929, under which the Vatican was recognized as an independent state by the Italian government.

The Vatican Museum

Double Spiral Staircase, exit of Vatican Museum

  The Vatican Museum, Viale Vaticano. Mon-Sat 09:00-18:00 (ticket office closes at 16:00), Sun closed (except last Sunday of the month, when it is free, crowded, and open 09:00-14:00 with last admission at 12:30). The museum is closed for holidays on: Jan 1 & 6, Feb 11 & 22, Mar 19 & 28, Jun 29, Aug 15, Nov 1, and Dec 8 & 26. One of the greatest art galleries in the world, the museum is most famous for its spiral staircase, the Raphael Rooms and the exquisitely decorated Sistine Chapel famous for Michelangelo's frescoes. Much of the museum is organized so you follow a one-way route leading to Raphael's rooms and the Sistine Chapel but there is much more to see as well. If you are very short of time, it will take at least an hour to visit the Sistine Chapel. €16 adults, €8 concessions.

The Museum is usually the most hot and crowded on Saturdays, Mondays, the last Sunday of the month, rainy days, and days before or after a holiday but, basically, it is crowded every day and if you want to see the gems that it contains you will have to tolerate the crowds or sign up to very expensive private tours after the museum is closed to everyone else . Dress code: no short shorts or bare shoulders. There are often lengthy queues from the entrance that stretch around the block in the early morning. Non-guided visitors should join the queue that is to the left as you are facing the entrance; the queue on the right is intended for guided group visitors. Two-hour English tours cost €31 and includes museum admission, and leave at 10:30, Noon and 14:00 in summer, and 10:30 and 11:15 in winter. To reserve, book online. Other contact details: for groups visiteguidategruppi.musei@scv.va, for individuals: visiteguidatesingoli.musei@scv.va, tel. +39 06 69883145 or +39 06 69884676, fax +39 06 69873250.

With a booking you skip the queue and enter through the exit, next to entry, to go to the guided tours desk. There are also audio-guides available from the top of the escalator/ramp for €7. Two people to share a single unit plugging in a standard set of earphones.

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel
It is not allowed to take pictures or talk loudly in the Sistine Chapel (although everybody flagrantly violates these rules). While one may agree with this policy or not, the visit would be a much more pleasant one without the guards having to yell out Shh! or No foto e no video!! every two minutes. The bottom line is: respect the rules and let every visitor enjoy the best of the experience, even if no one else does. If you try to sneak a picture (again, like everyone does), you'll get a bad photograph and a screaming guard as your reward.

It would be a big mistake to just visit Raphael's rooms and the Sistine Chapel and then leave the museum. The Pinacoteca should not be missed. Among other works of art, it contains one of the relatively few paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, the unfinished St. Jerome in the Wilderness, three paintings by Raphael, a tryptich by Giotto, Caravaggio's Entombment and works by Perugino and Filippo Lippi.

Swiss Guard

Swiss Papal Guards

Other

Castel Sant'Angelo and Ponte Sant'Angelo

Do

While guidebooks do their best to provide an aid for viewing the collections inside the Vatican, a guided tour is a far better way to make sure you get the most out of your visit.

Vatican Tours

Guided tours are provided by the Vatican itself for the cost of 30.00 Euro. These may be requested in advance by fax from one month to one week before the requested tour date, or online from two months before the requested tour date. The Vatican is notorious for failing to reply via fax, and repeat requests are often necessary. Full details on booking such tours are available at the Vatican web site.

Go to Mass

If you're Catholic (or even if you're not), you can go to religious services in any of the four Basilicas of the City, including St. Peter's. All four have Mass daily, some hourly during daylight hours (generally 7AM–3PM).

Buy

ATM in Latin language

The Vatican has a unique, non-commercial economy that is supported financially by contributions (known as Peter's Pence) from Roman Catholics throughout the world. It also sells postage stamps, tourist mementos, and publications. Fees for admission to museums also go into church coffers.

The Vatican euro coins are the rarest in circulation among the European countries, so don't spend them! They are worth a lot more than their face value.

The Vatican is the only country in the world where ATM instructions are available in Latin.

Eat

The Vatican Museums have a reasonable cafeteria style restaurant, a bar, and a pizzeria, all of which are open during museum opening hours, and until about one hour after closing. See also Rome.

Prati

Sleep

Unless you count the Pope as a good friend (and he concurs), there are no lodging opportunities in the Vatican City itself. However, there are many hotels in the surrounding Vaticano neighborhood of Rome.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Mail a letter - since Vatican City is a separate sovereign state, it also has its own postal system, which is generally considered to be a bit more reliable than that of surrounding Italy. Send a postcard to your friends and it will be postmarked from Vatican City.

Respect

Since Vatican City is a Papal state, respect for the Roman Catholic Church and its practices and doctrine is encouraged.

Sleeveless shirts and short pants or skirts are not permitted within the border of the Vatican.

Go next

Routes through Vatican

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