ROME — Vatican City & Borgo

This is the world’s smallest sovereign state, covering an area of only one square kilometre. The Vatican has its own postal service, currency, newspaper, radio station and train station for freight only. It also has its own army — the Swiss Guards. This army was established by Pope Julius 11 in 1506 to defend the Papal States against invaders. The guards still wear the same uniform of red, yellow and blue and carry 15th century pikes and are trained to fight. The major landmark of the Vatican City is St Peter’s Basilica. It can be quite an overwhelming experience visiting the Vatican where you may have to line up for hours at all entrances because of its popularity especially in the summer months so it is best not too crowd too much into your day when you visit it.

The sights you will see in this area are:
St Peter’s Basilica
Piazza San Pietro
Vatican Museums
Sistine Chapel
Raphael Rooms
Picture Gallery
Map Gallery
Borgo

St Peters Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica
It took over 150 years to complete the Basilica and the most famous artists of the time were involved. Among these were Raphael Sanzio, Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Michelangelo who, during the rule of Pope Paul III, designed the dome and supervised its construction until his death in 1564. Over the course of the next thirty years the construction was directed by Giacomo Vignola and then by the architects Giacomo Della Porta and Domenico Fontana, who completed Michelangelo’s plan of the dome around 1588. The present St Peter’s Basilica which was completed in 1626 owes its design to Carlo Maderno. St Peter’s Basilica is 190 m long, the aisles are 58 m wide, the nave is 45.50 m high as far as the vault, the dome is about 136 m high as far as the cross and it can hold 20,000 people. Inside St Peter’s you will find some of the world’s most famous art works such as Michelangelo’s Pieta. You can take a lift up to the dome for some wonderful views over Rome or visit the Museo Storico Artistico (Treasury) to see some priceless artifacts and relics. You will also find the final resting place of the popes in the Vatican grottos but be prepared to queue.
To find out more about St Peter’s visit the following website: http://www.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html.

Piazza San Pietro

Piazza San Pietro
This was planned and constructed by Bernini between 1656 and 1667 to be used as a gathering place for Christians. In the square you will find two semi-circular colonnades consisting of four rows of columns. In the centre of the square is an obelisk brought to Rome from Egypt by Caligula. It is quite a spectacular sight especially when the Pope gives his weekly address from the balcony of the Vatican to the masses that gather here at noon on Sundays.

Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums contain masterpieces of painting, sculpture and other works of art collected by the popes through the centuries. Included in the museums are the famous Sistine Chapel; Picture Gallery; Raphael Rooms; and the Map Gallery;. Of course there are many others but you would need days and days to visit them all.

Traveller's Tip

It is worthwhile hiring an audio guide to help you navigate your way around the museums.

Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is probably the reason why most people visit the Vatican and you will have to be prepared to queue for a long time in the height of the tourist season to see Michaelangelo’s Genesis (Creation) frescos on the ceiling and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgement) on the end wall. These works of art have been magnificently restored to their original technicolour glory. This is also the room where the new pope is elected.

Raphael Rooms
The Raphael Rooms are the most visited after the Sistine Chapel and were the apartments of Pope Julius II. Raphael painted two of the rooms — Stanza della Segnatura (study) and Stanza d’Eliodoro (Waiting Room) and the two other rooms, Sala di Costantino (Reception Room) and Sala dei Chiaroscuri (Dining Room) were painted by students following his designs. You will find Raphael’s most famous work in the Study, La Scuola d’Atene (The School of Athens).

Picture Gallery
The Picture Gallery was built to house a collection of paintings belonging to various popes and started by Pope Pius VI. The works, covering a period from the Middle Ages to 1800, are set in chronological order in eighteen rooms. Included are works by Fra Angelico; Filippo Lippi; Benozzo Gozzoli; Fredrico Barocci; Guido Reni; Van Dyck; Giotto and Raphael as well as many others.

Map Gallery
This room takes its name from the 40 maps frescoed on the walls which represent the Italian regions and the papal properties at the time of Pope Gregory XIII. They were painted between 1580 and 1585 on drawings by Ignazio Danti, a famous geographer of the time.

Traveller's Tip

Be sure to visit the Map Gallery as it is superb.
Castel Sant’Angelo


Borgo
This is the area between the Vatican and the river Tiber. Here you will find the imposing Castel Sant’Angelo, which was built as a mausoleum for Hadrian and converted into a fortress for popes in the 6th century AD. You will also find the Ponte Sant’Angelo, which was the bridge built across the Tiber by Hadrian to allow him to access the Castel Sant’Angelo. Note the angels lined up along the side of the bridge.