Vatican City Travel Guide

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Vatican City Overview

Both a country within a city and a city within a country, the Catholic heartland of the Vatican lies entirely within the boundaries of ancient Rome, and is guarded by the heavily trained and garishly clad Swiss Guard. It’s also one of the countries least likely to ask you for your passport on entering, the smallest sovereign state in the world, and perhaps the country with the highest density of tourists compared to residents of any on earth.

The independence of the Vatican is actually relatively new, established in 1929 in an agreement between Mussolini and the Pope which gave the Catholic leadership – at the time a newly landless elite – control of the area around St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, as well as several un-adjoined sites around the city.

Start by trying to find the point on the Piazza where you can see only one row of columns all around you (there are in fact five), before climbing the steps to St. Peter’s, comfortably the largest basilica in the world, and coated with art and monuments painted by the Italian greats, including Michelangelo. Saunter up the dome, and you can stare down over a mighty city panorama, or dip below the high alter on a tour and explore the relics hidden deep below.

The Sistine Chapel – the spot where a new Pope is elected that then becomes his private chapel – is home to more masterpieces from Michelangelo and Boticelli, as well as a sensational assortment of 15th century frescoes, while the Vatican Museum is a selection of treasures gifted to the church, and includes exhibits from Greece and Egypt alongside a startling range of significant Roman art. You could easily wile away hours here; the Vatican on the whole is a simply incredible artistic heartland.

This particular country can be accessed by local bus or subway from the more touristy parts of Rome, and it’s also a massive part of the charm of Italy’s capital. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the majesty of a destination like this, which resonates with feeling at every turn and stuns with its architecture and art.

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