Although my decision-making process regarding what days to write about is generally pretty haphazard (read: non-existent… it’s a blindfold, spin, & point situation), Pope Benedict’s recent abdication had me thinking of our own visit to the Vatican City a few years ago. (It also has me wondering whether he can still insist on being addressed as His Holiness… that’s a bonus I wouldn’t be keen on losing.)
Day#10,357: First order of business: dressing the part of the pious. Despite the infernal August heat and the plagues of tourists in inappropriate shorts and tank tops, the primary sights within the Vatican are first and foremost places of worship. Besides, when the Pope has to wear those heavy robes in the summer sun, he’s sure as… heck… gonna make everyone else go Dress Code: Worship Conservative.
One of the most-visited spots within the Vatican is St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world.
Completed in 1628, the Basilica was designed by a number of the Renaissance’s most exalted artists & architects- including Bernini, Michelangelo, and Raphael. (That’s 2 out of 4 Ninja Turtles, if you’re counting.) It’s a place of inconceivable history, weight, and importance, and yet, I was unprepared for just how awe-inspiring St. Peter’s would be.
It’s breathtaking. Massive, serene, tall enough that the interior is almost hazy… no matter your religious persuasion, you can’t help but feel reverent within St. Peter’s.
Even as an admitted heathen, I so enjoy visiting places of worship because they tend to inspire appreciation, solemnity, peace, and thankfulness. I couldn’t begin to imagine how someone adherent to the Catholic faith would feel making a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s.
In addition to viewing St. Peter’s from the earth on up, you can get a heavens-down view, too.
An elevator ride along the outside of the Basilica takes you up to the dome where you can look down into St. Peter’s and also out on the Vatican City.
Like the city version of Russian nesting dolls, the Vatican sits entirely surrounded by the city of Rome. I was surprised to learn that it was only established as a sovereign city-state in 1929! The Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world (with a population of only 800 souls), and you really can see the entire country from the top of the Basilica.
Coming down from the top of the Basilica, I was equally excited for the Vatican’s secular attraction: when you mail letters from the city-state’s Post Office, they’ll be postmarked with a special Vatican City stamp! Eeee! Having amassed an impressively random collection of postcards featuring cats near classic Roman tourist attractions (it doesn’t take much to amuse me: Calico Tours the Colliseum… Alley Cat Ponders Trevi Fountain at Night… Tabby Cat With Gelato), I was all ready to send friends & family a little feline love with a hallowed twist.
There was one more consecrated space to visit within the Vatican: the Apostolic Palace, home to the Pope and the Vatican Museum (which encompasses the famous Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”).
The Sistine Chapel is where conclave is held, and where the cardinals will soon gather to determine ex-Pope Benedict’s successor. (From the Confessional: I had no idea that’s what the Sistine Chapel was used for until I read Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” whilst on our Italy trip. Penance for poor taste in literature and lack of religious knowledge. Ten Hail Marys.)
Lest you think the Sistine Chapel is all there is worth seeing, the Vatican Museum houses all the works of art amassed by the Roman Catholic Church over the years.
Right before we left the Vatican City, Troublemaker Mr. M may have posed for a picture in St. Peter’s Square with little finger devil horns, and I was a bit nervous we’d get chased out of the city walls by the pantalooned Swiss Guard. Although I must say, this popular souvenir seemed a lot more sacrilegious.
Having been relatively angelic most of the day, I deemed us worthy of Rome’s most sinfully delicious treat: gelato!
The Tabby With Gelato postcard had been trying to tell me all along- Gioliti’s gelato was so divine, we may or may not have returned to the scene of the crime on our last day in Rome.
For being the smallest country in the world, Vatican City contains a ridiculous wealth of art, beauty, and history… and the city will soon be ushering in another chapter with the nomination of a brand new pope.
Juuust in case he’s looking for a bit of advice on his first day in office: it might be time to abolish the papal lollipop.
Details of the Day:
Wardrobe: Modesty dictates that your knees and shoulders should be covered while in St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. You really will be turned back if you’re too scantily clad.
The Sistine Chapel: The Sistine Chapel is located at the very end of the Vatican Museum. Make sure you leave yourself at least an hour before closing time to make it all the way through.
Believe me, it takes that long just to elbow your way through the other hordes of people that will inevitably be visiting at the same time as you. That said, we made it to the Chapel a couple hours after it opened and seemed to miss both the first-thing-in-the-morning wave and the afternoon tour groups. Buy tickets online to avoid a lot of wasted time.
In the Totally Not Worth It Category: I vote t0 avoid visiting on the last Sunday of the month, when entrance to the Vatican Museum is free. The line can have you waiting for hours to get in.
We ended up visiting pretty much every major “clue” mentioned in the book during the course of our sightseeing, which was deliciously satisfying in an admittedly stupid way. Plus, for better or worse, I learned a whole lot more about the papal system: I had no idea the Pope’s ‘chief of staff’ takes over as Interim Pope until a new one is chosen during conclave! (Does he get to be called Your Holiness in the interim?)