A tour of the scavi (excavations) of the ancient necropolis under St. Peter's is one of the most interesting experiences you'll have in Rome, whether or not you are Catholic.
Why is it important? For one thing, it shows that the reason the original church was built at that spot (by Constantine, first Christian Emperor, in the 4th C), was because the original tomb of St. Peter was (most likely) located there. The current altar (directly beneath Bernini's baldochino and Michelangelo's dome), is directly above the marble box Constantine built over the original 1st century altar.
Constantine must have thought it important to build the church there, because there probably couldn't have been a worse choice for a building site - on a hill, over an existing cemetery. Burying the necropolis was undoubtedly seen as sacrilegious. He must have paid a fortune to the relatives to destroy the tombs found on the upper part of the hill, and bury the tombs on the lower half. This was done to flatten the hill creating a plane on which to build the church.
The underground (primarily pagan) necropolis is absolutely fascinating in its own right . There is a touching inscription written by a man about his brother, who died in his 30s. ("He never quarreled and had a joke for everyone.") The sad, carved portraits of a man and his wife on a tiny sarcophagus holding their child. Even something wonderfully funny - you know how when you run out of room on a piece of paper, your writing get smaller and smaller, to make it all fit? Well, you'll see the same thing, only it's an inscription in stone! And you'll see the original foundations of the dome designed by Michelangelo.
I used to recommend that you email at least 3 weeks ahead of time. Now, it is more like 3 months!
You might be able to get a last minute reservation if someone has canceled. I once begged the director in person, and he relented and gave me a reservation a few days later.
Leave enough time to get through potentially long security lines at St. Peter's. Also, there are no bathroom facilities at the tour office or on the tour.
One of the best views of the vatican can be seen on the way up to the Knights of Malta Keyhole on the Aventine Hill. As you're walking up the hill there is a church on the right that has a beautiful courtyard. This church is Santa Sabina and is on the road of the same name. There is a large, ancient stone wall that surrounds the courtyard of the church and is the entrance to the parco savello. This courtyard opens up to a wonderful view of the city. You can see all the way to the Vatican on one side and the Vittorio monument on the other. The photo ops here are incredible.
Once you get your fill of those views, continue up the hill to the set of green doors. These are the doors that leads to the Order of the knights of Malta monestary. If you look through the keyhole you will get a surprise. The dome of St. Peters is perfectly framed by orange trees. It is lovely. So when your in the area of the circus maximus, and santa maria in cosmidin, take a little detour up the Aventine Hill. You won't regret it.
Their is so much to see and do here! My wife and I spent a complete day in this area and probably only scratched the surface. St. Peters, the cuppola (the dome), Vatican Museum and on and on. I encourage you to climb up Michelangelo's dome. On your way down you can take a rest, go to the bathroom and get a drink on the roof of St. Peters! This is an area I had not heard of in my research of Rome. If one is looking at St. Peters Basilica from St. Peters Square you would be standing behind Bernini's statues of Christ and the apostles that adorn the top of the basilica. The view of Rome is beautiful from here, I believe it is the highest spot in all of Rome, since no high-rises are allowed. Taking pictures in the Sistine Chapel is forbidden! Guards are constantly yelling "NO PHOTO!" I really don't see the harm in taking pictures without flash, the frescoes are very high up and picture quality is questionable at any rate. We heard that one should go in the afternoon as opposed to morning as the crowds are thinner. We visited in the afternoon and had no trouble with the crowded Chapel.
The first thing I did in Rome was get a hop on hop off bus ticket valid for 24 hours. about the 5th stop for me was the Vatican, I got off and stayed there for most of the rest of the day.
Its awe inspiring, inspirational, humbling in a way, a treasure trove of art works, a masterpiece of engineering, all this and more (and I am not Catholic)
Entering St Peters Square is a feeling all on its own, you have seen this place in the news, in TV broadcasts, and suddenly here you are yourself. The symetry of the place is perfectand it does have a special feel.
When you finally enter the Basilica (through the security control) and there is no fee to enter, a rareity these days, again you are overawed with the sheer size and beauty of the place. There is so much to see here, if you are one of the faithful, there is generally a service going on that you can partake in, or side chaples that you can have some quiet time in.
The St Peter Catacombes are open to the public generally and are situated below the main altar. There are also a reasonable number of Sarcophagi on display, some with glass walls so you can actually see the odd Pope or 2 from the past.
The Swiss Guards who guard the Vatican are all Swiss Nationals, and supposedly wear a uniform designed by Michaelangelo.
The Musems I will write about seperatly along with the Sistine Chapel.
Second only to the ruins of Ancient Rome the next must see sight of Rome is the Vatican. The Vatican exists as a seperate sovereign nation within the city of Rome. For more details see my Vatican City page.
Vatican City is the worlds smallest nation, headed by the Pope. It houses some amazing sights.
One of these is St Peters Basilica. It is the largest church in the world, and its dome, designed by Michelangelo, is the largest dome in the world measuring 42m in diameter and reaching 138m high.
You can visit the Basilica for free. It is very impressive and opulently decorated, but the best part is a visit to the dome (which is not free).
The Pope still makes an appearance on a Wednesday morning, when he is in Rome.
Get there early to avoid the tour groups.
Entering the Vatican City is awe-inspiring. Words again cannot do it justice and neither do the pictures I took. Wander through the square, look at the columns and statues, and wonder at the beauty of Vatican City.
We waited in line about an hour to get into St. Peter's Basilica in vain. They stopped letting people in before we were anywhere close to the front of the line. See my Vatican Museum tip for the best way into St. Peter's.
I recommend marielexoteria's VT Rome page for tips on getting a papal audience and the Vatican City excavation tour. I would have loved to do both of those, but tickets are hard to get and you must be in the know. Next time!
The Vatican Museum, Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica are a full day in and of themselves. Don't skimp on time here.
I think everyone knows the place,so I wont describe it. But,someone told us to come around 13 o´clock,and so we went,but little too early. We went to the line at 12 o´clock,and it seemed long,but it went quickly,and we got in in 20 minutes(to St.Peters),when we went in,we looked behind us,and suddently the line was sooo long,that the end was otside the squere!
After seeing the church,we first didn´t understand,that we have to go outside to go to museums(I had been there 17years ago,but had forgotten) . When we found the entrance to museum,we could walk straight in!But we didn´t go to see all the areas,only coupple,maybe if you want to see all,you need to come earlier. We did see Sistine-chapel. Last time I was there,it was under renovation,and we saw only little part in the middle,now we saw it all.
I just heard a new tip! If you go to Vatican museums first,and see other parts first,and when you go to Sistine chapel,ask the staff,where´s the door to church,and you´ll get straight in!There was only some people on the line,when outside was huge line. Sadly we didn´t know this then.
An independent country all on its own in the middle of Rome, the Vatican's massive surrounding wall implies importance on every level. Holding within its boundaries the home of Catholicism, it has a feel of importance. Though the lines during high season can be ridiculuosly long, it is worth the wait. Within its walls are are some of the most famous works of man, the Sistine Chapel, La Pieta, and, for me, the most impressive building on Earth, St. Peters Basilica. The Vatican Museum, and all its works, are not to be missed.
The Vatican City is spread apart all over Rome. An example is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. While not having a towering wall surroundiong it like St. Peter's, it is nevertheless, a part of a different country!
The square and the Cathedral of St.Peter are of an immense size and therefor capable of accomodating thousands of tourists. Waiting lines (for security scans) for entering the St.Peter disappear rapidly.
Visiting the Vatican musea is a somewhat different story. Despite being huge as well, waiting lines can be rather long. Crowds continue inside, particularly when approaching the Sistine Chapel. If you take your time (at least half a day for St.Peter cathedral, square, crypt, cupola) and at least a day for the Vatican musea, you can see an amount of art you can see nowhere else.
Of course every 12 years old knows that The Vatican is a very small state which fits inside a town. Maybe he or she also knows that this is the residence of the Pope, leading the catholic religious world. There are simply too many things about Vatican that can't be said here, so I will just say that visiting San Pietro church, San Pietro plaza and the Vatican Museums gives you an immense feeling of lost in history of religion. We have been there just a few months after the Pope John Paul the IInd passed into eternity and we saw the holy apartments. If you check out the pictures of this tip you can see how the Vatican looks like from the top of the San Pietro Basilica.
Being in Rome you should see the Vatican City. Some people go there to meet the Pope , some of them just to watch the Basilica of Saint Peter and the place.
The place you absolutely have to go during your travel there are the Vatican's Museums and Art Galleries with the wonderful paintings, sculptures, the ancient art and of course with the one of the most famous piece of art, I mean the Sistine Chapel with the works of Michael Angelo and other artist.
The world's smallest state , The Vatican City is accessed through St. Peter's Square, it surrounded by an elliptical colonnade with 140 saints on top.
The day we came here we were lucky enough to watch the Pope conduct a mass. But if you plan to come make sure you come here early because it always crowded and if you plan to visit the Sistine Chapel make sure you are dress properly
Vatican city - a city in a city
"Città del Vaticano" might be the smallest independant country in the world.Founded in 1929 and has actually about 850 inhabitants, but visited every day by thousands of international tourists coming to see the Pope - the St-Peters Cathedral - the Holy Chapel and the museum.
It's great if you can get to the Vatican on a Wednesday because the Pope usually comes out to give a speech that morning. If you take a walking tour with Romeing Tours they have a group that goes to the Vatican on Wednesdays. They'll tell you exactly where to stand to get a great picture of the Pope up close, too, because before he gives his speech he rides around the crowd. I highly recommend their tours.