Fun things to do in Vatican City

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Vatican City

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    Swiss guard requirements

    by GentleSpirit Updated Jun 1, 2013

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    Membership in the Swiss Guard is considered a privilege. The Swiss Guard has long since ceased to be a mercenary force, rather it is a standing unit drawn from the Swiss military forces. I don't remember hearing who they are actually paid by.

    Requirements for membership are:
    1. Swiss citizenship
    2. Practicing Roman Catholic
    3. Good moral ethical background
    4. Between the ages of 19 and 30
    5. at least 174 cm tall
    6. Unmarried
    7. Attended military school in Switzerland
    8. Professional degree of high school diploma

    Some things I noticed:
    The Swiss Guards site (http://www.gardesuisse.va/requirements-2.html)
    -the requirement of Swiss nationality seems to be more a preference. Dual citizenship allowed?
    -Unmarried male- Guards are housed in dormitories and then double or triple apartments.
    -this site seems to require celibacy. based on the reasons that they must live in the Vatican and there are limited opportunities for socialising. There are requirements to be allowed to marry.

    Our guide told us additionally that membership in the Swiss Guard is something that is seen as a very high status thing and therefore a lot of the more important families like to have a son in the guard.

    Interestingly, I saw one non-white Swiss guard on the day I visited the Vatican.

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    Fontana della Pigna

    by GentleSpirit Updated Jan 30, 2013

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    The upper terrace, which used to be a fountain, contains this strange looking sculpture dating from the first century AD. It is called the Fontana della Pigna (Pine Cone). The bronze pine cone once spouted water from its top. It is 4 meters tall and originally was located at the Temple of Isis by the Pantheon.

    The bronze peacocks are copies of the ones decorating the tomb of Emperor Hadrian.

    Fontana della Pigna
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    the Angels of Ponte Sant'Angelo

    by GentleSpirit Updated Jan 30, 2013

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    One of the pretty bridges of Rome, this bridge was originally built in 134 AD by the Emperor Hadrian. Originally, it was meant to connect the city of Rome to what is today the papal fortress Castel Sant'Angelo. Back in ancient times this structure was Hadrian's mausoleum.

    Today it is a purely pedestrian bridge. Make sure to stop and get a good photo of Castel Sant' Angelo from here and the ten angels designed by the sculptor Bernini. The angels each represent an aspect of Christ's crucifixion.

    Bernini's Angels
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    The excavations under St. Peter's

    by mccalpin Updated Jan 11, 2013

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    There are excavations under the Basilica of St. Peter's. These excavations have uncovered a Roman-era cemetery that was on the mons vaticanus (Vatican Hill) next to a circus (Nero's?) (a circus is a racetrack and all-around party-place). Both Romans and Christians (often martyred in the circus) are buried here.

    You must make reservations to see the excavations, and places are limited. However, since most tourists have no idea that the excavations are open, it's easier than you think. See the attached URL for information.

    When you enter the excavations ("scavi" in Italian), you are entering an alley in the Roman-era cemetery - with all of St. Peter's over your head. Yep, you're walking down a 2,000 year old street, underground. Note to the claustrophobic - the area excavated is large and high, you won't feel confined at all.

    You will see a number of Roman and Christian tombs, and the tour ends near the place where the Church's archeologists believe that St. Peter himself was buried. There is a fair amount of evidence that this is true. Well, believe it or not, it is a fascinating view into the past that is definitely off the beaten path.

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    Through Eternity- touring the Vatican

    by GentleSpirit Updated Nov 17, 2012

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    If you look at your guidebook carefully you can appreciate the enormous amount of significant things there are to see in the Vatican. Honestly, in this case it is far better to go with a tour, which helps you to put it all in a more cohesive perspective and to make sense of the huge amount of information you will get.

    I toured the Vatican with a group called Through Eternity. Their tour leaders are art historians. We met first thing in the morning by the entrance to St Peter's and it was an excellent tour, longer and more detailed than most and much more intensive in the art aspects of it all. All of us in the tour were very pleased with our guide, her name was Tanya, and would have gladly continued the tour had it lasted longer.

    Even first thing in the morning an intimidatingly long line was forming to get into St Peters. Fortunately, the tour didn't have to endure the long lines and walked right in. I enjoyed that the tour was focused on art history and history and though there was an enormous amount of information that could be covered during this tour, Tanya made it interesting, entertaining and a springboard to further exploration. By design, the company limits their tour groups to no more than 15, which makes this sort of exploration much easier.

    I would absolutely recommend Through Eternity for the tour of the Vatican, which included St Peters and the Vatican Museum.

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    RELIGIOUS SOUVENIRS

    by balhannah Written Sep 4, 2012

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    Located on the edge of St. Peter's square, are Souvenir shops that sell religious items, and plenty of stalls that do the same. They were doing a brisk trade! Whether they were cheap or not, I don't know, I do know they had plenty of choices for you to choose from.

    If you are feeling hungry or thirsty, then you may wish to stop at the stall next door that sells all of this!

    Souvenir stall Souvenir shop Food Stall
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    The Swiss Guard in the Vatican

    by GentleSpirit Updated Aug 25, 2012

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    The Swiss Guard (Corpo de la Guardia Swizzera) that today guards the Vatican originally was one of many Swiss mercenary units that served in various royal courts in Europe. Part of the reason for this was that in the middle ages there was apparently overpopulation and hence poverty in the Swiss cantons.

    The Pontifical Swiss Guard, established in 1506, serves as the official bodyguard of the Pope. Apparently Italy provides the Vatican with more traditional military protection. Pope Julius II requested a constant corps of 200 mercenaries. Today the force numbers 135 but they are no longer mercenaries.

    Their bright Renaissance inspired uniforms actually reflect the colors of the Della Rovere papacy (Julius II) and the red of the Medici (Leo)

    You will see them guarding the entrances to the Vatican. During my visit to Rome they were especially visible since a major European Community meeting was taking place with visiting heads of state. It was all very ceremonial and colorful.

    Swiss Guard at the Vatican
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    Stations of the Cross - Bronze display

    by icunme Updated Apr 17, 2011

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    Until April 29, 2011, you will see this stunning bronze display of the Stations of the Cross - along the left side of Via della Conciliazione leading up to Saint Peter's Square and the Vatican. Awesome in both size and detail, here are a few photos. View the travelogue to see all 14 stations and more detail.
    For more information, visit the website: http://www.domusdei-pddm.com/

    Station 13 Christ is taken down from the cross Station 1 - Christ is condemned to death Station 3 Christ carries the cross Station 3 detail Roman Soldier Station 11 Christ is nailed to the cross
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    The Papal Blessing

    by traveldave Updated Apr 13, 2011

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    The day I visited Vatican City just happened to be the day of the Papal Blessing, given by the late Pope John Paul II. In the morning I saw the Vatican museums, including the Sistine Chapel, and toured Saint Peter's Basilica. Later in the afternoon I returned for the blessing. There were thousands of people gathering in Saint Peter's Square, and it was hard to find a good place to stand. Nevertheless, I found a good spot among all those people that afforded a distant view of the Pope. Although I am a Roman Catholic, I am not particularly religious. However, it was a moving experience to see and hear the Pope.

    The Papal Blessing is performed every Wednesday afternoon in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

    The Pope is barely visible in this picture. He is the figure dressed in white under the canopy.

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    Saint Peter's Basilica

    by traveldave Updated Apr 13, 2011

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    Saint Peter's Basilica dominates Vatican City, as well as the skyline of Rome. It is one of the holiest Roman Catholic sites, as it is the burial place of Saint Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. It is believed that Saint Peter was executed by Roman Emperor Nero in 64 A.D. His burial chamber is located under the altar. Due to the holiness of the site, numerous Popes have been buried there as well.

    The place where Saint Peter was buried has been the site of a cathedral since the fourth century. The present basilica was constructed between 1506 and 1626, at which time it was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII. The basilica was constructed in the Renaissance style of architecture, and was laid out in a cruciform shape with an elongated nave in the form of a Latin cross. It is the largest church in Christianity, covering six acres (two hectares) and having a capacity of 60,000. Needless to say, the interior of the basilica is the largest of any Christian church in the world. In addition, the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica is one of the largest and tallest in the world, at 138 feet (42 meters) in diameter, and 390 feet (119 meters) above the floor.

    Contrary to popular belief, Saint Peter's Basilica is not the official seat of the Pope or first in rank among the four Pope's Basilicas. That honor is held by the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, located in Rome. However, Saint Peter's Basilica is the principal church of the Pope as it is the location of most of the ceremonies surrounding the Pope.

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    Getting into the Vatican

    by mallyak Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    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.


    Baldacchino and Dome, St. Peter's BasilicaAside from going inside, you can take an elevator up to the roof and than make a long climb up 323 steps to the top of the dome for a spectacular view. It costs €6 for the elevator, and allow an hour to go up and down. During the climb and before reaching the very top, you will find yourself standing on the inside of the dome, looking down into the Basilica itself. Be warned that there are a lot of stairs so it is not for the faint at heart (literally or figuratively) nor the claustrophobic as the very last section of the ascent is through a little more than shoulder-width spiral staircase. Instead of leaving out the doors you came in, go down into the crypt to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II, the crypt leaves out the front.

    Note: A strict dress code is enforced (as in many other houses of worship), so have shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and take your hats off (which is the custom in churches in Europe). You might be required to check bags at the entrance. Photos are allowed to be taken inside, but not with a flash. The lack of light will probably cause your pictures not to turn out very well, so you may want to buy a few postcards to keep as souvenirs

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    Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura

    by tini58de Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    St. Paul's Basilica was originally built by Constantine in the fourth century, over the tomb of St. Paul. It was destroyed by fire in 1823, and then re-consecrated in 1854. St. Paul's is unusual, having five aisles instead of three. The tomb of St. Paul is under the main altar where a confessional window (fenestrella confessionis) shows the epigraph "Paulo Apostolo Mart." Chains that bound St. Peter as a prisoner in Rome are in a golden reliquary. Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura is located at via Ostiense, 186, Roma. You will have to take Metro Linea B to San Paulo, since it is on the outskirts of town.

    San Paulo

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    Saint Peter's Square

    by traveldave Updated Oct 13, 2010

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    Saint Peter's Square, or Piazza San Pietro, is a large open area located directly in front of Saint Peter's Basilica. It was designed so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing. Although called a "square," it is actually trapezoidal in shape near the entrance to the basilica and preceded by a vast eliptical area.

    Saint Peter's Square was designed by architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini under the direction of Pope Alexander VII. Contruction lasted from 1656 to 1667. The most prominent feature of the square is its two semicircular colonnades which enclose the square. They consist of 284 columns and 88 pillars in the Tuscan style of architecture.

    Another notable feature of the square is the 85-foot (26-meter) Egyptian obelisque located in its center. The obelisque was originally brought to Rome from Alexandria, Egypt by the Roman Emperor Caligula. Later, Pope Sixtus V had it moved to its present location from the Circus Maximus, where it had stood for several centuries.

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    Bernini's Statues

    by Maryimelda Updated Aug 26, 2010

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    Bernini is renowned for his work on St Peter's. He spent twenty years on the project and in that time designed the Square, the Circular Colonnade, the Great Baldichino over the High Altar and of course the statues on top of the Colonadde and the Basilica. When you get to the roof of the Basilica and see the statues up close they seem to be a hundred times the size of what they look like from down in the square.

    Many times larger than life.
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    The Governorate Palace

    by Maryimelda Updated Aug 25, 2010

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    This is a beautiful building which can really only be seen by the general public from the top of St Peter's Basilica. The Administration of the Vatican City State is conducted from the Governorate Palace. The Commission deals with all legislation within the State. It is made up of cardinals appointed by the Pope. Their term of office is for five years. All decisions made by the commission however, cannot be finally passed without the consent of the Pope.

    Palace of the Governorate of Vatican City State
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Vatican City Things to Do

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Vatican City is the capital of a functioning country as well as the home to several hundred people, including the Pope. Just as you can't wander at will through the halls of Buckingham Palace or...

Map of Vatican City