Vatican City

Posted: October 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: ATW Updates | No Comments »

The initial reason we detoured to Italy (and then ended up staying a whole month) was to visit Vatican City, the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area & population. Our tour guide said it’s also the only absolute monarchy left in Europe. Technically, everything (including tourists’ belongings) belongs to Pope Francis as soon as it enters the area. Good thing he seems to be a benevolent dictator. We arrived (a bit late) on Sunday where the Pope gave a papal blessing. You should check it out, on Sundays at 12pm, when he’s in town. He also has audiences on Wednesdays, but you have to get (free!) tickets to it, and the line was sort-of reaching ridiculous proportions by the time we tried.


St. Peters Square was crowded, the rhythms of various languages weaving in and out, interspersed with intermittent strains of singing. There was a certain energy lurking in the air. Perhaps, it’s the palpable energy of faith. Perhaps, just excitement.


We also did a Vatican Art tour through Dark Rome Tours. Our tour guide was super-expert, plus we paid a little extra for the extended skip-the-line tour, so we saw SO much. It’s amazing how extensive the Vatican Art collection is (all “owned” by Pope Francis, lucky guy), and the history behind each piece. It made me want to do a course in art history. Our tour guide said she once had a chance to talk to one of the directors of the Vatican Art Collection and he told her a story about this mysterious box they found in a dusty basement one day. Anticipation was high. What hidden treasures could be within?  When they opened it, they found it was a box of stone penises that had been hacked off statues back when the Church was in its more prudish stages. Well, to guys, those are the treasures…


Bramante Staircase

The Bramante staircase, which is a little-seen area of Vatican City because the bricks making it up are rather delicate (at least under the force of the thousands of tourists that visit Vatican City every year). As you can see, it’s more of a ramp.


The famous “Map Hallway” from Dan Brown’s “Inferno” (we didn’t get the chance to see if there’s a hidden tunnel behind one of the maps). The white cordoned-off area is undergoing restoration. My tour guide joked that once they restored every single map, they’re just going to have to start over again.


St. Peter’s Basilica. Gorgeous. Huge. Ornate. There are a million adjectives that can be used to describe it. I was just surprised by how extensive it is. Every single inch of the building is lavished with decorative details. We also had the chance to go underground and see the catacombs where many of the popes are buried (the only popes not there are those on their way to being saints).




The Pieta. Behind thick glass due to a tourist who decided to take a knife to it and hack pieces off of it. As you can see, the sculpture has been restored.



And no visit to Vatican City is complete without the Swiss guards and their famous uniforms. This is actually an honorary position applied for by those from the Swiss military, who can only be between 19 and 30 years of age, and of a certain height, education, and religious faith (Catholic, of course).

Tips for visiting here: I recommend you mail any postcards here. Vatican Post is efficient and fast, while Italian Post is well-known for its incredible inefficiency. I heard this from someone who works for the Italian Post, so I believe it. Also, especially in crowds, beware of pickpocketers! The only time were were aware of any pickpocketing attempts on us was while waiting for the Metro at the stop for the Vatican. So, keep those wallets, etc. inside your jacket, or at least somewhere where you can be aware of it at all times. And our tour guide recommends not to eat at a restaurant within the St. Peter’s Square area (unless you’re starving and can’t wait another moment), because it’ll tend to be overpriced and not-that-good (maybe even microwaved).

Otherwise, do visit. While I’m not Catholic, and I know those who are will take away a lot more than I could possibly, to me, the art and the history are well worth a visit regardless of your faith background. It has such a great atmosphere.

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