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The Vatican - Vatican City
Travel to the Vatican ~  ~ Tours in the Vatican ~ St Peters Basilica ~ Sistine Chapel ~ Vatican Museums ~ Vatican Gardens

Vatican City at Night

The world by Arnaldo Pomodoro,
Vatican City

Ceiling of the Vatian museum

Click to enlarge the map
of Vatican City


Most Photos on VisitsItaly are by Jesse Andrews. Please Contact VisitsItaly.Com for reproduction of any kind at:

Vatican City is what is left of the Holy See's once immense territories in Italy.  At the height of the Church's powers, it controlled a wide swath of territory called the Papal States, across central Italy, reaching from Rome to Ravenna, and including most of what is now Lazio, Umbria, the Marche and sizeable chunks of Abruzzo, Molise, and Emilia Romagna.

When Vittorio Emanuele II, and the forces for Italian unification achieved victory, the Papal States were reduced to Rome.  But, within a few years, the Holy See's dominion over Rome was reduced further to its present territories.

For more read:

Population: 921 (2005)
Area: .44 sq. km.
Official website: The Vatican
Wikipedia: The Vatican

See also: The Holy See
Map: MapQuest

Vatican City - or just "The Vatican" - is one of two independent countries completely surrounded by Italy.  The other of course is the Most Serene Republic of San Marino in the north east.  But The Vatican is smaller, indeed, it is the smallest country in the world, both by land area (.44 sq km) and by population (less than 1000).

Within its enclave, a testament to its long history, and to the wealth and   power of the Roman Catholic Church which governs Vatican City, one finds some of the most sublime architectural, artistic and literary works in all of western civilization. Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Bernini, and  Raphael are but a few of the artists who have left their mark here.  There are also extensive, rare and extremely valuable collections devoted to Etruscan and Egyptian antiquities, but the Vatican holdings also include an array of contemporary art works at least equal to what one finds in other important galleries around the world.

Completely encircled by the City of Rome, Vatican City sits on the west side of the Tiber River, within a high defensive wall built to protect the Holy See.  Like the other principal buildings within Vatican City, including the Sistine Chapel, the Apostolic Palace, and the Vatican Museums, St. Peters was built on the Vatican Fields.  A little to the west, the land rises to Mons Vaticanus, or Vatican Hill, from which the City takes its name.

One enters the territory through an enormous oval shaped piazza (St. Peter's Square) surrounded by a stunning colonnade designed by Bernini. Across the piazza is the beautiful and imposing St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter', with a floor area of 23,000 square meters and a capacity of 60,000 people, is the largest church in Christendom.

Not surprisingly, within the Vatican enclave, architectural styles range from Romanesque and Gothic to all later styles.  However, the predominant architecture was done at the height of the Renaissance or slightly later when the Church was at its height as a temporal if not a spiritual power.

St. Peter's Basilica is first and foremost a Renaissance building, largely designed by Michaelangelo.  The Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, built in the late 16th Century, are also Renaissance. The colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square, designed by Bernini, is in the Baroque style.

Visitors to Vatican City may take pictures in most places.  One place where picture taking is prohibited is the Pope's personal chapel, the Sistine Chapel, where one finds a an immense number of colorful and lively frescoes.  The entire vaulted ceiling is covered by frescoes done by Michaelangelo for Pope Julius II.  The most famous, and perhaps the most compelling is "The Creation of Adam", recently cleaned and restored to its original vivacity.

It is beyond the scope of this article to detail the history of the Vatican, or to even catalogue its many treasures.  Travelers have the choice of preparing themselves for a visit Vatican City by researching it (we have included many links to Wikipedia articles here), or simply by going there and immersing themselves in the place.  Once there, one can wander around aimlessly, or semi-aimlessly, or join a guided tour, many of the conductors of which advertise on the Internet.  Needless to say, we are proponents of at least a little pre-preparation, and of taking a guided tour.

When you go, expect to spend money, because many of the venues, including St. Peter's charge a fee - right now 4 Euros.  If you plan on spending the day (any thing less is perhaps pointless), you can eat at the cafeteria or Pizzeria in the Vatican Museum area.  The food isn't especially good by Italian standards, so if you want something better, take it with you. 

Interesting People

Leonardo da Vinci

Outside the Vatican City, the Holy Roman See also enjoys sovereignty over 13 other buildings in Rome and Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer residence.

Among the Pope's titles is "Bishop of Rome".  His Cathedral is not St. Peter's but rather the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, or St. John's Lateran, one of the 13 buildings in Rome over which the Holy See maintains sovereignty.

Travel directory

Transfers, Shuttles, Limos, etc

The Vatican can be accessed from Rome by taxi, bus or by foot. Take the Metro line A to Cipro for the Museums or Ottaviano for St. Peter's or the tram to Piazza del Risogimento.

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Vatican Coat of Arms

Vatican flag

Tours and sightseeing

See the Rome Portal

Parks and Gardens

The Vatican Gardens