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More or less the Mecca of Roman Catholicism, the Holy See (better known as Vatican City) is the tiny, extremely rich centre of one of the world's largest religions, with current estimates coming to a billion followers worldwide. The home of the Pope, this is where you can see his private chapel: the famous Sistine Chapel, featuring the breathtaking Creation by Michelangelo. This is also where the bones of Saint Peter (considered by many to be the first pope) remain, housed in St. Peter's Basilica, a place packed to the teeth with internationally-recognized brilliant pieces of art. And if you just can't get your fill of the truck-loads of art these two buildings offer, the Vatican Museums should well and truly satisfy your desires. Or you might head over to St. Peter's Square, a piazza designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century, and another of Holy See's profound masterpieces.
Vatican City is also a sovereign state, the smallest in the world, located entirely within the city of Rome. It was created by the Lateran Treaty in 1929. The Holy See issues passports and has diplomatic relations with virtually every country in the world.
Much of the Vatican is not open to the public. However, the Vatican museums can be entered from the north of the City, and St Peter's basilica can be entered from the right-hand colonnade of St Peter's Square.
Vatican City became a state in 1929, although it had been the home of the Popes since the return from Avignon in 1377. Before the Popes moved to Avignon the Popes resided in the Lateran Palace on the Caelian Hill on the opposite side of Rome. The creation of an independent state gave the Holy See a couple of benefits as opposed to being just a center of a religion.
In 326, the first church, the Constantinian basilica, was built over the site that Roman Catholic apologists as well as noted Italian archaeologists argue was the tomb of Saint Peter. Ever since the build of the first St. Peter's more and more buildings were added to the complex. The first church is now referred to as the Old St. Peter's as in the 1506 work began on the Basilica that we see today. It was completed in 1626.
The Vatican City is the world's smallest state, being only around 44 ha (110 acres). Vatican City is build on the area that was know as Vatican Hill. It is situated to the west of central Rome. It has a 3.2-kilometre-long border with Italy. The border follows the city walls of the Vatican.
For entering the sights at the Vatican there is a dress code, that is enforced. Signs outside will tell you what is approriate and what is not. You need to wear clothes that cover your shoulders, and you can't wear really short shorts. Also keep in mind that pocket knives will not be allowed into the sights, whereas you can take plastic bottles and umbrellas. At most places it is allowed to take pictures, (only at the Sistine Chapel and the Grotto it is not allowed to take pictures) although sometimes you need to make pictures without using flash. (if you do so anyway, you will be reminded)
Opinion is divided on whether the colossal St Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), which opens on to the basilica, is actually in Vatican City, but for tourism purposes it isn't. You can just walk straight in without passing any checkpoints. It was designed in a classical manner by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the mid-17th century in the shape of an ellipse attached to a trapezium, surrounded by a double Doric colonnade. Stand at one of the two foci of the ellipse - marked by round plaques in the pavement - and only a single line of columns is visible. The Egyptian obelisk in the middle used to stand nearby in the Circus of Caligula and Nero.
As for the rest of Vatican City, you don't need to show a passport to enter, but you will have to pass yourself and your bags through X-ray scanners. And be prepared to queue. Use a bit of common sense in deciding what to wear: Vatican shorts and tank tops are not permitted, and women's shoulders must be covered.
The Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) - known for Michelangelo's two most famous masterpieces: the ceiling, depicting numerous scenes from the Old Testament - such as the moment of Creation - together with various sybils and prophets; and the Last Judgement, occupying the entire wall behind the altar. But while you're there, don't forget to look at the other frescoes, by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and others. The Sistine Chapel is also the meeting place of the conclave, which elects each new Pope.
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Even ignoring the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums are some of the most important museums in the world. The Vatican has a superb gallery, excellent Roman and Etruscan collections, and plenty more. Be sure not to miss the appartments that were decorated by Raphael. There is too much to see if you plan on going to the museums for one day. If you go for just one day, you just have time for the highlights. A good help in picking out these highlights is the book "guide to the Vatican", that is available at the bookshop. The highlight of the visit to the museums is the The Sistine Chapel known for Michelangelo's two most famous masterpieces: the ceiling, depicting numerous scenes from the Old Testament - such as the moment of Creation - together with various sybils and prophets; and the Last Judgement, occupying the entire wall behind the altar. But while you're there, don't forget to look at the other frescoes, by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and others. The Sistine Chapel is also the meeting place of the conclave, which elects each new Pope.
St Peter's Basilica is the centre of the Catholic faith, the richest and most important church in the world. Built on top of the remains of St. Peter. The high altar which can only be used by the Pope is right above the tomb of St. Peter, and under the dome that was built by Michelangelo. The Church is huge and can hold 60,000 standing worshippers. The original design which was of a church based on a Greek Cross (a cross with 4 equal long arms). When Michelangelo took over as chief architect it was capped with the dome. Although he never was to see the completion of the dome in his lifetime. After the death of Michelangelo the dome was completed and the nave of the church was extended to the present day size.
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Note that the paintings you see on the walls of the Basilica are not paintings are all, but mosaics. In the church you will find the bronze statue of St. Peter, that once stood in the Old St. Peter's Basilica. You will notice that the right foot of the statue is worn by the many people who touch or kisses this foot.
The views from the top of the Dome, 130 metres above St. Peter's Square, are wonderful. To go up to the top of the Dome, head to the rightside of the Basilica after you went through the security check. If you want to go up to the dome, you have to pay a fee of €5 if you plan to climb the 551 stairs all the way to the top, or €7 if you want to skip the first part, and only climb the remaining 320 steps. In the summer months the dome is opened until 6.00pm, in the darker months of the year until 5:00pm. In the Basilica you will also find the famous Pietà statue by Michelangelo, which he made when he was just 25 years old.
Also on the rightside of the Basilica you will find also the entrance to the Vatican Grottoes that holds the remains of many popes including John Paul II, who died in 2005. His grave is a white slab of marmer. The vaults also purport to contain the remains of King James III of England, whom you won't find in any English history books.
The Pope holds audiences on Wednesdays, either in the open in St Peter's Square, or in the Hall of Audiences. The latter was designed by Pier Luigi Nervi and was completed 1971. It can hold 12,000 people. Tickets can be obtained, if you book far enough in advance, from the Prefecture of the Pontifical House of the Vatican City, Tel: +39-06-698-83017.
Vatican City, like Rome where it is entirely in, has a typical Mediterranean climate with warm summes and mild winters. Temperatures average around 30 °C from June to September with warm night. Winters are around 10 °C or 12 °C during the day, around 5 °C at night. Most of the rain falls in autumn and winter and summers are almost completely dry with just a few showers sometimes.
Vatican City is entirely located in Rome and therefore it is best to check the guide of Rome for options of getting there and away. There are no planes, trains or boats travelling directly into Vatican City. Some buses (line #49 for example) stop close to the main sights. Bus #40-N runs from the Termini station to the Vatican. The street in front of St. Peter's square is a stop for many of the hop-on, hop-off busses that run around Rome.
The nearest metrostations are Ottaviano San Pietro and Cipro Musei Vaticani, both on line A.
As it is officially the smallest country in the world, it comes at no surprise that getting around by foot is the best, and in fact the only, way of getting around the main sights of Vatican City.
No requirements or controls after entering Italy already.
See also: Money Matters
Vatican City has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
Vatican City Euros are rarely used in everyday life, as they are quite valuable and generally only coin collectors have them.
The language that is used by Vatican City in every day use is Italian. The Holy See however uses Latin for its official documents. As the soldiers of the Swiss guard are actual Swiss people, you can also hear some German in Vatican City.
The Vatican museums have a cafeteria and a pizzaria to cater guests of the museum. Before entering the Sistine Chapel there is also a small cafeteria below the steps that lead up to the Chapel.
For accommodation options, it is best to check the options in Rome.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Vatican City.
See also: Travel Safety
See also: International Telephone Calls
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Ask Twinkle a question about Vatican City
Hello!Loved Vatican City so much, spent a lot of time here taking in museums, St Peters Basilica, shopping, eating!!!Any questions Im happy to help!
Ask mariastcat a question about Vatican City
Specialist in Roman Catholic/Holy See/Vatican State pontifical ecclesiastical diplomacy, law, governance, culture, humanitarian and international affairs, travel questions, papal audiences, other questions.
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