Good morning everyone !
After weeks and weeks of procrastinating, I’m finally doing this : writing an article about my trip to Italy. Here’s the first part dedicated to my day in Vatican City State, and there will be a follow up article about Roma too. If you are planning a holiday there, or do not know where to go next, this article will definitely help you to make up your mind and go to Italy.
Giotto di Bondone, Stefaneschi Triptych
My boyfriend and I ordered our tickets for the Vatican online and booked it on a Monday morning. We wanted to have the full day to spend there, and Monday seemed a good option because the Vatican is free on the last Sunday of each month (which was the time around which we were there) so we thought that people would go during the weekend and it would be less packed the day after. To some extent, we were right, it really was not too crowded which was great : we had time to see everything we wanted and to contemplate each work of art as long as we wanted to.
A little bit of history
So Vatican City is a sacerdotal-monarchical state, which is a type of theocracy, ruled by the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy. It is interesting to note that Vatican City is not the same thing as the Holy See. The Holy See origins can be traced back to early Christianity, and it is the main episcopal see of 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the world. Vatican City on the other hand, was created in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy. The name is taken from Vatican Hill, the geographic location of the state.
Vatican City is a cultural treasure. You can find are religious and cultural sites and works of art everywhere, the most famous probably being St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.
Fun fact, the unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. In 2013, they were visited by 6 million people, which combined makes it the 6th most visited art museum in the world. There are 54 galleries in total, making it one of the largest museums in the world.
The first room we visited was the one dedicated to Egyptian art, in the Museo Gregoriano Egiziano. This got me really excited because when I was growing up, I wanted to be an egyptologist / archeologist and the mummy was probably one of my favorite and most watched movie. I was not aware that the Vatican had that kind of art collection, so it was a really nice surprise. The sculptures and sarcophagus were beautiful, and there even was a real mummy and reproductions of the famous Book of the Dead.
As I said, each room had its particularities, and we were delighted to find one with a more recent collection. This room was about foreign art, with each corned dedicated to one part of the globe. The work of art with the beach and the wooden totems represented the aboriginal art while the miniature of the palace was a reproduction of an existing temple in Asia.
This room was very surprising because it was not necessarily displaying religious works of art, and definitely not Christian ones. It was really interesting to go around it and made me realize the influence and money Vatican City possesses.
After wandering in the different little gardens in the middle of the museums, and after eating a snack at the cafeteria (which was crowded and did not offer many options), we finished our visit by going down the famous double spiral staircase, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. Even the staircase in Vatican City are a work of art, isn’t that amazing ?
We continued our day by walking around the city-state and we found a nice place to eat our late lunch – caramelized radish and gorgonzola risotto for me, ravioli for my boyfriend, it was delicious – before going to St Peter’s basilica.
Basilica San Pietro
San Pietro is an Italian Renaissance church designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The construction started on 18 April 1506 to replace the Old St Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, and ended on 18 November 1626. It is one of the largest churches in the world. Despite the fact that it is not the mother church of the Catholic Church, San Pietro is considered as one of the holiest Catholic shrines, probably due to its magnificence, its location, and its history. However, fun fact, contrary to popular misconception, it is not a cathedral because it is not the seat of a bishop.
Indeed, catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of St. Peter, one of Christ’s Apostles and also the first Pope. In fact, St. Peter’s tomb is supposed to be directly below the high altar of the Basilica. This is why many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s ; in fact, there are over 100 tombs within St. Peter’s Basilica, many of which are located in the Vatican grotto, beneath the Basilica. These include 91 popes.
The Vatican Obelisk that faces St Peter on St Peter’s square was originally taken by Caligula from Heliopolis in Egypt to decorate the spina of his circus. This area became the site of martyrdom of many Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Ancient tradition holds that it was in this circus that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down at his own request because he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.