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Visiting Vatican City – Smallest Country In The World

Covering an area of only 110 acres, Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognized country in the world. It is famous the world over for being the residence of the Pope – the Bishop of Rome  and the global head of the Catholic Church. This city-state is basically a walled enclave completely surrounded by the city of Rome. Only 842 people reside in the Vatican, but it attracts over 5.5 million visitors every year for its historic, religious, and architectural significance. The beauty of the Vatican not only appeals to the Catholics across the world but to travelers from all backgrounds, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations across the globe. It is the only country in the world which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


8. Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums Complex

With 54 galleries spread across 1400 rooms, the ‘Vatican Museums’ is the largest museum complex in the world. It has an annual footfall of over 5.5 million, making it the 5th most visited art museum in the world. The museum was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506, which also makes it one of the oldest museums. It is home to some of the most renowned masterpieces from the world of sculpture and painting. The 54 galleries – or salas in the local language – display sculptures, paintings, artifacts, and handicrafts from the Egyptian period right up to the 19th century.  The entry ticket also allows entry to the Sistine Chapel. There is free entry on the last Sunday of every month.


7. Vatican Gardens

Vatican Gardens

When entering Vatican City through St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Gardens are at the back of the St. Peter’s Basilica. Spread over 57 acres, it covers most of the territory of Vatican City. The Gardens are not open to public access and can be visited through guided tours only. The beautifully landscaped garden is decorated with a variety of flora, fountains, and sculptures. There are occasional buildings and monuments sprinkled across the garden area. The garden dates back to 1279 when Pope Nicholas III moved his residence from Lateran Palace to the Vatican and enclosed the area with walls. Visitors to the Vatican Gardens are greeted by a peaceful environment of green cover occasionally broken by vibrant flower beds and statues and fountains from the Renaissance era.


6. Vatican Library

Vatican Library

The Vatican Library, or simply Vat, is a vast library under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church of Rome. Although it was formally established in 1475, the library and some of its collections were in use much before that, making it one of the oldest libraries in the world. It has significant collections on law, theology, history, philosophy, and science. The library’s collection of nearly 75,000 codices – documents of papyrus and other such natural materials – is one of the largest in the world. It also has a stunning collection of over 1.1 million books including 8500 incunabula – those printed before 1501. The library is located at the entrance of the Belvedere Courtyard.


5. Swiss Guards

Swiss Guards

With their colorful uniform and responsibility to protect the Pope, the Swiss Guards deserve special mention. The first guards were appointed by Pope Julius II as his personal bodyguards and the protector of the Apostolic Palace, a role the guards have performed ever since. With less than 150 men, the Swiss Guards form the smallest military in the world. These foot guards control the access to Vatican City and can be seen at various doorways and passageways.


4. Papal Palaces

Castel Sant’Angelo

Other than the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, there are a number of castles and forts directly linked with the papacy. The most popular and closest is the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. St Peter’s Square lies on one end of Via della Conciliazione, while the Castel lies on the other. Castel Sant’Angelo, over the years, has been used as a Papal residence or prison, but presently serves as a museum. St. John’s Tower on the neighboring hilltop is used as a backup residence when the Apostolic Palace is under repair. Castel Gandolfo, located 43 km southeast of Vatican City, is the summer residence of the Pope.


3. Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

Other than the attraction to see the Pope, the highlight of visiting Vatican City for many is seeing the Sistine Chapel. It is part of the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. The chapel is used for many Papal services. However, it is famous the world over for its frescoes – especially the one on the ceiling by Michelangelo. This artwork has become a benchmark for western art for over 5 centuries. Try to locate the self-portrait of the artist, depicted in a figure with flayed skin in the Last Judgment! The Sistine Chapel is a simple 3-story Renaissance building beside St. Peter’s Basilica. Interestingly, it is devoid of any grandeur on the outside. One of the most important functions performed in the chapel is the smoke signal during the election of the Pope.


2. St Peter’s Square

St Peter’s Square – View from the Basilica

Located to the west of the rione of Borgo in Rome is the massive plaza St. Peter’s Square. Shaped like an ellipse, the plaza occupies the open space in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is flanked by the Colonnades on its two sides, with the center being marked by an Egyptian obelisk. It also has two 17th-century fountains. The street leading up to the plaza is the Via della Conciliazione. This half-kilometer-long street connects the plaza to the Papal Castel Sant’Angelo and is lined with many religious and historic buildings. The Via della Conciliazione often acts as an extension of the plaza during public gatherings. The end of the street — and the start of the Square — is marked by a thick white line symbolizing the international border!


1. St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world and is considered to be one of the holiest sites of pilgrimage for Catholics. Completed in 1626, it is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in the world, and certainly one of the most visited. Incidentally, St. Peter’s Basilica is not the mother church of the Catholic Church. However, with its place in the Vatican, it is one of the most revered in the Christian world. The central window – Benediction Loggia – is where each Pope gives his first blessing after his election. The iconic dome of the church that dominates the skyline was designed by the legendary artist Michelangelo. Visitors must follow a strict dress code when visiting the church. Free 90-minute tours are available after 2 p.m.

Originally posted 2017-04-20 11:20:57.

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