Across the river from Ancient Rome sits the smallest sovereign state in the world, Vatican City. It is a unique corner of the world that is a must-see for visitors to Rome. On the third and final day of our trip to Rome, we headed over to see what Vatican City was all about.
First off, we made a bee-line for St Peter’s Basilica. An important note about the basilica – shoulders and knees must be covered! We saw numerous people turned away because they had strappy tops on or shorts/skirts. The hot weather made it difficult to wear anything more but if you bring a scarf to cover your shoulders and wear a slightly longer skirt or jeans, you will be allowed in.
Inside the basilica is astounding – both in size and beauty. Considered one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture, the basilica has soaring ceilings, a beautiful dome at its centre and beautiful mosaics. We climbed up narrow and winding stairs to the top of the dome to get fabulous views of St Peter’s Square where the Pope addresses tens of thousands throughout the year. Thankfully there weren’t quite that many people there when we went!
For anyone planning to visit Vatican City in the future, I would say that it is very useful to order tickets for the Vatican Museums in advance to avoid the long queue that forms from the early morning. The Vatican museums are expansive and full of beautiful art collected by Popes over the years. The only issue was the number of people inside. It might not be this bad during the off-peak season, but I found it extraordinarily crowded. Tour guides were trying to shepherd groups of people through the throng and a bottleneck formed whenever a tour stopped – not to mention the mayhem when two groups stop too close together! While the various rooms and the art in them was stunning, I must admit that I missed most of it because I was simply swept through in the current of the crowd. At the end of a long chain of rooms was the Sistine Chapel. Now I can say I’ve been in a mosh pit inside a chapel! Ushers told us to keep moving and not to stop so more people could flood into the chapel. We were shunted to the back before we could pause and admire the gorgeous frescos on the walls and ceiling. Despite signs and intercom messages asking for quiet, the large crowd was buzzing and it wasn’t easy to find a moment of peaceful calm to enjoy the space. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel itself – although that didn’t stop other people from doing so while they chatted, happily flouting all the rules. There is no doubt that the Vatican Museums hold a great store of beautiful renaissance art and the building itself is truly gorgeous. I think the crowd control could possibly be done better to enable all visitors to enjoy the place though – or perhaps the solution is to simply go during another season!
This is the last of the posts from our Roman getaway. Look out for an update on our return to France to explore the seaside town of Nice!