The Vatican really isn't Rome, as the locals enjoy pointing out to visitors. Although it's completely surrounded by the city, the Vatican is the world's smallest country. Of course, a visit to Rome isn't complete without seeing this separate awe-inspiring destination. It's impossible to see everything this city state has to offer in a single day. You'll be worn down in two or three hours by all the walking and gawking. We suggest making at least two separate half-day visits, first into St. Peters Square and the Basilica, and then into the extensive Museums and Galleries. Purchase one of the extensive Vatican guidebooks before making a visit, to mark the things you wish to see.
St Peter's Square is the public's entry way into the Vatican. Surrounded by huge columns, it looks up at the Basilica of Saint Peter, which was constructed in the fourth century on his death and burial site. His tomb is said to be among the many Popes resting in the grottoes below the main cathedral. Many of these impressive tombs can be seen by visitors. From the moment visitors pass through the Bronze Door into the Basilica, they are overwhelmed by some of the most celebrated art and fixtures in the world. Michelangelo's Pieta and Great Dome only emphasize St Peter's Baldacchino and Bronze Statue, and Bernini's Throne. There is plenty of walking room in this world's largest basilica, although early morning is the best time to avoid the tour-bus crowds and long ticket lines. The Vatican's extensive Museums and Galleries also showcase master pieces of religious and modern art, and classical statuary. This is where a good guidebook is essential in finding specific collections, such as the wonderful Raphael Rooms, Apollo Belvedere and Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is reason enough to visit Rome and The Vatican. Although Michelangelo was first famous as a sculptor, he took more than four years to paint the magnificent ceiling and alter wall. Binoculars are welcome, and necessary, to see the intricate work on the high ceiling. Cameras, unfortunately, may not be pointed in that direction.
If you are interested in seeing the Pope, there are several opportunities if he's in residence. He generally gives a public audience on Wednesday mornings. On some Saturdays he also blesses brides, who line up in their wedding dresses. And on some Sundays he speaks from his study window. Tickets are needed for some of these events, which a good driver or professional guide service can easily obtain. Schedules are listed in the daily newspapers. Hand-held cameras are generally welcome, but you will have to pass through security to get close.
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