The Top 5 Things To See & Do In Vatican City

The world’s smallest state, Vatican City is located within the confines of Rome and known as the headquarters of the Catholic Church and by extension, the home of the Pope. An essential destination for Catholic pilgrims, Vatican City is one of the most spectacular religious sites in the world, its iconic buildings and museums providing ample room for awe and wonder even amongst the most secular of visitors.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The definitive landmark of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest and most important church in the world as the heart of the papal enclave. Built in the early 16th Century, the churches widely revered as the most enduring and iconic work of Renaissance architecture. Designed by a wealth of iconic Renaissance figures, the building is one of the most spectacular churches in the world, well-known as a major pilgrimage site for those adhering to the Catholic faith. The Pope often delivers addresses from the Basilica, which draw tens of thousands of spectators.

Sistine Chapel

Set within the Pope’s residence the Apostolic Palace, the Sistine Chapel is one of the most important sites in the Catholic religion. The site of the Papal Conclave, where the new pope is selected, it is an essential institution. To more secular visitors, the chapel is highly regarded for its spectacular frescoes, most notably the works of Michelangelo, including the ‘Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ and ‘The Last Judgement.’ Built towards the end of the 15th Century, the Sistine Chapel is one of the enduring works of the Renaissance.

Ponte Sant’Angelo

The Vatican’s most enduring relic from Ancient Rome, the Ponte Sant’Angelo, or the Aelian Bridge is a well-preserved bridge along the River Tiber which provides access to St. Peter’s Basilica. Built in 134 AD under the orders of Emperor Hadrian, the bridge is known for its intricate design and the angel statues which align it. A rare synthesis of Classical and Renaissance architectural styles in the Vatican.

Vatican Museums

A collection of art and religious museums, the Vatican Museums were established at the beginning of the 16th Century by Pope Julius II. Housing works sourced from the personal collections of the Pope, the museums collectively boast around 70,000 works of art spanning a variety of different periods and styles. Amongst the most visited museums in the world, they draw an estimated 6 million visitors per year. In addition to the Sculpture Museums, other museums include the Collection of Modern Religious Art and the Vatican Historical Museum amongst others. The symbiotic relationship between art and religion is more clear and insightful here than any other place in the world.

The Pope

While the Vatican is a major attraction for people of all faiths and beliefs, there is no denying its pre-eminence amongst Catholics. A major pilgrimage site, many Catholics are drawn to visit to see the Papal Audience. The Pope regularly addresses crowds in a number of different languages. To Catholic observers the importance of this cannot be understated, but the appeal to more secular visitors is still undeniable.

main image: image courtesy of Atibordee Kongprepan, Flickr Creative Commons