It really is difficult to describe the sheer majesty of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, which puts me in a bit of a predicament. Still, with the aid of some pictures and your imagination, I can try.
We’ve all seen the idealized nude statues and figures in the art displayed in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, dating back hundreds of years to when nudity wasn’t something to be hidden. On a trip to Vatican City, however, you’ll no doubt see some nude statues and some that have a fig leaf placed over their genitals. Those fig leaves aren’t original – they were added later.
Easter is one of the busiest and most interesting times to be in Vatican City – but this year, the bustle and pomp of Easter Sunday was followed a week later by an equally big event that’s far more rare. Two popes were canonized on April 27, 2014, including Pope John Paul II.
It’s often said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity – as long as they spell your name right. That hasn’t been the case, however, with the uneasy relationship between the Vatican and novelist Dan Brown. Brown’s series of Robert Langdon novels are works of fiction, but he employs all sorts of church history – history the Vatican maintains is either complete farce or so far removed from the truth as to no longer be historically accurate.
When you see photographs of the Vatican Museums, there is a spiral staircase that often pops up. This graceful stairway is the exit of the museum, and was designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. The Momo stairway is often incorrectly called the Bramante Staircase, but there’s a good reason for it. Donato Bramante designed a double helix spiral staircase similar to this one in 1512, and it still exists at the Vatican.
For many people, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City may seem like enough of a museum in and of itself, with all the sculptures and paintings on display. But within the church itself is another museum – the Sacristy and Treasury Museum. You can visit the basilica as well as St. Peter’s Sacristy and Treasury Museum all on the same entry ticket (which is free).
The Vatican Museums are so extensive that it can be hard to know what to look at. Luckily, some pieces in the collection stand out, either for their artistic merit or the stories and mysteries that go with them. In the case of the statue of the Laocoon and His Sons, it’s a little bit of both.
Michelangelo is so closely associated with Florence – he’s one of the city’s most famous sons – but when you visit Vatican City you’ll hear his name mentioned repeatedly. Some of the Italian master’s greatest works, in fact, are inside the borders of the world’s smallest independent nation. And, since it’s small, you don’t have to go far to see all of it. Here’s an overview of where to look for Michelangelo in Vatican City.
Vatican City may be made up largely of the type of gardens you might expect at a vacation villa, but the pope has a summer residence, too. It’s called the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the town of Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles outside Rome. Like other Vatican buildings, the grounds of the palace are considered Vatican property – but there’s a town outside the palace that you might find worthy of a visit as well.
In many churches, the floors and walls serve as tombs for important citizens. Look around and you’ll see grave markers that you might just be walking over. In St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, however, most of the tombs are prominent sculptural features in the church.