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Re-counting World Heritage sites: #18 (Vatican)

Vatican is recognized by UNESCO both for its spiritual value and for the artistic and architectural treasures that it possesses. You don’t have to be a Catholic to appreciate the grandeur of the incomparable Piazza San Pietro, the exquisite features of Saint Peter’s Basilica, or the magnificent collections of Vatican Museums, culminating in the peerless brilliance of Sistine Chapel.

I have been to San Pietro and Vatican several times over the years, always as part of a larger stay in Rome. I doubt any visitor to Rome ever bypasses a look at the Bernini’s masterpiece of a piazza. Our very first visit there earned the distinction of this note in our travel diaries: “The square simply leaves you in a state of awe”. Every return visit only served to reinforce that feeling.

On my next trip, I will certainly come to take pictures of it at dawn, when it is not too crowded. In the middle of the day, there are plenty of tourists and worshipers on the square, which goes for my excuse of not having any good pictures of it1.

So, instead, here is a picture of Kimmy and me on Saint Peter’s Square that is the closest to being a good representation of that magnificent space in our archives.

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City

A look at Saint Peter’s Basilica from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo. Since Vatican is a tiny enclave inside Rome, all of the roofs in the foreground belong to one country while the main subject of the photo belongs to another.

St Peter Basilica as seen from Castel Sant-Angelo, Rome

The colorful guards at the city gate near Basilica allow tourists to take pictures of them with younger children. I remember this guard not being all too happy with a teenager joining the composition. He posed all the same.

With a Vatican guard

I believe photographing inside the Vatican Museums is technically prohibited (definitely so in the Sistine Chapel), but I did take one or two shots of these ceilings surreptitiously.

In the Vatican Museums

A visit to Piazza San Pietro can obviously be as long or as short as one desires. If you want to send home a Vatican-stamped postcard, the post office to the right of Basilica entrance is less crowded and may not add significant time to your visit.

Allow an hour for Basilica, which could extend at peak times with long lines. Add another hour for a climb to the dome if you’d like.

The Museums require no less than two hours at a canter, but can certainly sustain a significantly longer visit. Buying tickets in advance is highly recommended, although there are off-season, off-peak times when you can just walk in without any wait in line. On worst days, the entrance lines can be literally kilometers long (last Sunday of every month the entrance is free and those are the days when you have to arrive at least an hour and a half before opening if you do not want to wait in line for half a day).

There are also tours of the Vatican Palace and Gardens which we never undertook. They need to be booked in advance and take a couple of additional hours, bringing the total length of an in-depth visit to Vatican to about a full day.


1 Nah, I just made that up. The explanation is the usual one of not yet being enthusiastic enough about photography when I was there last time.