The Vatican City in Rome is really not a city at all, but a country located within a city. Città del Vaticano is the smallest country of the world with an official population of no more than 800 people and an area of around 0,44 km2. The Vatican is located across the river Tiber from the historical center of Rome. Its main tourist attractions are Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Gardens.
The Vatican City did not become an official country until 1929. In that year Pope Pius X and Benito Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty, which recognized the Vatican as an independent state.
The entire country is on UNESCO‘s World Heritage List.
Tourist Attractions, What to See in the Vatican
Saint Peter’s Basilica
Saint Peter’s Basilica is, together with the Colosseum, Rome‘s most important tourist attraction. It is the most important Catholic church in the world and houses a great number of important tourist attractions. Its Dome offers one of the most spectacular views of the city, while in the crypt tombs of numerous popes can be seen. Main attractions in the basilica itself are Bernini’s baldachin and Michelangelo’s Pietà.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
The Vatican Museums contain one of the most extensive art collections in the world. Its biggest attraction is of course the Sistine Chapel, but there are many other famous art works to be seen, from Raphael’s Rooms to the Prima Porta Augustus and from the Laocoön to the beautiful stairway near the entrance. We made a separate page for the opening hours and other practical Vatican Museum information.
Saint Peter’s Square
Saint Peter’s Square is a tourist attraction in itself. It is surrounded by Bernini’s Colonnade and adorned with two fountains and obelisks. Every Wednesday and Sunday the Pope makes an appearance and on those days it can be incredibly crowded. It is the only part of the Vatican City that can be visited at any moment of the day.
The Vatican Necropolis underneath the central nave of Saint Peter’s Basilica contains the tombs of Saint Peter, plus another 11 Popes. It consists of a dirt road, lined with monuments an ending in the small square where Saint Peter’s tomb is located. This necropolis can only be visited by making a reservation through the website of the Vatican itself.
Saint Peter’s Dome
Saint Peter’s Dome is one of the most visible landmarks of the city. It was designed by Michelangelo, but it was Giacomo della Porta who finished its construction in 1593, after Michelangelo‘s death. The total number of steps to climb is 551 and even if you take the lift, you will still have 320 steps to go.
The Vatican Gardens take up most of the Vatican City area. You can have an impression of these gardens by climbing the Dome. If you want to visit this attraction itself you need to book beforehand. They can only be viewed in the company of an official guide.
The Pope and his tasks. In the past the popes were only elected from amongst the more influential and rich families. They were therefore also the ones who bought or commissioned many of the works of art that can be seen in the Vatican City and in Rome‘s churches. The present Pope is Franciscus, who is very popular and see as much more humble than most of his predecessors. On Wednesdays, if you book early enough, you can have an audience with the Pope.
There is a special cemetery for German-speaking people within the walls of the Vatican City. It can only be visited by people from countries that used to belong to the Holy Roman Empire. Being able to speak flawless German usually gets you in, a German or Dutch passport definitely will.