The Vatican City is Europe’s smallest state, with a surface area of just under 0.5km2. It lies in the middle of Rome’s center, making it a city of two capitals! This is where the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope, resides and rules. The independence of this state only came about in 1929 under the Lateran pact between the Church and Mussolini’s government. This symbolizes the idea that the Church is absolved of any temporal laws.
This city-state attracts of millions of visitors every year, and not just for religious reasons. Here you can view the majestic St Peter’s Basilica, standing on what Catholics believe is St Peter’s burial site. The obelisk that stands outside in the Piazza San Pietro dates back to this same time. St Peter is the first ‘Pope’ of the Catholic Church. This is because Jesus named him after the Hebrew word for ‘rock’, the rock on which to build a Church. He is also the disciple that brought Christianity to Rome after Jesus’ death. It was for this that he was crucified. From the top of this basilica you can enjoy one of the best views in the city over the historical center. Under the basilica you can also visit the crypt which holds the tombs and remains of many saints and previous popes.
Apart from the basilica, you can also visit the extremely interesting Vatican Museums. Here you can find information and artefacts from the history of the Catholic Church, Rome and the Vatican. A highlight of these is also the famous Sistine Chapel, featuring the hugely celebrated frescoes by Michelangelo.
For both of these attractions, we highly recommend booking tickets and time slots in advance, as well as arriving well ahead of time, as queues can be extremely long!
During important Catholic festivals, such as Christmas and Easter in particular, the area around the Vatican fills up completely. Pilgrims come here to celebrate these with the Pope. Even during a regular Sunday mass, the Piazza San Pietro floods with visitors who come to here the Pope preach and take mass, which is broadcast over loudspeakers.
From within Rome this is very easy to access, with bus services and metro lines running very nearby. There is heavy security at all times, however it is free to enter the Piazza. Rome itself is very easy to access, with two international airports, and train and bus connections to all over Italy, as it is its capital.