Vatican Walking Tour, Rome

Vatican Walking Tour (Self Guided), Rome

Consisting of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, the Vatican is the world’s smallest sovereign state, as well as a symbol (and headquarters) of the Roman Catholic faith. Although only 44 hectares in surface, one is amazed by the vastness of this place and the sheer size of everything. When gazing around in all directions, you realize how much can be achieved by people working in faith for a common purpose.

Did you know that the obelisk of St. Peter's Square works like a huge solar clock that marks the hours and days? Although the height it has today is half the size of the Egyptian original, moving such a delicate structure to where it stands required the help of 900 men and 150 horses.

The largest Christian church building in the world, Saint Peter's Basilica leaves you speechless with its magnificence. Full of important statues and monuments, among which the stunningly beautiful Pietà by Michelangelo, it also affords nice views over Rome, provided you pay for the lift.

All arts and all periods – from Egyptian to contemporary painting – are covered in the Vatican Museums’ galleries nearby, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time, as there are many hours’ worth of exhibitions.

Other treats, such as the famous Sistine Chapel with its floor-to-ceiling frescoes, or the perfectly manicured Vatican Gardens, await you at the end of the itinerary.

With such a unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lying within the boundaries of this small state, follow our self-guided walking tour to find your way around and make the most of your time.

Getting to Sight #1. The first tour stop (St. Peter's Square) can be reach by Bus: Bus: 23, 31, 49, 490, 40 Express and and 116 electric bus; Train: FL3, Metro: line A.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Vatican Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Vatican Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Rome (See other walking tours in Rome)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square)
  • Obelisco Vaticano (Obelisk of St Peter's Square)
  • Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter's Basilica)
  • Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums)
  • Cortile del Belvedere (Belvedere Courtyard)
  • Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Apostolic Library)
  • Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel)
  • Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel)
  • Aula Paolo VI (Paul VI Audience Hall)
  • Giardini Vaticani (Gardens of Vatican City)
1
Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square)

1) Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square) (must see)

St. Peter's Square, situated within Vatican City, is a globally recognized and esteemed plaza. Crafted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini during the 17th century, it serves as the majestic entrance to St. Peter's Basilica, the largest Christian church and the spiritual heart of Catholicism.

The square's grand scale and impressive design exude a sense of awe, its expansive layout forming a distinctive trapezoidal shape. Dominating the center stands a commanding obelisk, known as the Obelisk of Caligula, originating from ancient Egypt. Rising to approximately 25 meters (83 feet), it serves as a focal point and infuses the surroundings with a connection to ancient history. Flanking the obelisk, two splendid fountains, envisioned by Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, contribute an air of grace and serenity.

The colonnades, composed of 284 columns and 88 pilasters, symbolize the open and embracing nature of the Church, beckoning believers from every corner of the world. The twin fountains represent the life-giving waters of the Christian faith, while the obelisk serves as a testament to Christianity's triumph over paganism.

St. Peter's Square serves as a gathering place for momentous events and ceremonies within the Catholic Church. Pilgrims from across the globe assemble here to attend papal audiences and receive blessings from the Pope. During significant occasions like Easter Sunday and Christmas, the square transforms into a splendid backdrop for grand celebrations and religious rituals.

Why You Should Visit:
The architectural marvels encompassing the square are truly breathtaking. This square offers a splendid backdrop for capturing memorable photographs, even if your plans do not include entering the magnificent St. Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museums.
2
Obelisco Vaticano (Obelisk of St Peter's Square)

2) Obelisco Vaticano (Obelisk of St Peter's Square)

Obelisks are often associated with Egypt, but interestingly, Rome boasts the largest concentration of these slender monuments worldwide. The city is adorned with eight ancient Egyptian obelisks and five ancient Roman ones. In ancient times, these structures were typically erected as single blocks, positioned in front of Egyptian temples or pyramids, symbolizing the sun god Ra. However, unlike their Egyptian counterparts adorned with hieroglyphics, the Roman obelisks often served as dedications to the ruling emperor of the time.

The obelisk that proudly stands in St. Peter's Square has a fascinating history. Emperor Caligula brought it from Egypt to Rome in 37 AD and installed it at the center of his circus, later known as the Circus of Nero. Transporting obelisks was a complex and challenging task, requiring the construction of special boats, known as "obelisk boats", designed specifically for this purpose.

When Pope Sixtus V ascended to the papacy, he envisioned relocating the obelisk to the heart of what would become St. Peter's Square. The ambitious project was spearheaded by the architect and engineer Domenico Fontana, who had previously worked as Giacomo della Porta's assistant during the construction of the nearby basilica. The relocation process took about three weeks and involved the use of rollers, forty-seven cranes, 140 carthorses, and over 1000 workers.

Originally, the obelisk was crowned with a bronze globe believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. However, Pope Sixtus V opted to replace it with his emblem consisting of three mountains surmounted by a star.
3
Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter's Basilica)

3) Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter's Basilica) (must see)

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a newcomer, you will probably never see a church as magnificent as the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican City. Regarded as one of the holiest places in Rome, this magnificent church stands as one of the largest in the world. Its origins trace back to 324 AD when Emperor Constantine commissioned its construction over the burial place of Saint Peter, one of the Apostles and the revered first pope. While the basilica is not the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, it is often described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and "the greatest of all churches of Christendom."

Over time, as the papal seat was temporarily moved to Avignon, France, the original basilica fell into disrepair. In 1505, Pope Julius II made the decision to demolish the old structure and erect a grand new basilica that would also serve as his tomb. This ambitious project took shape over the course of 120 years, with various popes and architects contributing to its design and expansion. Renowned figures such as Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini played pivotal roles in shaping the structure, which stands as a testament to Renaissance architecture and remains the largest church globally. The iconic dome, spanning 42 meters in diameter and towering 120 meters high, is a sight to behold. Encircling the dome's interior is an inscription in English that reads: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven."

The interior of the basilica is a testament to Late Renaissance design, characterized by its grandeur and lavish decoration. Visitors can marvel at monuments and altars dedicated to numerous kings and popes, as well as iconic works of art like Michelangelo's "La Pieta" and over 39 statues of saints. The nave features a circular slab of Imperial Porphyry where Holy Roman Emperors knelt during their coronation ceremonies. Descending to the crypt, you may explore the remnants of earlier churches that once stood on the same site, as well as the tombs of many popes, including that of Pope Jean Paul II.

Why You Should Visit:
Intricate architecture and art throughout, with every surface being covered in something beautiful.

Tips:
Arrive early in the morning to avoid long queues. Admission is free (until 5pm when the gates close), but expect to undergo a security check before entering. Remember to dress modestly, with knees and shoulders covered (ladies: affordable scarves are available from nearby vendors). If you're feeling adventurous, ascend to the top of the dome. An elevator ride can save you from climbing 300+ stairs.
4
Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums)

4) Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums) (must see)

The Vatican Museums are a treasure trove of artistic wonders, housing iconic masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms. Originally built as palaces for Renaissance popes Julius II, Innocent VIII, and Sixtus IV, these magnificent museums underwent expansions in the 18th century to showcase the remarkable art collections amassed by earlier pontiffs. With over 7 kilometers (4 miles) of corridors, the Vatican Museums form one of the largest museum complexes in the world.

Within these hallowed halls, you will discover an extraordinary array of Greek and Roman antiquities, alongside captivating artifacts unearthed from Egyptian and Etruscan tombs during the 19th century. The collection encompasses priceless works of art, showcasing the genius of renowned Italian artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. In the Pinacoteca, an exquisite art gallery, and the opulent chambers of the former palaces, these artistic luminaries were commissioned by popes to adorn lavish apartments and galleries.

Undoubtedly, the crown jewels of the Vatican Museums are the breathtaking Sistine Chapel and the magnificent Raphael Rooms, both of which leave an indelible impression on all who behold them.

Why You Should Visit:
The collection is truly immense, encompassing artworks from various eras, countries, and civilizations. There is something to captivate every visitor's interest.

Tip:
Before embarking on your visit, ensure you have a satisfying breakfast and wear comfortable walking shoes. It can be helpful to prioritize a few key pieces of art that you do not want to miss and focus on experiencing those. Alternatively, if you wish to explore the entire collection, plan for multiple days or visits.
It is highly recommended to book tickets in advance online, particularly for an afternoon visit during the middle of the week. Saturdays and Mondays tend to be the busiest days, so opting for other times can enhance your experience.
5
Cortile del Belvedere (Belvedere Courtyard)

5) Cortile del Belvedere (Belvedere Courtyard)

The Belvedere Courtyard, located within the Vatican Palace in Rome, stands as a significant architectural masterpiece of the High Renaissance. Designed by Donato Bramante starting in 1505, its innovative concept and intricate details influenced the design of courtyards, formal squares, and gardens across Western Europe. The Belvedere court was conceived as a unified enclosed space, connecting the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere through a series of terraces linked by stairs. Narrow wings flanked the sides, completing its composition.

When Bramante passed away in 1514, the courtyard remained unfinished. It was later completed by Pirro Ligorio for Pope Pius IV between 1562 and 1565. Ligorio's additions included a third story to the grand open-headed exedra on the highest terrace. This enclosure formed a vast half-dome, known as the nicchione or "great niche," which stands as the largest niche constructed since ancient times. Today, the nicchione can be admired from various elevated viewpoints throughout Rome.

Unfortunately, the unity of the Cortile was disrupted by Sixtus V between 1585 and 1590 when he constructed a wing for the Vatican Library. This addition occupied the former middle terrace, dividing the space. Some scholars, like James Ackerman, propose that this deliberate alteration aimed to conceal the secular and pagan aspects of the Cortile, as Pope Adrian VI had referred to the collection of sculptures housed there as "idols." While the lowest terrace is still known as the Cortile del Belvedere, the separated upper terrace is now called the Cortile della Pigna, named after the Pigna, a large bronze pinecone mounted within the nicchione. The Pigna is believed to have been the finial of Emperor Hadrian's tomb or, according to medieval beliefs, a marker for the turning point in the hippodrome where many Christians were martyred.

In 1990, a sculpture titled "Sfera con Sfera" (Sphere within a Sphere) by Arnaldo Pomodoro was installed in the center of the upper courtyard, adding a contemporary artistic touch to this historic space.
6
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Apostolic Library)

6) Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Apostolic Library)

The Vatican Apostolic Library stands as one of the world's oldest and most prestigious libraries, housing a remarkable collection of historical texts. Although officially established in 1475, its origins trace back even further, making it a repository of immense historical significance. The library boasts an impressive collection of 75,000 ancient manuscripts spanning various periods of history, alongside 1.1 million printed books. During the early 17th century, the Vatican Secret Archives were separated from the library, housing an additional 150,000 items of great historical importance.

Pope Nicholas V founded the library within the Vatican in 1448 by consolidating approximately 350 Greek, Latin, and Hebrew manuscripts inherited from his predecessors with his own personal collection and numerous acquisitions, including manuscripts from the renowned Library of Constantinople. In 1481, the first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, compiled a catalog that revealed the library's vast holdings, consisting of over 3,500 items, making it the largest library in the Western world at the time. In approximately 1587, Pope Sixtus V commissioned architect Domenico Fontana to construct a new building for the library, which remains in use to this day. Notably, the books were displayed on benches to which they were chained, a measure taken to protect the valuable manuscripts.

Among the library's most renowned treasures is the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, which is the oldest nearly complete manuscript of the Bible known to exist. Additionally, the library revealed the discovery of the "Secret History of Procopius", which was subsequently published in 1623.

Serving as a research library for various fields such as history, law, philosophy, science, and theology, the Vatican Library is open to scholars who can provide the necessary qualifications and research purposes.
7
Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel)

7) Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel)

The Pauline Chapel, located within the Vatican Palace and positioned adjacent to the Sistine Chapel, is a remarkable chapel with its own distinct charm. Designed by Antonio de Sangallo the Younger in 1538 under the commission of Pope Paul II, it served as the Chapel of the Concave and the Chapel of the Sacrament.

When it came to selecting an artist to execute the chapel's frescoes, there was no doubt in the pope's mind. He had his heart set on Michelangelo, despite the artist being in his 60s, exhausted, and already occupied with completing Pope Julius II's tomb—a commission for which he had been paid. Despite his reservations, Michelangelo felt compelled to accept the pope's insistence. The two frescoes he painted, "The Crucifixion of St. Peter" and "The Conversion of Saul", were not considered his most exceptional works. Perhaps the pressure he faced during their creation is reflected in the final outcome. In "The Conversion of Saul", for example, Saul is depicted as an elderly man with white hair, conveying a sense of weariness—possibly a reflection of Michelangelo's own state at the time.

Additional paintings within the chapel were created by Lorenzo Sabbatini and Federico Zuccari, while Prospero Bresciano contributed to the statues and stuccowork.

In 2004, the Vatican announced plans to restore the frescoes in the Pauline Chapel, and by 2009, the restoration work was completed. The restoration revealed vibrant colors and hues that had been dimmed by centuries of accumulated dirt and grime. Furthermore, in 2010, the Vatican website unveiled a virtual reality rendering of the chapel, presenting a captivating blend of 3D rendering and high-resolution photography, showcasing its renewed brilliance following the restoration efforts in 2009.
8
Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel)

8) Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) (must see)

The Sistine Chapel stands as the most renowned chapel within the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It is celebrated for its remarkable architecture, reminiscent of Solomon's Temple from the Old Testament, and its breathtaking decoration, adorned with frescoes by some of the greatest Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Sandro Botticelli.

Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo undertook the monumental task of painting the chapel's ceiling between 1508 and 1512. With the pope's support, Michelangelo was granted artistic freedom and dedicated four years to creating a masterpiece. He adorned the ceiling with 366 figures depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, illustrating biblical narratives such as the Creation of the World, the Fall of Man, and the Coming of Christ. These frescoes are accompanied by the presence of ignudi, striking male nudes, which surround the biblical depictions. Additionally, the spandrels surrounding the vault feature sibyls, prophetesses from pagan mythology, who were embraced by Christian artists during the Renaissance as figures capable of foreseeing the arrival of Christ. One of the most iconic paintings within the chapel is "The Creation of Adam," portraying God reaching out to create Adam against a backdrop of cloudy heavens. This renowned artwork is among the most reproduced religious paintings in history.

The chapel owes its name to Pope Sixtus IV, who oversaw its restoration between 1477 and 1480, transforming the former Cappella Magna into the magnificent space we know today. Since the time of Pope Sixtus IV, the chapel has served as a place of profound religious significance and as a venue for important papal functions. Currently, it is famously recognized as the location of the Papal conclave, the process through which a new Pope is elected.
9
Aula Paolo VI (Paul VI Audience Hall)

9) Aula Paolo VI (Paul VI Audience Hall)

The Aula Paolo VI, also known as the Paul VI Audience Hall, stands as a symbol of modernity within the Vatican City, harmoniously blending contemporary design with the timeless traditions of the Catholic Church. Designed by the renowned Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, distinctive structure serves as a multipurpose hall and an important venue for papal audiences, gatherings, and events.

Completed in 1971 and featuring a striking curved roof that resembles a crown or the shape of a flying saucer, the Audience Hall showcases Nervi's innovative design approach and engineering expertise. The roof, made of reinforced concrete, creates a vast open space inside the hall with a seating capacity of around 6,300 people. The unique design allows for excellent visibility and acoustics, ensuring that all attendees have a clear view and can hear the proceedings clearly.

Inside the Audience Hall, the ambiance is both grand and intimate. The interior is adorned with elegant and understated decor, incorporating elements of modern aesthetics while maintaining a sense of reverence and dignity. The focal point is the stage, where the Pope delivers his addresses and holds papal audiences. The space also accommodates various events such as conferences, concerts, and cultural gatherings.

Aside from its architectural significance, the hall holds historical importance as the venue for numerous historic papal events and addresses. It has witnessed the presence of multiple popes who have utilized the hall to address the faithful, engage in interfaith dialogues, and meet with dignitaries and pilgrims from around the world.
10
Giardini Vaticani (Gardens of Vatican City)

10) Giardini Vaticani (Gardens of Vatican City)

Spread across the hills behind St. Peter's Basilica, you'll find the Vatican Gardens, a vast expanse of meticulously manicured lawns and vibrant flower beds. This sprawling landscape, encompassing nearly 40 acres of Vatican hill, is adorned with a mix of captivating structures and unassuming office buildings.

Within the Vatican Gardens, you can explore a diverse array of themed gardens. Stroll through the elegant formal Italian garden, adorned with symmetrical designs and classical sculptures. Wander through the enchanting French garden, bursting with colorful blooms and a romantic atmosphere. Lose yourself in the serenity of the English landscape garden, with its picturesque pathways and naturalistic features. And discover a tranquil oasis within the small forest area.

As you explore, you may come across the Vatican's little-known railway station, which has been transformed into a captivating museum showcasing coins and stamps produced within the Vatican. Another notable sight is the Torre di San Giovanni, also known as the Tower of St. John. Originally restored by Pope John XXIII as a retreat for work, it now serves as a distinguished residence for special guests.

Tip:
To visit these gardens, you have the option of joining a 2-hour guided walking tour or embarking on a 45-minute open-bus tour without any stops. It's important to note that visits must be booked in advance online, ensuring a seamless and enjoyable experience.

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