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 iTunes 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:
  • St. Peter's Square
  • Obelisk
  • St. Peter's Basilica
  • Vatican Museums
  • Cortile del Belvedere
  • Vatican Library
  • Cappella Paolina
  • Sistine Chapel
  • Paul VI Audience Hall
  • Vatican Gardens
St. Peter's Square

1) St. Peter's Square (must see)

Saint Peter’s Square is the most famous square in the world. It is also an architectural and engineering masterpiece and no visitor to Rome should miss visiting it.

The square was redesigned between 1657 and 1667 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was already working on the Basilica. Pope Alexander VII wanted the piazza in front of St Peter’s Basilica to be a place where everyone could see him, but not too grand to distract from the Basilica itself.

Bernini designed the square to be partially surrounded by curved and covered colonnades, 196 metres wide and 148 metres long. The colonnades are supported by 284 Doric style columns set in four rows. On top of each colonnade are statues of various martyrs and saints.

Pope Sixtus V had the obelisk in the centre of the square moved here from the Circus of Nero in 1586 by Domenico Fontana. In 1817 circular stones were laid to mark the shadow of the obelisk’s tip at noon.

The cobblestone paving is broken up by travertine lines radiating out from the obelisk. At each end of the colonnades stands a fountain; one was built by Carlo Maderno in 1614, the other by Bernini in 1667. Between each fountain and the obelisk, you will see a round slab of porphyry. If you stand on one of these slabs and look at the columns, you will be struck by a startling optical illusion: it seems that there is only one row of columns instead of four!

The square is the focal point of pilgrimages and over 300,000 people gather here every year to hear the Pope’s Easter speech. Three flights of steps lead from the square to the Basilica.

Why You Should Visit:
The architectures surrounding the square are simply amazing. It is also a great place for taking pictures, even if you do not plan to walk into the Basilica or the Vatican museum.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

2) Obelisk

Everyone always associates obelisks with Egypt, but today there are more of these slender monuments in Rome than anywhere else in the world, with eight ancient Egyptian ones and five ancient Roman ones. These monuments were raised usually as a single block in front of pyramids or Egyptian temples and they symbolized the sun god Ra. Ancient Romans often dedicated their to their current ruling emperor; these weren’t adorned with hieroglyphics.

The obelisk that stands in St Peter’s Square was brought from Egypt to Rome by the Emperor Caligula in 37AD and he had it set up in the center of his circus (later known as the Circus of Nero). Transporting obelisks was a difficult process and huge boats – “obelisk boats” – were specially constructed to carry them.

When Sixtus V became pope, he was determined to move the obelisk to the center of what was to become St Peter’s Square. The move was orchestrated by the architect and engineer Domenico Fontana, Giacomo della Porta’s assistant during the construction of the basilica. It took three weeks to move the monument on rollers and forty-seven cranes, 140 carthorses and over 1000 men to set it up in its new home. At one time a bronze globe, believed to contain the ashes of Julius Cesar, topped the obelisk, but Pope Sixtus V replaced it with his symbol of three mountains topped by a star.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
St. Peter's Basilica

3) St. Peter's Basilica (must see)

Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a beginner, you will probably never see a church as magnificent as the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican City. This beautiful church is one of the biggest in the world and is considered one of the holiest places in Rome. The original church was built in 324 AD, commissioned by Emperor Constantine and built over the shrine marking the burial place of the martyred St Peter. St Peter, who has one of the Apostles and considered as the 1st pope, was crucified head-down (at his request, as he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ). Many popes were buried in the basilica between the 4th and 15th centuries.

During the years that the papal seat was located in Avignon, France, the Old Basilica fell into disrepair. In 1505 Pope Julius II decided to have the church demolished and a new one built that would house his tomb, which was enormous. Over the next 120 years, many popes and architects worked on the plans and the basilica grew and grew. Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and remains the largest church in the world. The famous dome is 42 meters in diameter and 120 meters high. Around the inside of the dome is an inscription which in English reads: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven". While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the Catholic Roman Rite cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites. It has been described as "holding a unique position in the Christian world" and as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom".

The interior of the church is a monument to Late Renaissance design. Vast and richly decorated, you can admire monuments and altars dedicated to numerous kings and popes. Here, you will find Michelangelo’s 'La Pieta' and over 39 statues of saints. In the nave is a circular slab of Imperial Porphyry where Holy Roman Emperors knelt during their coronation. In the crypt, you can see the remains of the early churches that stood on this site. There are also 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.

Go there early in the morning to avoid long lines.
Admission is free (before 5pm when the gates close), but expect to be assessed before entry. Knees and shoulders should be covered (ladies: there are many people selling affordable scarves nearby).
If you are adventurous go up to the top of the dome. An elevator ride saves you climbing 300+ stairs.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am-6:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Vatican Museums

4) Vatican Museums (must see)

The Vatican Museums on Viale Vaticano are a collection of galleries that house the biggest display of art in the world, built up over the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church. You really shouldn’t miss this important collection of Renaissance Art and classical statues.

The collection was founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century when he bought the white marble statue of Laocoon and his sons being attacked by sea serpents from a vineyard owner who found the magnificent sculpture buried in one of his fields. Over the centuries a lot of rich people left paintings and sculptures to the Church and many of the popes following Julius II bought paintings from great artists of their time.

Although some of the paintings had been commissioned, it must be remembered that the Church had a vast fortune and could afford to buy works of art, so artists such as Bernini, Raphael, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, if they wanted to make a living, spent a lot of time on religious themes.

The collection was housed in the Borgia Apartment of the Vatican Palace until Pope Pius XI commissioned Luca Beltrami to build a suitable building for it.

The 53 galleries are truly breath-taking, with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Raphael, and a section of Modern Religious Art where you can admire paintings by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra among others.

Included in the tour is a visit to the Stanze della Segnatura with its beautiful frescoes by Raphael and the Sistine Chapel, whose ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo attract over 4 million visitors a year.

Why You Should Visit:
The collection is vast, there is something from almost all eras, countries and civilizations.

Choose a few key pieces of art that you don't want to miss and just focus on those; otherwise, you should reserve at least a couple of days or visits to view everything.
Eat a good breakfast and put on your best walking shoes before you go.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-4pm, closed on Sundays
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cortile del Belvedere

5) Cortile del Belvedere

The Cortile del Belvedere, (Belvedere Courtyard in English) was a major architectural work of the High Renaissance at the Vatican Palace in Rome. Designed by Donato Bramante from 1505 onward, its concept and details reverberated in courtyard design, formalized piazzas and garden plans throughout Western Europe for centuries. Conceived as a single enclosed space, the long Belvedere court connected the Vatican Palace with the Villa Belvedere in a series of terraces connected by stairs, and was contained on its sides by narrow wings.

Bramante did not see the work completed, and before the end of the sixteenth century it had been irretrievably altered by a building across the court, dividing it into two separate courtyards.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Vatican Library

6) Vatican Library

The Vatican Library (or Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in Latin) is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 ancient manuscripts from throughout history.

Pope Nicholas V established the library in the Vatican in 1448 by combining some 350 Greek, Latin and Hebrew ancient manuscripts inherited from his predecessors with his own collection and extensive acquisitions, among them manuscripts from the imperial Library of Constantinople. When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3,500 items, making it by far the largest in the Western world. Around 1587, Pope Sixtus V commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana to construct a new building for the library; it is still in use today. Books were displayed on benches to which they were chained.

Today, the library holds some 75,000 manuscripts and over 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. The Vatican Secret Archives were separated from the library at the beginning of the 17th century; they contain another 150,000 items. Among the most famous holdings of the library is the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, the oldest known nearly complete manuscript of the Bible. The Secret History of Procopius was discovered in the library and published in 1623. The Vatican Library is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology, open to anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs. Photocopies for private study of pages from books published between 1801 and 1990 can be requested in person or by mail.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cappella Paolina

7) Cappella Paolina

The Cappella Paolina (Pauline Chapel) is a chapel in the Vatican Palace separated from the Sistine Chapel by the Sala Regia (Regal Room). This beautiful chapel was designed in 1538 by Antonio de Sangallo the Younger, commissioned by Pope Paul II. It was used as the Chapel of the Concave and the Chapel of the Sacrament.

There was never any question in the pope’s mind as to which master artist would execute the chapel’s frescoes. He wanted Michelangelo, but the artist was over 60, tired and already trying to finish the tomb of Pope Julius II – a commission for which he had already been paid. The pope insisted and Michelangelo felt he had no choice but to agree. The two frescoes he painted, “The Crucifixion of St Peter” and “The Conversion of Saul”, weren’t considered his best works, and possibly the pressure he had been under to paint them showed in his work. His “Saul”, who had been a young man in his early thirties at the time of his conversion, is represented as an old man, white haired and world weary, which was perhaps a reflection of Michelangelo himself.

Other paintings in the chapel are by Lorenzo Sabbatini and Federico Zuccari. The statues and stuccowork are by Prospero Bresciano. In 2004, the Vatican announced plans to restore the frescoes in Cappella Paolina. Work was completed in 2009, revealing bright colors and hues that had been dulled by centuries of dirt and grime. In 2010, the Vatican website released a virtual reality rendered version of the Cappella Paolina. It presents the chapel in part 3D rendering and part high-resolution photography, unquestionably made after the 2009 restoration.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Sistine Chapel

8) Sistine Chapel (must see)

Sistine Chapel is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It is famous for its architecture, evocative of Solomon's Temple of the Old Testament, and its decoration which has been frescoed throughout by the greatest Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Sandro Botticelli.

Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. He resented the commission and believed his work only served the Pope's need for grandeur. However, today the ceiling, and especially 'The Last Judgement', are widely believed to be Michelangelo's crowning achievements in painting.

The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored the old Cappella Magna between 1477 and 1480. Since the time of Sixtus IV, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected.

Why You Should Visit:
Extraordinary paintwork; a highlight of Vatican City.

Find a seat along the walls so you can admire everything without breaking your neck.
If you have difficulty in understanding the paintings it is worth visiting the gardens where huge boards explain them.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-4pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Paul VI Audience Hall

9) Paul VI Audience Hall

The Paul VI Audience Hall is a building in Rome, located mostly in Italy and partially in Vatican City, but the Italian part of the building is an extraterritorial area of the Holy See used by the Pope as an alternative to Saint Peter's Square for conducting his Wednesday morning General Audience. The building, with a seating capacity of 6,300, was designed in reinforced concrete by the Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi and completed in 1971.

One of the more arresting features of the hall is the twenty-meter-wide brass and bronze sculpture La Resurrezione ("The Resurrection") by Pericle Fazzini. On May 25, 2007 it was revealed that the roof of the building was to be covered with 2,400 photovoltaic panels, generating sufficient electricity to supply all the heating, cooling and lighting needs of the building throughout the year. The system was donated by a German manufacturer, Solar World. It was officially placed into service on November 26, 2008 and was awarded the 2008 European Solar Prize in the Category Solar architecture and urban development.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Vatican Gardens

10) Vatican Gardens

The Vatican Gardens (Italian: Giardini Vaticani) in Vatican City are private urban gardens and parks which cover more than half of the Vatican territory in the South and Northeast. There are some buildings, such as Radio Vatican, within the gardens. The gardens cover approximately 23 hectares (57 acres) which is most of the Vatican Hill. The highest point is 60 meters (200 ft) above mean sea level. Stone walls bound the area in the North, South and West. The gardens and parks were established during the Renaissance and Baroque era and are decorated with fountains and sculptures proclaiming devotion to the Madonna and an olive tree donated by the government of Israel extends its three verdant branches. There are several springs under the earth which as of 2009 are not in use. There is a wide variety of flora, and the area is considered a biotope. There is no general public access, a contradiction with the doctrines of Jesus Christ, but guided tours are available to limited numbers.

Tradition says that the site of the Vatican Gardens was spread with earth brought from Golgotha by Saint Helena to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that shed by thousands of early Christians, who died in the persecutions of Nero. The gardens date back to medieval times when orchards and vineyards extended to the north of the Papal Apostolic Palace. In 1279, Pope Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277–1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace and enclosed this area with walls. He planted an orchard, a lawn and a garden.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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