Italy Day 10 (5 Dec 22) – Vatican City: The Smallest Country in the World

Tour of the Vatican City

No trip to Italy would be complete without visiting Vatican City for first-timers. When researching what to see in Vatican City, climbing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica was unanimously recommended by all bloggers/Vloggers who came to this fantastic country. We wanted a guided tour of the Vatican City, as a guide would give us better context (not to mention the skip-the-line). Unfortunately, few companies offer tours incorporating St Peter’s Basilica Dome climb, Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. We found such a tour package provided by The Roman Guy at a reasonable price and booked a complete tour of the Vatican City with them (access the tour we booked here). Our tour was supposed to start at 8.30 am but was shifted to 7.30 am. We took the Metro from our hotel and alighted at Ottaviano Station. From Ottaviano Metro Station, it is an 8 min walk to the meeting point.

We managed to catch the sun rising at St Peter’s Square

Climbing up to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome

After meeting with our tour guide, Raffa, we were brought to the queue waiting to enter St Peter’s Basilica. As we were walking to join the queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica, Raffa introduced the group’s surroundings, such as where the Pope’s bedroom is and the history of St Peter’s Basilica. I wasn’t paying attention to Raffa’s narrations, my eyes were stuck in awe of the massiveness of the basilica and the numerous statues installed on the rooftop of the cathedral, wandering to myself how on earth did they manage to get those statues up on the rooftop during antiquity times. Raffa brought our attention to the obelisk standing in the middle of St Peter’s Square, which is 4,500 years old. The doors to the basilica were supposed to open at 8 am. As we were waiting in the queue to enter, I noticed the queue was getting longer, and the doors to the basilica weren’t even open yet. The doors finally opened at 8.15 am, and we were led through the side of the basilica to a courtyard and waited there again. Raffa told us that the elevator we were supposed to take to the terrace level of the dome was out of order. The basilica staff was sorting out how do we get to the terrace level. Soon after, we were led inside the basilica through one of the side doors. Raffa commented this was the first time she’s been through the side door, and we indeed got a unique experience. As we walked to the “backup” elevator, Raffa told us there wasn’t a single painting in St Peter’s Basilica. Instead, all the so-called images that we saw were mosaics. A single piece of small Vatican mosaic (roughly the size of a notebook) would cost around €‎4,000. We took the elevator to the terrace level. There are a total of 551 steps to the top of the dome. Taking the elevator, we skipped climbing up more than 200 steps.

Sun rising over St Peter’s Square

Raffa then brought us up a small flight of stairs into the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. Inside we saw the mosaic artwork under the dome. If not for Raffa’s explanation, I would have thought those were paintings. These artworks are more impressive after we learnt they are mosaics, painstakingly put together ceramic by ceramic under the dome. It was a shame that we were only given 5 mins to walk through this dome level. We used whatever little time we had to admire the work of the builders of St Peter’s Basilica. We were given directions on where to get to the top of the dome (Raffa had hurt her leg, and she could not climb with us). The dome climb started with an easy slope, as we progressed higher into the dome, the stairs became narrower, and at one point (I think it must be near to the slope in part of the dome), the amount of headroom we had was very limited. Finally, after some 200-plus steps, we came to a small spiral staircase wedged into a single marble pillar. This marks the last few steps to the top of the dome.

Taking a wefie at the terrace level of St Peter’s Basilica

View of the mosaic artwork under the dome of St Peter’s Basilica

We were all in wonderment when our sight shifted from the narrow, enclosed stairways to the open space in front of us. The sight in front of us was the endless view of Rome, we could see as far as the horizon stretched. But instead of focusing on the distant views, I narrowed my vision to St Peter’s Square. Numerous content creators have mentioned the view of the square from the top of St Peter’s Basilica dome was amazing. Indeed, true to their words, I could see the 13 statues on top of St Peter’s Basilica, the circular St Peter’s Square, and a little beyond that, a road leading to St Peter’s Basilica. The view of the quiet morning St Peter’s Square, sparsely dotted with visitors, is priceless. With the crowd level, we can almost feel the tranquillity of the otherwise busy and crowded square in the morning. As much as I didn’t want to peel my eyes off the peaceful St Peter’s Square, I noticed I was hogging the spot. I moved around the dome to admire Rome from what felt like the top of Rome. I could see the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo marked by its iconic cylindrical brown tower from the top of the dome. I was trying to see if I could spot the Colosseum from the dome. I started by looking for the Tiber River and looked for the Colosseum. However, I wasn’t able to spot the iconic landmark of Rome. Nonetheless, the views from the top of the dome were amazing. We had an unobstructed 360° view of Vatican City and Rome from the top of the dome. Soon my friend started to remind us of the time we had to head back down to meet Raffa for the next part of our tour – the St Peter’s Basilica.

View of St Peter’s Square from the top of St Peter’s Basilica

My friends showing how tight some parts of the stairs to the dome is

St Peter’s Basilica

We met with Raffa, who took us through some of the more significant mosaics displayed in St Peter’s Basilica. After a couple of mosaics, Raffa brought us to the underground Vatican Necolpolis of St Peter’s Basilica, where we were shown the tomb of St Peter and the Popes of the basilica. The body of St Peter was buried underneath an elaborate marble-clad chamber, enclosed behind a glass panel. While we did not see the body of St Peter, we can feel the solemnness of the tomb. There are marble coffins of the other popes in the necropolis, but the tomb of St Peter is the most elaborate. As we were heading up to the ground level of the basilica, Raffa pointed to the base of a column and remarked that it was one of the pillars from the original St Peter’s Basilica. The first part of our tour of the Vatican City ended with a visit to the Vatican Necropolis. We returned to the meeting point for a 20 min break. As we hadn’t had our breakfast, we sat in the cafe munching on a croissant and cafe latte for breakfast.

The magnificent mosaic art under the dome of St Peter’s Basilica
St Peter’s Baldachin in the centre of St Peter’s Basilica, where St Peter is buried

The ceiling of St Peter’s Basilica

Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

After our short break, Raffa continues to bring us on a tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. Vatican Museum houses mainly the art collections of the Popes throughout the years. We spotted a crowd at the entrance of the Vatican Museum, and it seemed like the local school was bringing their students on an excursion to the Vatican Museums. As we were part of the tour group and had skip-the-queue access, we whizzed past the crowd and quickly got into the museum. Before Raffa brought us into the museum, she ushered us to the lawn within the museum grounds. Here she explained the paintings that we will see in the Sistine Chapel, pointing out some of the details of the paintings that we would see on the chapel ceiling.

A large statue of an acorn in the gardens of the Vatican Museum
Another view of the garden in the Vatican Museum

We were brought into the museum shortly after she narrated the paintings. The first few exhibits we saw at the Vatican Museum were sculptures collected by the Popes of St Peter’s Basilica. I thought the most interesting sculpture we saw was the big red marble bathtub of Emperor Nero, which was carved out of a rare purple marble from Egypt. Even though this area displays sculptures, the ceilings of this section are elaborately painted with murals. The section sections were corridors after corridors of paintings, some of which were painted by famous artists such as Raphael, Michangelo, etc. Raffa explained that Raphael even painted himself in some of these paintings as one of the commoners. Not all artworks are paintings. There is a section displaying Tapestry. I thought the most interesting art piece was the Tapestry of Christ, where a particular technique is used such that Jesus’s eyes and feet will follow you if one moves from left to right. There is even a section of tapestries detailing the map of the various parts of Italy, which Raffa explained is very accurate geographically. I like how Raffa showed us the more significant artworks without going through every single art piece. Towards the end of the tour, Raffa showed us the way into the Sistine Chapel, where we received blessings from a priest of the Vatican City. Raffa gave us time to look at the artwork on the ceiling and the wall in Sistine Chapel.

The Resurrection of Christ Tapestry in the Vatican Museum, where the eyes and foot of Christ will follow the viewer. Photo credit: The Roman Guy Travel Blog

Shopping at Spanish Steps

After we bid farewell to Raffa, we came to the end of the tour. Our original plan was to visit Castel Sant’Angelo since it is very close to Vatican City. However, since this was our last day in Rome and there would not be any luxury brand shopping for the final leg of our trip in Catania, my friends opted to shop at the boutiques near Spanish Steps. Before we started shopping, we headed to the restaurant Raffa recommended for lunch. Raffa recommended an authentic Italian trattoria for lunch, and we enjoyed the food served there. After lunch, we made our way to Spanish Steps and took obligatory shots of the Spanish Steps for our friends who weren’t here the night before. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping around the Spanish Steps and returned to the hotel to pack and rest early for the night. We had an early flight to catch the next day, bound for Catania, Sicily.

We had lunch at the restaurant Raffa recommended
Wefie on the streets outside the restaurant

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