Part of our small states series of stories
No journey to Rome is complete without a visit to the Vatican.
So what is the world’s smaller country at 1km² about? Well, for one it is a form of theocracy. One where the “head of state” is not a secular person but the head of a formidable global religious faith. And while it does not have a full fledge military force, it still packs a punch with its guards. So don’t let the seeming funky colorful uniforms fool you.
You would have read about our story on Rome’s legacy (here). It’s descent into the dungeons of oblivion in the middle of the first millennia came swiftly. But as the centuries wore by, the city gradually regained prominence, this time not as a capital of a world dominating Empire, but as a spiritual capital – that of the Roman Catholic Church.
Now many people come here every day. Luckily when we were there Mass was not conducted. That would have made the entire square almost impenetrable!
When the first Frankish conqueror Charles the great reunited Western Europe in 790s, the bishops of Rome had already gain some measure of leadership of the Christian world. Since the time of St. Paul, leaders of the church in Rome would be looked upon as leader of all Christians in the western world. It helped a lot that Christianity was granted tolerance by Emperor Constantine.
From that point, successive patronage to the church facilitated its rise to consolidate its position as leader of the religion. And along with it came a bureaucracy in choosing its leader. It endured numerous regime changes in the centuries after the fall of the western Roman empire through negotiation and submission to the various invading hordes. As it survived these centuries of turmoil, its reputation grew.
So, it does not come as a surprise that the Frankish Emperor was crowned and anointed in Rome. Despite being the most powerful of the “barbarian” Kings, he needed recognition from religion. A form of legitimacy. In return, the emperor bequeathed the city of Rome and much of the countryside to the Church – leading to the establishment of the Papal State in the Middle Ages.
From the tourists’ perspective, this stroke of history was greatly beneficial, as it greatly facilitated the protection of the city from further wanton destruction. Many of the buildings were preserved through the last 1000 years so that we can enjoy them!
Come prepared though
In case you plan a visit to the Vatican, do take note that no shorts (bermudas included) or bare shoulder clothing are allowed. “Men-in-black” bounce the entrance stopping any who do not meet the strict dress code. Anyway you’ve been warned right?
And not to short change yourself, prepare to spend at least half a day here.
Because the museums house collections of immense amount of art accumulated over the centuries. And the museums such as the Sistine chapel are works of art in themselves, because in this case Michelangelo painted the ceiling himself! Of course one have to be prepared that millions of people come here every year. That’s an average of more 16,000 people per day! And to stay ahead of the game, try buying a ticket that has the “fast pass” option. Ok, they don’t call it that but you get the picture. It’s only a few Euros more, so why not?
Just remember that there are 54 galleries officially and there will be no way to cover them all easily within a day. And yes there are free days too when one can access without paying – and that is the last Sunday of every month and the 27th of September. Why that specific date? Because that’s World Tourism day… And of course if your children under six can also get in free. The last we read, the queues could build up very early in the morning. Talk about dedication. How much is yours?
Take note though that the museum is not open all day (till 6pm) but the last entry is at 4pm. And coming on the free Sunday mean there is shorter opening time till 2pm only. Interestingly though, the Vatican has specific days when the museums are open in the evening from 7pm (usually Fridays). Most importantly, be aware that normal Sundays are closed. Download a copy of the annual calendar from their website to avoid disappointment.
For us, we crossed the Tiber river passing Castel Sant’ Angelo, entering Vatican city. No customs here! LOL.
It was a whirlwind visit. Because we were part of a larger tour group, we got in easy without the ticketing and timings to be considered as articulated above. However, the time we had in there was short. And hard to hear our guide too, due to the constant cackle of many other tourists. And if we were to come on our own and do it all again, we’ll choose a day when we could be there the entire day plus the evening too.
Checked off the list for being here. But for quality purposes, we’d need to return.
This journey was made in July 2001