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Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Country Recap: Vatican City

It didn’t seem like it, but we visited a new country while we were in Rome: the Vatican City. It’s the smallest country in the world, both in terms of its size (800 people) and area (109 acres)–in fact, we literally walked around the country’s walls in about an hour.

We started early, seeing St. Peter’s Basilica first. The scale inside is nearly unfathomable. It’s just too big to truly take in. For instance, the Statue of Liberty, on her plinth, would fit under the dome with 25 meters to spare. It was decorated beautifully as well, with multicolored marbles and sculptures by the famous Renaissance artists. We took an elevator and a couple hundred steps to the top of the dome, with a great view of Rome and the Vatican gardens.

After seeing the top of this giant basilica, we took a tour underneath it. Back in the fourth century, Constantine required it to be built on the site of St. Peter’s grave. This presented two problems–the grave was close to a pagan Necropolis still in use, and Peter was buried on a hill. To solve both problems, the basilica and grottos were built over the top of these tombs, preserving them in a pristine state for about 1,700 years. They weren’t rediscovered until the early 20th century, when the pope ordered an excavation to find the actual site of Peter’s grave. After a decade of digging, they found bones that could plausibly be Peter’s, so the church declared that they are most definitely the bones of St. Peter and stopped all further excavations. They give tours nowadays, limited to 200 per day, led by an archaeologist who was very knowledgeable and gave lots of information about how things came to be. It was chilling seeing some of the best preserved artifacts of ancient Rome in the world.

In the afternoon we visited the Vatican Museum. We enjoyed the ancient Egyptian collection, complete with sarcophagi, mummies, and hieroglyphics. The Rafael rooms, painted on all four walls and ceilings with bright frescoes, prepared us for the most amazing room of them all: the Sistine Chapel. We spent a good half hour soaking in the beauty of Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, while trying to ignore the guards’ constant shouts of ”sshhh!”, “silencio!”, and “no fotos!” Many visitors were taking pictures anyways.

Top experience?

Nikki: The Swiss Guard. OK, OK, St. Peter’s was amazing, the Sistine Chapel was incredible, and our tour of the Necropolis was fascinating. But before our visit to the Vatican, I didn’t know about the Swiss Guard and its silly orange and blue striped uniforms, so that ended up being my favorite part of the visit.

Brad: The Scavi tour underneath St. Peter’s. It was an eery look back almost 2,000 years, and the story of how the Basilica came to be was very interesting.

Bottom experience?

Nikki: The guard in the Sistine Chapel shouting, “Silencio! No fotos!” nonstop, while everyone ignored him and continued talking and taking pictures anyway. Super annoying and hard to concentrate on the art. I wish everyone would just be quiet.

Brad: The security guards’ constant shouts in the Sistine Chapel. It was really annoying. If they were serious about no photos, there would be a room where you’d check your camera and phone before you entered, and you’d get it back when you left.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: I think it’s very weird how much the Church loves science when it proves what they want it to prove (These are the bones of Peter! Science says so!), but they hate/ignore science when it says something they don’t like (The earth can’t be 4.5 billion years old! Science is wrong!).

Brad: The Swiss guards’ uniforms. They kind of look like striped pajamas.

Statistics for Vatican City

  • Hours in the country: 8.5
  • Blog posts: 1, this one
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 1
  • Photos taken: 130
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 34, 26% of all photos taken
  • Geocaches found: 1
  • Perimeter of the country: 2.1 miles