We Visited the Vatican (But Didn’t See the Pope)

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City

The highlight of our visit to Rome was two separate sessions in Vatican City.  The first, a daytime visit to the grounds of the Piazza San Pietro and St. Peter’s Basilica, was followed by an exclusive evening visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

From Wikipedia: Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom.”

St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica

Needless to say, St. Peter’s Basilica is an incredible place and one of the best-known churches in the world.  On top of that it contains a priceless collection of art & sculpture.  To be able to spend time in that space, admiring the architecture and the art, was truly awe-inspiring.  I took a lot of photos there, but they only capture the visual essence of the place, but not the spiritual feeling one gets just by being there.  I’m not a religious person, but I was inspired by the beauty and sheer magnificence of the place.

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Swiss Guard in Vatican City
Swiss Guard in Vatican City
Swiss Guard in Vatican City

Outside of St. Peter’s, the grounds of the Piazza San Pietro, the statues and various buildings were quite a sight.  I’m guessing that Vatican City is likely one of the most secure locations in the world, likely even more so than the White House, but although the security was visible it was not intrusive.  The Swiss Guards appear to be ceremonial, but I got the impression that they would quickly become much more than guys in colorful uniforms if push came to shove.  There were a few Carabinieri and other police and military security personnel visible but mostly in inconspicuous locations.  I took a few photos but didn’t want to push my luck with guys carrying machine guns!

Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum

Tauck, the company that operated our tour, has a special arrangement with the Vatican to provide after-hours access to the Sistine Chapel.  For most tourists, a visit to ‘Cappella Sistina’ involves a trudge down a long, hot hallway with 10,000 of their closest friends, only be quickly herded through the chapel, with talking and photography forbidden.  Our group met up with two other Tauck groups and were escorted by our guides (and Vatican security) through the halls and numerous galleries of the Vatican Museum and ultimately into the Sistine Chapel proper, where we stayed for over 30 minutes, simply to observe and stand in awe of that place.  Our guides were able to narrate, and describe in detail, many of the pieces we observed in the museum, then provide a comprehensive explanation of both the ceiling and the walls of the Sistine Chapel.  We were still not permitted to take photographs, but there was nothing I could take that would come close to capturing the essence of the place.  After completing our visit, we were treated to a buffet dinner with wine on the grounds of the Vatican.  It was a simply indescribable experience!

Spiral staircase at the exit from the Vatican Museum
Spiral staircase at the exit from the Vatican Museum

8 thoughts on “We Visited the Vatican (But Didn’t See the Pope)”

  1. You managed to capture a beautiful set of images Tom. Sounds like you had the perfect visit to the Sistine Chapel and I would say that such an experience would be worth whatever extra Tauck tours cost.

    I keep going back to the picture of the spiral staircase (from the top). It feels like I’m looking inside a gigantic conch shell 🙂

    1. The only thing that would have made our visit even better would have been more time. But that was the theme for the whole trip. And when I think about it, that seems to be the theme for life in general these days!

      The spiral staircase was a real treat, although interestingly I just happened to look over the side and realize what it was before any of our group started to descend. I got my own photos first, then motioned to a couple other guys in our group so they could get their own shots. Ordinarily that staircase would be full of people, and it might not have the same impact.

  2. I can understand your statement, “I was inspired by the beauty and sheer magnificence of the place.”

    I am amazed at your capacity to capture the beauty of the scenes. Wonderful!

    1. Thank you, Monte. I’ll accept some of the credit, but it is hard to take a bad photo there!

      Good to hear from you – just this morning I mentioned to Kathy that I hadn’t seen any posts or comments from you lately and wondered if you were on vacation yourself! 😉

  3. Wow! What a treat, Tom, to have the special time in the chapel without 10,000 of your closest friends with you! Gotta love the special access pass!

    Those Swiss Guards are not exactly inconspicuous, now are they? 🙂

    1. They are definitely not inconspicuous in those uniforms! It was interesting to note that every one we saw wore eyeglasses. We speculated that they were really some kind of secret communication devices. 😉

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