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.”
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.
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!
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!