Any visit to Rome should definitely include a tour of the Vatican. Once you’ve done that, you will begin to understand the immense wealth and power of the Catholic Church. It is truly an untouchable entity. Vatican City is a country all by itself located in the city of Rome. At just 109 acres, it has the distinction of being the world’s smallest country. Inside this tiny country, there is a post office, a radio station and a mint and they even have their own currency, the Italian Lira. We were on an early morning tour of the Vatican, once again thanks to the generosity of The Roman Guy. This Vatican and accompanying Sistine Chapel Tour was truly special. Here are three reasons why you should do one when you visit Rome.
3 Reasons Why Early Access Vatican Tour Rocks:
The history of the Vatican is quite complex. I knew a few facts about it but not much. We’ve been to the Vatican before, but as you might recall, all our images were lost when the computer died on us while we were still living in Malta. I have been slowly trying to duplicate them when we visit his family. When this opportunity came up, I couldn’t resist, even if it meant waking up really early :-). The tour meets up at 7.30AM with entry to the Vatican at 8AM. It’s worth it though in my opinion.
This is one of the most important reasons for doing an early morning tour. When you are on vacation, you have limited time and if you’re like me, you have an itinerary of things you would like to see. I’m sure nowhere on that list does it say “wait in line 4 hours for entry”. It’s no secret that the crowds, especially at summer are truly ginormous at all the most popular touristy places. You might recall our epic fail in trying to see the palace in Sintra, Portugal and our utter disappointment at the wasted day. Going on an early morning tour of the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel with The Roman Guy eliminates that disappointment.
The cool part of this tour is that you have access to the Vatican a full hour before it opens to the rest of the public. Think about that for a minute. While an hour is not much in terms of time, it is monumental when it comes to the crowds that visit the Vatican. I can not say it is completely empty at this time, that would be a lie as there are of course other companies in line as well. What l can say is that it is as empty as it will ever get unless the Pope himself is giving you a personal tour.
We met our guide Jad just outside the doors of the museum and once everyone in the small group was accounted for (7 of us total). We headed across the street and once in line, Jad went on to give us a little history about the museums and the wonderful works we were about to see from the masters like Michelangelo. Little tidbits like how it took him 4 years to complete the Sistine Chapel ceiling. You understand the suffering that went into the work, how hard it must have been painting daily while standing on ladders, craning your neck to paint on a ceiling! I admire his work, but yikes.. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it and he was hesitant to do it, but they wanted him. He wasn’t a young man at that point either. Da Vinci took 4 years also to paint “The Last Supper”. We were given a map on the Sistine Chapel because since it is a place of worship, there is no talking allowed inside. No pictures either (not that people listened!). We were also fitted with earpieces and once the doors opened, we were ushered inside. You can see the advantage of doing the tour. Gives you time to do other things on your list.
Thanks to reason number one, you actually get a chance to see and admire the art. Since we had a shorter line to go through because The Roman Guy is an accredited Vatican tour operator, we had some time to look, listen and even take pictures before the next set of people appeared. Sometimes when you have tours, you hardly have any time to absorb things before being rushed to the next one. Not so here, so l totally appreciated it. Along with the Sistine Chapel, we also visited the Gallery of the Maps (outstanding tapestry work about all the regions of Italy), Candelabra Gallery, Gallery of the Tapestry and the Raphael Rooms.
Jad told us how one prudish Pope had insisted on covering up the private parts of the sculptures. I suppose walking up and down seeing dangling bits all over the place must have been jarring. Our guide Jad was very entertaining and really knew his history. He is an Archeologist so his appreciation for art was genuine and it was cool his pointing out some of the little things like the artist who put himself in one of his paintings or the artist who depicted a true “asshole boss” in a derogatory way in one of the paintings. Way to be remembered for eternity :-).
Friendly Guides with Useful Information:
This was our second tour with The Roman Guy. Both times, we have had excellent guides who were not only knowledgeable, but friendly and engaging. This alone adds to the experience. There is so much to see and it’s nice to have a bit of hand holding when you tour a place like the Vatican. You get to see and hear about the best bits. It gives the experience more substance, at least to me. My appreciation for the art is enriched even more.
Our tour included a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. Despite the vast size, it became a bit more difficult to get clear pictures because at this point, the general public were also in there and it became a bit more crowded. Nothing overwhelming, but there was definitely a shift in the pace to see and move on. The earpieces worked marvelously though as we were still able to keep up with Jad’s commentaries. We concluded the tour by visiting the crypts of past Popes.
This was once again quiet and we were actually the only group down there at that point. We saw the last resting places of these very influential people of the Catholic religion. My favorite Pope was absent (Pope John Paul II) having being made a saint, but l saw the empty space. The funny thing to us was that the sign specifically said “NO PICTURES” down there, the only ones breaking that rule were nuns in uniforms, all taking cell phone pictures. We all kind of laughed because l guess to them, these Popes must have been like rock stars :-). Imagine being told you couldn’t take a picture at Jim Morrison’s grave! :-)
Some little known facts about the Vatican:
- There is a secret passage way from the Vatican to the Castel Sant’Angelo. Built in 1277, the Passeto di Borgo is half a mile long and has served as an escape route for some popes, including Pope Clement VII in 1527 during the sack of Rome when the army of Emperor Charles were killing all nuns and priests.
- The Swiss Guard provides security for the Pope. They have been serving the Pope since 1506 under the reign of Pope Julius II. They are made up of entirely Swiss citizens
- Mussolini was the one who signed to make Vatican City a country in 1929. The Church was given 92 million dollars (about a billion dollars in today’s currency) for the Papal States and ended the dispute between the Italian government and the Catholic Church.
- St Peter’s Basilica sits on top of a burial ground. After a fire destroyed much of Rome, then Emperor Nero accused Christians of starting the fire and killed as many as he could by burning them at the stake, crucifying them and using wild beasts to tear them apart. Saint Peter was among the dead as the first Bishop of Rome. The Basilica was built over the catacombs and St. Peter’s supposed grave.
Have you been to the Vatican? If yes, how long was your wait in line? Would you recommend it as a must visit for others?