The Vatican

The Vatican is an independent landlocked city state surrounded by Rome and as such is the smallest independent country in the world. It became independent of Italy and is a distinct territory under the Pope who is the Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church. The Vatican is the most important holy city for the Catholics, an important archaeological site of the Roman era and a major cultural centre. Understandably it is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Vatican city contains religious and cultural sites such as St Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and The Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. Vatican city is enclosed by its walls.

When we visited The Vatican , our guide had emphasised to us that it is very important to stay together in a group and ensure not to lose track of the group. It was extremely crowded and once you lose track of your guide, finding one’s way back is next to impossible. After this warning, he handed us over to the local guide; a lady who was carrying a long pole with a coloured flag. She also emphasised the need to stay together and not get distracted. The coloured flag is held high by the guide so that the group members can see her and follow her even in a crowd. I had not seen this system elsewhere, but of late, I find this being followed at many places.

With the fear of God, we all diligently followed the guide as she weaved in and out through the crowd. We first visited St. Peter’s Basilica.

St Peter’s Basilica :

One of the largest churches in the world, it is located at St Peter’s Square and can accommodate 20,000 people. Constructed between 1506 and 1626, it is the most outstanding example of Renaissance architecture. St Peter, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus and the first Bishop of Rome was buried just below the main altar where the Basilica stands today and hence the name.

One of the most impressive parts of the Basilica is The Dome. The Dome dominates the Vatican skyline and has been the inspiration for the domes at The Capitol in Washington and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Michaelangelo started the design of this dome.

Most of the important speeches of the Pope are delivered at St Peter’s Square.

Some pictures :

St Peter’s Square

St Peter’s Basilica

The detailed architecture on the exterior of the basilica with St Peter’s statue in front

The impressive dome from outside……note the windows

The beautiful insides of the dome

The main entrance

The main altar at St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s tomb with a beautiful fresco in the background

The Holy Door

A huge decorated door which opens only during the “Holy Years” as per the instructions of the Pope is seen here. The belief is that if one crosses the door, one is cleared of his sins.

The Holy Door

One of the most celebrated works of Michaelangelo is ‘Pieta’ which depicts Christ after crucifixion on Mother Mary’s lap. This statue can be seen next to the entrance of the Basilica.

Michaeangelo’s Pieta (Pity in English)

Bronze statue of St Peter is another important aspect of the Basilica. To be noted is the toes that have worn out due to pilgrims touching the toes and kissing the feet

Bronze statue of St Peter

Mummy of Pope John xxiii can be seen preserved here.

Mummy of Pope John XXIII

Vatican Grottoes

St Peter’s Basilica is the resting ground of several Popes and their graves can be seen in the underground level. These are artificial caves decorated with elaborate designs, frescos and paintings.

Besides this, the Basilica is a storehouse of art in the form of frescos and paintings and decorated ceilings. Some pictures..

The last supper ….a celebrated fresco and the decorated ceiling

The Swiss Guards :

Another peculiarity seen here is the presence of Swiss guards who wear very colourful dresses and are armed with traditional and modern weapons. They are responsible for the safety of the Vatican Palace and Pope.

Swiss guard at the Vatican Palace

The Vatican Museums :

The Vatican museums are public museums in Vatican city with enormous collections of art work and sculptures from the Roman era and Renaissance period collected by the Popes. Apart from the art work displayed, some of the extraordinarily artistic rooms of the Vatican palace also form part of these museums.

At the entrance to the Vatican museums ( note the guides with their coloured flags)

Inside the museum

There are several smaller museums inside the main museum complex dedicated to various eras, popes, faiths etc. Some of these are: Sistine chapel, Christian Museum, Jewish Lapidarium, Egyptian museum, Collection of Contemporary Art etc.

A model of Vatican city in the Museum

Works of art form part of the beautiful ceilings of the corridors ,or ,are frescos displayed on the walls of the museum or ceiling. There are small display monitors in the museum where pictures of these great art works are saved. The guide explains the pictures and frescoes from these display monitors.

Guide explaining the frescos from the monitor

Some pictures from the museums:

Large tapestry on either sides of the corridors at the museum

Tapestry on the walls of the museum

Beautifully decorated arch

The beautiful ceiling of the Museum

Resurrection of Christ, one of the most important frescoes

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine chapel is a chapel and the official residence of the Pope. It is also part of the Vatican museum complex . It is famous for the Michaelangelo frescoes that decorate the interior particularly the ceiling . The ceiling has intricate frescoes about which the guide explained to us on the monitor. “The Creation of Adam ” is one of his renowned works which adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of Sistine chapel painted by Michaelangelo portraying the creation of Adam

“Creation Of Adam “by Michaelangelo

Another of Michaelagelo’s famous work, “The Last Judgement “can be seen behind the altar at Sistine Chapel

“The Last Judgement” by Michaelangelo

Guide explaining ‘The Last Judgement” on the monitor

Another important painting is “The Handing over Of The Keys” by Pietro Perugino

“Handing over the keys of heaven to St Peter” by Pietro Perugino

The sculpture of Artemis the Goddess of Fertility is another attractive statue here.


After an exhaustive session on history ,art and architecture by the guide, she let us off to the gardens of the St Peter’s Basilica where we had some time to ourselves to walk around and explore.

Most of us were pretty tired mentally and physically and chose to rest under the shade of the trees there. Soon our guide arrived and escorted us back to our hotel ending our visit to Rome. We would head for Pisa the next day.

A small note to my valued readers…

I am taking a two week vacation and hence my next episode will be uploaded after I am back. It will start with Pisa and its leaning tower!

Till I get back to you all, do continue your support in the form of your valuable comments and feedback. I value each one of them .

See you all after a short break…..


Rome was not built in a day… goes the proverb and I am sure you will agree with me by the time you go through this blog! An ancient city with ruins dating back hundreds of years and testimony to the hard work and architectural expertise of the Romans.

A heady mix of ancient ruins, beautiful art and vibrant street life, Rome is one of Europe’s most charismatic cities. Ancient icons like the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon are a testimony to the city’s golden age while the monumental basilicas are a stamp of it being the seat of the Catholic Church. Ornate squares and fountains add a baroque flavour to the city’s streets. Rome is generally considered the “cradle of Western civilisation and Christian culture.” The Vatican which is an independent country lies within the city boundaries and is the only country that lies within a city.

Rome’s history spans 28 centuries and is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome at around 753 BC but it has been inhabited from much earlier. Beginning with the Renaissance, the city saw a very vibrant architectural and urban programme making Rome the artistic and cultural capital of the world. This further led to it becoming the birthplace of Baroque and Neoclassical styles of architecture.

Its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Several United Nations special programmes have their offices located here. In addition to the ancient, one finds the latest and most modern day attributes here too. The presence of several fashion brands has made it an important centre of fashion and design.

The Colosseum

One of Rome’s most famous land marks is the Colosseum. It is an oval amphitheatre built with limestone , volcanic rock and concrete in ,central Rome and is still the largest amphitheatre in the world despite its age. It has 4 floors; the first 3 having 80 arches each and decorated with huge statues. It was built in less than 10 years….an amazing feat for such a large structure in those times.

It was the Roman Empire’s entertainment arena for over 500 years. It had room for more than 50000 spectators to watch gladiator fights, public executions, exotic animals and other spectacles. In the medieval era, it was stopped to be used for entertainment and was used or housing, workshops, religious orders and shrines.

What we see today is just a skeleton of the original structure. It has been substantially ruined by earthquakes and stone robbers. During the medieval period iron and lead was extracted to build other structures and the holes we see today are the holes used for this.

Approaching the Colosseum

At The Colosseum

The pattern of repetitive arches

Note the holes on the walls

Renovation work in progress…. unrenovated part seen on the right

An enactment of a scene in Roman history by locals….for tourists to pose for a price!

Inside the Colosseum

On entering, we see the arena ahead of us. The main stage has disappeared and what is seen are cellars used for storing equipment for the shows.

Inside of the colosseum….whatever remains now!

Arch of Constantine

This triumphal arch next to the Colosseum dedicated to Emperor Constantine, was used by victorious leaders to enter the city in triumphal procession.

Arch of Constantine

The Pantheon

Originally a small temple dedicated to Roman Gods, the name means “everything divine”. What is unique about this structure is that it was the first temple built for the common man. All other temples were meant for priests and forbidden to the common man. Its architecture and external beauty are a unique combination of Roman and Greek architecture. The dome of the Pantheon is unique.

The concept of a temple being a place of worship and communication with God started from here.

The Pantheon

The Roman Forum

Is a rectangular plaza surrounded by ruins of several important ancient government buildings which was originally a marketplace. For many years ,the forum was the centre of all activities in Rome like processions, public speeches, criminal trials etc. Today , it is a ruin of architectural fragments

The ruins of the Roman Forum

Monument to the First King

Also called the monument of Victor Emmanuel II , this is a national monument made in white marble in contrast to the ruins of earth coloured buildings seen all over Rome. The focal point of the monument is the statue of a horseman representing Victor Emmanuel II. Just below this is the statue of Goddess Roma and below that is the tomb of the unknown soldier dedicated to all the unknown soldiers of Italy.

An external flight of 243 steps is an additional feature of this monument which also houses the Italian museum of unification.

Monument of the First King and the tomb of the unknown soldier

The External Steps

Roman Aqueducts

As one drives through the city, ruins of Aqueducts are seen everywhere. The Romans constructed aqueducts throughout their territory to bring water to cities and towns. This water supplied public baths, fountains, households and farms. These aqueducts were designed to move water according to gravity gradient within passages of stone, brick , concrete or lead. The ruins of their complex aqueduct systems can be seen all over Rome today and stands testimony to their planning and architectural skills.

Ruins of Roman Aqueducts

Trevi Fountain

An 18th century fountain, it is the largest baroque fountain and one of the most famous fountains . Famous for its intricate artwork decorated in the Baroque style.

The myth about the Trevi Fountain originating in 1954 with the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain,” goes like this: If you throw one coin: you will return to Rome. If you throw two coins: you will fall in love with an attractive Italian. If you throw three coins: you will marry the person that you met.

Wonder how many have tested this out?

The Trevi Fountain

Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus is one of the largest sports arenas ever built. It was a popular chariot racing stadium. It is now in ruins and all that can be seen is an open area with some ruins. Many movies have been shot here with the background of the ruins, the most popular among them being Benhur.

The ruins of Circus Maximus

Well, I can almost see you agree to what we said when we started out … had taken a lot of time, effort and expertise to make a city like Rome. That most of the work of the ancient Romans is now in ruins is also testimony to the fact that nothing is permanent here and everything and everyone has to see a day of downfall. However, we have to accept the architectural skill of the ancient Romans.

As if this was not enough, we have a visit to The Vatican next week. This country within in a city is another amazing creation. See you next week at The Vatican. Till then, keep your comments and feedback coming and of course do subscribe…