Have you ever experienced something that you went into with a skeptical mindset and left feeling like you had a life-changing experience? This is exactly how I felt after leaving the Vatican City following our mammoth 5 hour tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the various Vatican museums and all of the grounds that make up the smallest nation in the world. Oh yes, and of course the small matter of the Sistine Chapel but more about that later!
I want to start this post by providing a couple of caveats that I am not Catholic, I am not particularly religious (this always generates some controversy but I think it’s important to make clear) and I have no real interest in art history. You may be wondering how on earth I can leave the Vatican City claiming to have had a life changing experience. Well, it’s all about what you take from an experience and I can honestly say that both Heather and myself learned more during these inspiring 5 hours, than we probably would have done in any self-guided tour throughout our lives.
Overome Guided Tours
Thanks to Overome for providing a semi-private guided Vatican Wonders Tour and our amazing guide Natalia who worked tirelessly for 5 solid hours, continously talking to us and enhancing our overall experience. I can’t imagine standing in line outside the Vatican for 3 or 4 hours waiting to purchase tickets and then attempting to scramble through all of the sights inside without an organized tour and guide.
Natalia was in one word AWESOME! Alongside Heather and myself was a recently married couple from Washington DC who had been traveling around Italy for a few weeks and had made their way to Rome and Vatican for their finale before heading home to the States. Natalia greeted us outside the main entrance and after smoothly passing through security and bypassing all the ticket lines, we began our tour above the courtyard overlooking the infamous St. Peter’s Basilica dome.
Semi-Private Vatican Wonders Tour Itinerary
The tour is broken down into various stages and starts out at the Pinacoteca art gallery. This is the main difference between the semi-private tour and the regular tour. For a very small price difference (61 Euros vs. 89 Euros), there is a great deal of value added by pursuing this semi-private tour. Not only do you get to see more, you get the more personal and private feel to the whole experience.
The itinerary for the Semi-Private Vatican Wonders Tour and Pinacoteca is as follows:
- Pinacoteca Art Gallery
- Vatican Museums
- Raphael’s Rooms
- Sistine Chapel
- St. Peter’s Basilica
Let’s take a look through each of these phases. As I mentioned, I am NOT an art history guru so probably don’t appreciate artwork the way I should but it really was amazing to see some of the spectacular works on display.
Pinacoteca Art Gallery
As we entered the Pinacoteca, I have to admit that I was a little dubious and concerned that my preconceptions would prove to be correct. How wrong could I have been! Natalia began to describe many of the paintings that we saw but instead of just giving a brief overview, she actually provided details of specific figures and how they were depicted by the particular artists.
It was really interesting to learn all of this especially at the beginning of the tour as we were all able to take this knowledge throughout the remainder and pinpoint certain figures in other paintings, without needing Natalia’s pointers.
St. Paul for example was depicted in many of the paintings wearing green and red robes while St. Jerome is easily identifiable due to his accompanying lion. We passed through a series of rooms with a variety of different pictures, all with iconic symbolism that is probably way deeper than even I could imagine. One of the rooms we entered prior to moving outside included a series of tapestries and wall frescoes, the most notable being the image of the Last Supper.
The final room we passed through was a variety of more modern images by Wenzel Peter, including a very picturesque Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden depiction with a myriad of animals and flowers scattered throughout the iconography.
As you pass through the doors leading out of the Pinacoteca Art Gallery, you make your way into a large courtyard that provides a moment of respite and gives an opportunity for reflection. Natalie continued her detailed commentary and used this time to highlight everything inside the Sistine Chapel, primarily because photography, videos and talking is not permitted.
The architecture is what really stands out throughout many of the Vatican Courtyards. Many of the leading Italian artists and sculptors clearly provided much of the inspiration in developing the intricate details that make up everything that resides in the Vatican. The iconic two keys that represent the Vatican City are present throughout the architecture and it is a real honor to be present in a location where so much history has been unveiled.
I think many of the images that we took really do much more justice than words will ever do and it’s one of those experiences that you just have to see for yourself rather than taking our word for it.
The Vatican Museums and Raphael’s rooms provided a wide variety of backgrounds, interesting sculptures and of course the iconic Gallery of Maps which I thought was a really cool feature. All of the maps depicted various parts of Ancient Italy along with featuring a perspective view on the main city within that focused region.
Of course, after moving through here you have two choices. Do you want to pass through Raphael’s rooms first or simply bypass this and head direct to the Sistine Chapel? We opted for the former and I am glad we were able to see all of Raphael’s works, despite the ongoing renovation and maintenance of some of these rooms.
But the moment of truth was well worth the wait as we climbed up the steps and entered the Sistine Chapel. If you have never stepped inside this holy location, you may find it difficult to appreciate the significance of here. Imagine standing in the spot where the cardinals meet to determine the outcome of the next Pope! This is exactly where it happens and we are both truly honored to have stood in this exact room where it all takes place.
The art inside the Sistine Chapel is incredible. As I mentioned, Natalie had previously told us the history inside and how Michelangelo spent four years working along to create the ceiling art that we see today. The fresco technique that was used relates to how the paint was applied to damp plaster and throughout these four arduous years, Michelangelo created a variety of iconic scenes.
Take a look at the nine scenes – which one is your favorite? I am sure you will be familiar with many of them!
As you move towards the exit, it’s also interesting to note the spot in the top corner of the wall where the smoke is let through to let people outside know whether a Pope has been decided or if they are still considering. Can you imagine standing outside waiting hour after hour in anticipation for the white smoke to appear?
St. Peter’s Basilica
After four and a half hours of walking around the Vatican, the final stop is without doubt the most iconic! Standing in front of St. Peter’s Basilica peering up at the balcony where the Pope steps out and greets the thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica is equally as impressive. Natalia pointed out many of the main attractions inside and then bid us farewell as we continued exploring the Basilica before heading below into the catacombs. Here you can see St. Peter’s tomb along with a number of other Papal tombs. The tombs house over twenty Popes, Royalty and Cardinals including Saint Peter, John Paul I, Paul VI, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII and Queen Christina of Sweden among many others.
A trip to Rome wouldn’t be the same without taking time to schedule a trip to the Vatican City. Not only are you checking off the smallest country in the world (important if you are a country counter!) but you are experiencing something unlike anything else.
Packed full of history and regardless of your religion and ethnic background, I feel certain you will certainly appreciate the historic beauty that is present here.
I want to reiterate our special thanks to Natalia from Overome who provided us with in-depth knowledge and an amazing experience that we will never forget!
If you would like to see all of our photos from our experience exploring the Vatican City, check them out here: Vatican City 2014.
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Overome for providing us with complimentary tickets for the South Coast Iceland tour. The content of this post are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.