In the first part of our “Rome in a Day” tour, we left you crossing the Tiber River from Rome’s ancient ruins and historic city center on our way to Vatican City for a tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Hope you enjoy this photo journal from the second part of our tour with Walks of Italy.
The power and the glory
Growing up in a Catholic family and attending Catholic grade school, I’ve long held majestic visions of Vatican City (the smallest city-state in the world) and its powerful resident, the pope. I was looking forward to seeing it in person and would have loved to be in St. Peter’s Square for a general audience with the pope, but our timing wasn’t quite right for that.
A walking tour of the Vatican Museums
Did you know that there are nine miles of culture and history with sculptures, paintings, other art, and religious and historical relics in the Vatican Museums, including their most famous attraction — the Sistine Chapel? It’s impossible to take it all in during one visit. The Walks of Italy tour helped us appreciate the spectacular collections even while moving along at a steady pace among the throngs of other visitors (at peak times, 20,000 people a day pass through the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica).
No matter how much time you have in Rome, the Vatican Museums are a must-see. The amazing works of art that have been collected for centuries by the popes are found in a long series of galleries and museums. The photos I’ve selected provide just a glimpse of the glorious beauty.
Near the start of the Vatican Museums tour, we entered the Rotonda with its centerpiece, Porphyry Basin (also called Nero’s Bath). Surrounded by niches with magnificent sculptures, this large red stone basin was the start of a seemingly endless stream of artistic treasures.
From gallery to gallery, we were captivated by the enormous and diverse collection from ancient artifacts to surprising modern religious art. We tried to take in as much as possible although it’s really quite overwhelming.
In the Raphael Rooms are ceilings and walls painted by Raphael who began his works at the same time that Michelangelo was beginning work on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. One of his most famous frescoes (shown above) is The School of Athens (La Scuola di Atene) created in 1509.
The ceilings throughout the museum are breathtaking. We were craning our necks in each gallery to get a good look at the beautiful masterpieces above us.
The photo above is one of my favorites, taken in the Gallery of Maps, aptly named for the 40 frescoed maps depicting Italian regions and the papal properties during the papacy of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585). I especially liked this room because I have always had an affinity for maps and the ones in this hall are stunning works of art and history.
These are just a few sections of intricate mosaic tile flooring that we admired as we passed through the galleries.
The Sistine Chapel
The final and most important stop in the Vatican Museums tour is the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s famous biblical frescoes, painted between 1508 and 1512. No picture-taking is allowed and you must keep quiet as there are guards who loudly command “Silence” from time to time. The most well-recognized scene on the nine panels of the ceiling is the “Creation of Adam” in which God touches Adam’s fingertip. I could almost feel that touch seeing this fantastic work in person. It’s in the Sistine Chapel that the cardinals are brought together in the papal conclave to elect a new pope — another scenario I envisioned as we stood in the chapel gazing in awe upon the ceiling and walls.
St. Peter’s Basilica
After the guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, our guide escorted us to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica and left us to casually tour the interior on our own. Built in the 4th century on the site of Nero’s Stadium where it is believed that St. Peter is buried, the basilica was a beautiful place to end to the tour.
When catching clips of Christmas or Easter services led by the pope in St. Peter’s, I’ve always imagined how wonderful it would be to attend one of those. I may never get that chance, but walking around inside gave me a sense of what it must be like.
Even after seeing the art collections of the Vatican Museums, we were still dazzled by the art and design of the basilica, including the stunning dome, ceilings, and another famous work of Michelangelo’s — the Pieta (bottom left above). I remember hearing so much about the Pieta when it was temporarily on display at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. (I was very, very, very, young.)
Before leaving the Vatican, we took a few minutes to admire the Swiss Guards who have been protecting the popes for 500 years. It’s incredible how these men stand so quiet and expressionless with all of us tourists snapping photos. These guards aren’t just for show, however. Despite common misconceptions, they are actually highly-trained soldiers and their services are especially critical in these days of terrorism threats.
Instagram bonus photo — follow us!
I enjoy seeing brides, grooms, and bridal parties when I travel. Often, they are in famous, picturesque settings such as this couple we spotted in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Mr. TWS and I are both eager to make a return to Rome. Now with a great introduction to ancient Rome and the Vatican under our belts and with a basic understanding of how to get around historic Rome, we’re ready to delve deeper. It’s likely we’ll look for another tour by Walks of Italy to put on our agenda.
What we especially liked about the Walks of Italy “Rome in a Day” tour:
- Qualified, knowledgeable, friendly, and entertaining guides — That’s a wonderful combination of characteristics in a tour guide.
- Privileged access at the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums — Even with more time than a couple of days to spend in Rome, I would not have wanted to wait in the lines we saw at these famous attractions and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss these tours.
- Headsets/microphone — The enjoyment of the tour was greatly enhanced by an excellent application of technology. The guide used a microphone/head-set system that really worked well. He could talk in a normal voice (no shouting over the crowds and the headsets were very effective in enabling us to hear him in small quiet rooms as well). It really helped provide freedom in motion because even when we lagged a bit or were separated by the crowd, we didn’t miss anything that was said.
- Small group size — There are never more than 14 on the “Rome in a Day” tour and we had fewer than that on ours.
- Useful information is available on the Walks of Italy website to know what to expect on the tour.
- Convenient transfer service — Our guide secured taxis and took care of payment to transfer everyone in the group from the historic city center to the Vatican for the second part of the tour.
- Start and finish points that worked well for us. We were staying near the Vatican, so it was perfect to just walk a few more blocks after our tour to get back to our hotel and have a glass of wine on the terrace after an awesome 6 hours of exploring the grandeur, power and glory of Rome.
Disclosure: Our “Rome in a Day” tour was hosted by Walks of Italy, but our opinions and perspectives are totally our own — as always.