While in Italy my wife and I made a point of visiting the Vatican. Neither of us are Catholic, but we’d long heard about the architectural and artistic marvels that are found inside so we immediately made plans to go.
I was blown away.
The Vatican is much larger and grander than I had previously imagined, there’s a reason it’s called Vatican City. There are many massive buildings clustered together in the heart of Rome and it’s all separated from the world by an impressive stone wall.
The line of people in the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica was mind-boggling, take the longest line you’ve been in at Disneyland and it would be nothing compared to this one.
Once inside we were escorted through selected buildings by ushers and carefully roped out paths. It was immediately apparent that the Vatican had never been intended to be seen by the outside world as a living museum. The hallways were narrow, the stairs were steep, and many rooms were rather small, becoming cramped with the crowds of tourists.
It was impressive to me how old everything was, while still boasting some modern amenities like electricity and running water. Most places would gut the building or knock it down and rebuild it as a modern duplicate, these buildings seemed to be the original thing with cables running along the corners and exposed piping. Any change was done in a very minimalistic fashion to preserve as much of the original construction as possible.
The artwork was amazing, the dedication to detail in the religious scenes and imagery was inspiring. The frescos in the Sistine Chapel were stunning, though the room was much smaller than I’d been led to believe by movies and other works. Do not misunderstand, it was still an impressive display of talent and skill by Michelangelo and the room was big compared to others we’d walked through, but I was expecting something much larger.
Perhaps most interesting to me was the variety of individuals that passed through the tour of the Vatican. There were the expected large number of Catholics coming to visit the headquarters of their religion, but there many, many people from all walks of life visiting the holy site. Christians of other faiths coming to appreciate the religious artwork, tourists drawn by the iconic buildings and sights, muslims, jews, and even a handful of atheists sporting the atomic whirl on their shirts all took time out of their day to come visit the Vatican.
Thankfully the majority of individuals at the Vatican were respectful and contemplative. There were a few protestors outside the basilica on the plaza with signs and chanting slogans, but it wasn’t common.
If you choose to go please remember to be respectful, the Catholic church has no obligation to display any of the Vatican to the public and are choosing to do so. It was unfortunate to see some tourists being crude or disrespectful while touring the holy city and making fun of the religion and its people while there. Please, show the kindness and respect you’d want others to show if they were visiting a sight of great importance to you and your beliefs.
Whether you wish to go there to pay respects to one of the oldest champions of Christianity, view the craftsmanship of ancient Italians, or simply see what all the fuss is about, I highly recommend visiting the Vatican while you’re in Rome.
Author: Benjamin Baker
After serving abroad in a religious capacity for two years Ben has felt the pull to travel and explore ever since. This desire was further fueled by his wife Maddie and the two have traveled to many places over the last few years. Ben’s hope is that by sharing his knowledge and experiences obtained while traveling that others can improve their lives and the lives of others through travel. Check out additional articles written by Benjamin.