- Perhaps the most fascinating building in Rome. The core of the structure began life as the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, built between 135 and 139 AD. Subsequent strongholds built on top of the mausoleum were in turn incorporated into a residence and castle by medieval Popes. The building was used as a prison until 1870, but now houses a museum. Opera buffs will be exhilarated to visit the balcony from which Tosca leaps to her death. Film buffs will recognise as a setting from "Angels and Demons".
st peter's basilica
The centre of the Catholic world, this magnificent basilica with its Michelangelo designed dome has an awe-inspiring interior. This place is huge, but everything is in such proportion that the scale escapes you. To give you a comparison, you can fit the Statue of Liberty, statue and pedestal height from ground of pedestal to torch: 93m, underneath the dome interior height of 120m from floor to top of dome with room to spare.
To get in, you will first go through a metal detector after all, this is an important building. Don't be put off if there is a long line in front of the detectors; the whole thing moves quickly. The line is usually shorter in the morning and during mid week.
Aside from going inside, you can take an elevator up to the roof and then make a long climb up 323 steps to the top of the dome for a spectacular view. It costs â¬7 for the elevator â¬5 to climb the stairs and allow an hour to go up and down. During the climb and before reaching the very top, you will find yourself standing on the inside of the dome, looking down into the Basilica itself. Be warned that there are a lot of stairs so it is not for the faint at heart literally or figuratively nor the claustrophobic as the very last section of the ascent is through a little more than shoulder-width spiral staircase. Instead of leaving out the doors you came in, go down into the crypt to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II, the crypt leaves out the front.
Note: A strict dress code is enforced as in many other houses of worship, so have shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and take your hats off (which is the custom in churches in Europe, women must wear scarves or some thing to cover their heads. You might be required to check bags at the entrance. Photos are allowed to be taken inside, but not with a flash. The lack of light will probably cause your pictures not to turn out very well, so you may want to buy a few postcards to keep as souvenirs.
The basilica is open daily April to September 9AM-7PM and October to March 9AM-6PM; closed Wednesday mornings for papal audiences.
Daily mass at 8:30AM, 10AM, 11AM, 12PM, & 5PM Monday to Saturday, and Sundays & holidays at 8:30AM, 10:30AM, 11:30AM, 12:10AM, 1PM, 4PM, & 5:30PM.
Free 90 minute tours leave daily from the Tourist Information at 2:15PM, many days also at 3PM. Telephone: 06-6988-1662. â¬5 audio-guides can be rented from the checkroom.
Tours are the only way to see the Vatican Gardens, â¬12, book at least a day in advance by calling 06-6988-4676, Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday at 10AM, depart from tour desk and finish in St. Peter's Square. To tour the Necropolis and Saint's Tomb, call the excavations office at least a week in advance at 06-6988-5318, â¬10 for 2 hour tour, office open Monday to Saturday 9AM-5PM.
If you want to see the pope, you can either see a usual blessing from his apartment at noon on Sunday, just show up but in the summer he gives it from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 25 miles from Rome or you can go to the more formal Wednesday appearance. The pope arrives in the popemobile at 10:30AM to bless crowds from a balcony or platform, except in winter, when he speaks in the Aula Paola VI Auditorium next to the square. You can easily watch from a distance, or get a free ticket, which you must get on the Tuesday before. There are a number of ways:
Your hotelier may be able to book one for you
You could wait in a long line at St. Peter's on Tuesday where the Swiss Guards hand out tickets at their post to the right of the basilica, after 12:00 on Tuesday
You could contact the Santa Susanna Church to get you a ticket, which you pick up there on Tuesday between 5PM & 6:45PM, on Via XX Settembre, Metro stop: Reppublica. Call 06-4201-4554, or go to (http://www.santasusanna.org)
Finally, to book a free spot in the square or auditorium, call 06-6988-4631
The pope may occasionally be away on a state visit, however.
Swiss Guards Corps Corpo della Guardia Svizzera Swiss Papal Guards are posted at entrances to the Vatican City to provide security and protect the Pope. They wear very colourful clothing, similar to the uniforms worn by Renaissance era soldiers; winter palette of clothing differs from summer palette. In contrast to popular belief, the design of the Papal Guard uniforms was modeled after the colors of the Medici family 4 of whom were popes, not from Michaelangelo. The Pontifical Swiss Guards is also the smallest and oldest standing army in the world founded in 1506 by the warrior pope Julius II the same pope who kick started the construction of this 'new' basilica and making Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. The origins of the Swiss guards, however, go much further. The popes, as well as a lot of European rulers, regularly imported Swiss mercenaries since the 1400s. Swiss mercenaries were a major export of Switzerland before they started making watches.
st. peter's piazza
The Piazza di San Pietro is actually an ellipse. There are two stones one on each side of the square between the obelisk and the fountains. If you step on either of these stones, the four columns on the colonnades merge into one. The fountains were made by two different architects, Maderno and Bernini.
The obelisk in the middle of the square was transported from Egypt to Rome in 37 A.D. by the Emperor Gaius Caligula to mark the spine of a circus eventually completed by the Emperor Nero. The so-called Circus of Nero was parallel to and to the south of the east-west axis of the current Basilica. It was in this circus that St. Peter was killed in the first official persecutions of Christians undertaken by Nero beginning in 64 A.D. and continuing until his death in 67 A.D. The original location of the obelisk is marked with a plaque located near the sacristy on the south side of the Basilica, where it remained until it was moved in 1586 A.D. by Pope Sixtus V to its present location.
During the Middle Ages, the bronze ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. When it was relocated, the present reliquary, the Chigi Star in honor of Pope Alexander VII, was added containing pieces of the True Cross. This is the only obelisk in Rome that never toppled since it was placed in ancient Rome and is the second largest Egyptian obelisk after the Lateran obelisk. This celebrated obelisk nearly shattered while it was being moved. Upon orders of the pope, no one was to speak a word otherwise he would be excommunicated. However, a sailor shouted to water the ropes to prevent them from burning. He was forgiven and in gratitude for saving the day, the palms for Palm Sunday still come from the sailor's home town of Bordighera. The moving of this obelisk was celebrated in engravings during its time to commemorate the Renaissance's recovery and mastery of ancient knowledge.