Leave Your Mark Near the Vatican With Personalized Bricks

Leave Your Mark Near the Vatican With Personalized Bricks
Leave Your Mark Near the Vatican With Personalized Bricks

When a pope dies or resigns, the college of cardinals gathers in the Sistine Chapel to decide who should replace him. This is called a conclave and, contrary to the Dan Brown knockabout in Angels and Demons, what happens inside stays inside!

What the Venetians lacked in military strength and land dominance, they more than made up for in riches. Their St Mark’s Basilica is filled with mosaics that cover more than 1.5 American football fields!

1. The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is one of Italy’s most treasured landmarks, attracting millions of visitors a year. It also serves a vital religious function – it’s here that cardinals gather during papal conclaves to vote on a new pope. A special chimney in the chapel broadcasts the results of each election, with white smoke indicating that a candidate has received two-thirds of the votes and black smoke signaling that no candidate has reached this threshold.

When Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the chapel to be built between 1475 and 1481 (it was originally known as the Cappella Sistina) he wasn’t looking for merely another grand church but a space where masses could be held and important ecclesiastical decisions made against the backdrop of magnificent artwork. He chose Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling, although the artist had little experience painting frescoes and had always preferred sculpting to painting. Michelangelo reluctantly accepted the challenge and between 1508 and 1512 produced an extraordinary work of art that changed the history of Western art.

Few works of art contain as much detail on such a large scale and it’s no wonder that the ceiling is considered one of the greatest masterpieces in all history. During the first campaign of decoration some of the finest artists of the High Renaissance descended on Rome to play their part. Botticelli, Perugino and Ghirlandaio were among them, but it was Michelangelo who gave the most definitive expression to this extraordinary pictorial composition.

The chapel has three tiers and the lower tier contains a series of frescoed wall hangings while the central and upper tiers contain two cycles of paintings that complement each other, namely The Life of Moses and The Life of Christ. Above these are a series of lunettes that contain portraits of past popes.

2. The Basilica of St. Peter

St Peter’s Basilica is one of the most sacred temples in Christendom and home to the tomb of Saint Peter, an apostle and early leader of the church. The large church is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture that was carefully crafted by some of the world’s best architects at the time. It is also the largest church in the world and where Popes hold many liturgies throughout the year.

The Basilica’s impressive dome is one of the most famous architectural achievements of its time. This stunning structure is the result of a collaboration between several prominent architects including Bramante, Michelangelo, and Carlo Maderno. The basilica is a major destination for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, drawing millions of visitors each year from all around the world.

Visiting the Basilica requires an admission ticket, which can be purchased in advance or on site. Tickets are often limited during peak times, so it is wise to book ahead of time. Guided tours of the Basilica are available for those who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and its significance.

Some highlights of the Basilica include the crypt where the tombs of several popes are located. The Basilica is also home to the sunken Confessio, which houses a bronze urn containing white stoles donated by recent popes. The Basilica is also home to four larger-than-life statues that stand in the niches of each pier of the dome. These statues are Saints Helena holding the Holy Nails, Saint Longinus with the spear that pierced Jesus’ side, and Saint Veronica holding her veil with the image of Jesus.

Visitors should not miss a chance to climb the stairs to the top of the dome for breathtaking views of St Peter’s Square and, on a clear day, Rome. The climb is not for the faint of heart, however, as the final step of the ascent is a narrow and steep spiral staircase.

3. The Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums house an awe-inspiring collection of masterpieces amassed by various popes over the centuries. It is one of the largest art museums in the world and houses works that span a wide range of artistic styles and historical periods. From Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and Raphael’s Rooms to the Cortile della Pigna’s gallery of geographical maps, there is something here to interest and delight every kind of art enthusiast.

A visit to the Vatican Museums is not just about observing these works of art but about understanding their cultural, religious and historical contexts. A private tour guide who is well versed in the subtleties of these narratives will be able to bring them to life for you.

When planning your trip to the Vatican Museums, be sure to book your tickets online ahead of time and add the audio guide option. This will save you some of the queue time and ensure that you don’t miss anything. It is also a good idea to book your visit on Tuesdays or Thursdays as these tend to be the quietest days.

One of the highlights of a visit to the Vatican Museums is seeing the Apollo Belvedere statue, a Roman bronze copy of the Greek original. It was once considered to be one of the most beautiful ancient sculptures, and even today it remains a stunning work of art. The serene look on the god’s face and his relaxed body are both awe-inspiring. Another highlight of the Vatican Museums is the Anima Mundi section, which was reopened in 2019 and showcases works of art from non-European cultures and civilizations.

4. The Vatican Library

The Vatican Library is an amazing treasure trove of ancient manuscripts, rare books, old coins and works of art. It is a true symbol of the Catholic Church’s intellectual and cultural wealth. However, the library is only open to scholars and historians, and it’s almost impossible for average tourists to pay a visit. Why is that?

The main reason why the Vatican Library doesn’t allow tourists to enter is preservation. The items in the library are extremely rare, valuable and delicate, so allowing unrestricted public access could potentially lead to damage. There is also the security factor to consider. The Vatican has a vast collection of invaluable artifacts, so limiting visitor access helps ensure that these items are safe from theft and vandalism.

On a typical day, the library is full of scholars working in near silence. It is a beautiful and peaceful place to work, although it can be a bit chilly in the winter. There is a cafe next door, so scholars can get a cup of coffee or a quick bite to eat.

The Vatican’s library contains many important manuscripts, but it is also home to a remarkable array of printed books and other media. The collection contains over 350,000 volumes, divided into the Consultation Library (including all the works of ecclesiastical scholarship that do not belong to any particular section) and the Raccolta Generale (which includes all other books that have been or will be secured in the Vatican). The library was founded on the idea of bringing together books from various churches and cultures, and it has become an international center of Near Eastern studies. It is also one of the leading libraries for history, law, philosophy and theology.

5. The Papal Palace

The Papal Palace is a massive complex of buildings arranged around a courtyard. It is Europe’s largest medieval Gothic structure and a key seat of power for the Catholic Church. It’s also been the subject of many paintings and has served as a backdrop for events during the Festival d’Avignon.

The palace was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Its exterior is a series of towers that are reminiscent of a fortress, and it was designed to be impenetrable. The walls were 50 meters high and the palace was surrounded by other fortifications.

Each of the popes who lived in the palace made additions and improvements to it. For instance, Giovanni dei Dolci built the Sistine Chapel, and later Pope Sixtus IV added the Belvedere Courtyard and two of the so-called loggias. Bramante completed the north facade and he decorated it with frescoes. Pope Alexander VI remodeled the Borgia Apartments and hired the painter Pinturicchio to lavishly decorate them with frescoes.

In spite of these impressive additions, the papal dynasty moved back to Rome in 1394 and the palace lost its importance. It did become a center for art, music and literature in the 17th century but it fell into disrepair after the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. It was sacked and damaged by the French, but the damage wasn’t as great as it could have been.

Today, the Papal Palace is a museum and is open to the public. A self-guided tour is available for visitors, or tours can be arranged with a guide. A Histopad is available, which explains the building’s construction and the various rooms with text and audio. It is included in the admission price and is offered in seven languages.