What's Inside The Vatican Walls?
Aside from having one of the largest collections of art in the world, the Vatican holds many other treasures
The Vatican, which is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, is a city-state (the smallest country in the world, to be exact, with its own currency and post office), and it also holds unimaginable treasures and secrets.
The best way to explore within the walls is to go on a tour of the Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani), which will take you around the gardens, into its sprawling museum (or series of museums, rather), into the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, and out onto St. Peter’s Square. Here’s what you could see:
The Vatican Gardens.
The Vatican Gardens feature pathways and perfectly manicured plantings winding along ancient artifacts and works of art.
Although visitors cannot access the private areas of the Vatican Gardens (they can just view it from the terrace, seen in the top photo), the official residents of the Vatican—the cardinals, priests, nuns, Swiss guards, and their families—can enjoy the grounds, which contain a radio station, shops, post office, and a gasoline station for their convenience.
One of the largest art collections in the world.
It is said that if you have to inspect each art piece in the Vatican Museum for thirty seconds each, it would take you six months to see the entire collection of precious paintings, artifacts, and sculptures. The museum itself is a work of art, with its every surface covered with fine marble, its floors tiled with 1st century AD mosaics, and its ceilings painted in multiple frescoes or covered with gilded vaulting. If you're curious about the two figures perched on top of the museum's entrance, the man on the left is Michaelangelo, and the man on the right is Raphael, two artists who dedicated most of their lives creating works for the Vatican.
Important ancient statuary.
The Vatican Museum is actually composed of different museums that house different eras and types of collections. The Pio Clementino museum holds some of the most famous marble statues known to man, such as that of the Belvedere Apollo, the Discus Thrower, the Laocoon, and Hermes.
A fantastic map room.
If you could pry your eyes away from the intricate and mind-boggling ceiling frescoes, you could admire the wall-to-wall frescoes of the Gallery of Maps, which was commissioned in the 1500s by Pope Gregory XIII. The maps (which show different parts of Italy) are surprisingly accurate, given the era, and even show a key map in the lower right area of each, much like how we use Google Maps today!
This famous fresco.
This is one of the most popular creations of Renaissance artist Raphael, painted as a fresco on the wall of the Apostolic Palace. The painting shows portraits of the famous ancient philosophers such as Plato, Archimedes, Socrates, and Aristotle. It is said that some of the philosophers are portraits of Raphael’s contemporaries, such as Michaelangelo and Bramante.
An impressive collection of modern and contemporary art.
Although the Vatican Museum is known for its collection of ancient art and artifacts, it also carries a good selection of important 19th- and 20th-century contemporary religious-themed pieces by masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, and Francis Bacon (above).
The Creation of Adam
This is arguably one of Michaelangelo’s most famous frescoes within the Sistine Chapel, painted by the artist when he was only in his 30s. It occupies pride of place in the middle of the majestic frescoed ceiling, only you aren’t allowed to take photos of it. (This article gives us a hint at the real reason.)
Located in one corner of St. Peter's Basilica is the most famous version of the Pieta, or the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Christ, is the one that Michaelangelo carved from a single block of marble when he was only in his 20s. It is a fine example of the artist’s mastery of the human body, and proof of his artistic genius. A plate of glass protects the sculpture, as a man vandalized the statue in the early 1970s.
St. Peter’s Tomb
Lying beneath this baldacchino, or the central altar of the basilica, is the final resting place of St. Peter, who is known to be the very first pope. All of the other popes are buried in catacombs beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, which can be accessed by a flight of stairs to the left side of the church.
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