A church, a museum, a tourist attraction, whatever you want to call it, the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica is an impressive sight. In this post we will be diving deeper into the some things to do in Rome theme, and will be focusing on the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.
The day we visited Vatican City we were up at the crack of dawn and watched the sun rise over Rome as everyone else was scurrying off to work. A great experience on its own, but I also think that heading out this early, probably also combined with it being winter, seemed to really eliminate the crowds while visiting. We had walked by the Vatican in the afternoon and evening on the way back to our BnB, and every time we passed by it was a complete zoo of people. This morning, however, we were welcomed by only happy nuns, chanting monks and security guards being dropped off to begin their shifts. It was a total change in the mood of the place by coming at this time of day. It was quite peaceful as we had the place practically to ourselves!
However, the real reason we were up this early though, other than to beat the crowds and watch the sun rise over the magical city of Rome, was to take the Vatican City underground necropolis Ufficio Scavi Excavations tour.
The Scavi Tour is a very strict no photos and no touching anything tour, as you move from section to section of the excavation areas below St. Peter’s Basilica with a tour guide, passing through timed and air locking gates around the ancient remains of the past. If you have ever been looking down and wondering what is beneath the grates in the floors of the Vatican, this is the answer (and someone may be looking back up at you too…)
Although there is a strict no photograph taking policy during the Ufficio Scavi Tour, their website does has a small picture gallery to give an idea of the experience. That’s the best I can do to show you. I wasn’t about to mess with those Swiss Guards stationed around the Vatican.
To sum it up, the tour consists of visiting the necropolis underneath the Vatican is and getting up and close with the tomb of St. Peter, aka the literal rock the church was built upon. Early frescoes of Jesus in Pagan based imagery, like riding across the sky in a chariot with lightening, show the stories of the early versions of worship. The art has a rough and primitive look and it is fascinating to see and learn about the origins of the now very iconic religious imagery. The ruggedness of it all is definitely a huge contrast in comparison to the elegance that is just a few feet above us in the church St. Peter’s Basilica.
Speaking of which, the tour ends with a walk through the chapel that the Pope prays in and then by exiting from the underground via a staircase leading to the center of the massive building, with the privilege of being behind the velvet ropes, right under the main dome of the church. Coming up from the tour was my first impression of the main floor of the St. Peter’s Basilica and the views are truly breathtaking and in no truer sense of the word, it is divine.
After visiting, it is my opinion that St. Peter’s Basilica is more impressive than any museum I have ever been to for seeing magnificent art, awe inspiring sights and the fact that it contains some of the world’s greatest riches and treasures all in one line of vision. However, the actual Vatican Museum is also a very special place full of a wider variety of different artistic and cultural objects and artifacts from all periods of times and places from around the world. Definitely worth a visit if scheduling and travel budgets permit it. However, back to the first point, the basilica is free to enter and even after putting all the religious ideology aside, the artistic and architectural value of the site is worth a visit to when in Rome on those merits alone.
Anyways, the halls and rooms of the Vatican Museum is where we spent the rest of our morning and into the afternoon wandering and observing ancient artifacts and modern art. I didn’t take my camera out, because that seems like a weird thing to do at a museum. Besides, it’s all on Google already, I’m sure. So, my museum tip (no pun intended, you’ll see…) is to watch your footwork on the spiral stairs on the way out. Despite plenty of signage warning of this, to which many groups were giggling about the ridiculousness of such an obvious warning, we still saw those same people tip and tumble down the ramp-like stairs.
Finally, after a big morning of excavation tours and visiting the museum into the afternoon, it was declared by Jessica and I to be a perfect time for snacks and gelato, AKA the Breakfast of Champions! Gelato is everywhere in Rome, and our favourite spot was just across the street! Well, more like 10 minutes after leaving the Vatican courtyard, crossing the bridge and dodging a few cars on the roads. Regardless, we highly recommend Gelateria del Teatro for all your Roman gelato needs and museum visiting energy! I’m totally open to hearing other recommendations though, after all, one can never have a big enough repertoire when it comes to good snacks! I’m pretty sure that’s how we spent the rest of our day, just randomly wandering and eating delicious things we found around Rome. But that’s a whole other story…