Vatican City is all contained within a two-mile-long border; it is the smallest country in the world. It may be the smallest city, but it also ranks amongst the most sacred places in all of Christendom. At the center of this collection of architectural and cultural masterpieces is St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest building in the world dedicated exclusively to religion.
The best way to see and learn about this city-state is to participate in small group Vatican tours.
Get to Know the Vatican
The best guides know things about the Vatican that are not well publicized. It is not well known that St. Peter’s Basilica sits on what was once a Roman cemetery. In 64 A.D., rather than take the blame, Nero accused the Christians of starting the blaze that almost leveled the city. Nero then set about executing Christians in the most horrific fashion, including crucifixion. Peter, Christ’s disciple and leader of the Apostles, was one that died on the cross and is supposedly buried in this necropolis, a site known then as Vatican Hill. The original basilica was started in the fourth century when Emperor Constantine officially recognized Christianity. What people see today dates back to the 1500s; it sits over the grave of St. Peter.
The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel is known throughout the world for the collection of Renaissance art it holds, and especially for the ceiling which was painted by Michelangelo. The chapel was originally built by Pope Sixtus IV, hence its name. Botticelli and Rosselli were commissioned to paint the chapel, leaving the ceiling blue with a few stars.
Michelangelo began work on the ceiling from 1508 to 1512. It was not until twenty years later that he was commissioned to paint “The Last Judgment” behind the main altar. By the time the fresco was completed in 1541, Michelangelo was well into his 60s.
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