International travel

First Day in Rome – Vatican City

On our first day in Rome we toured the Vatican Museums, were awed by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, and found St. Peter’s Basilica to be one of our very favorite churches in Italy.

On our first full day in Rome Amanda, Jen and I left our apartment early and walked to Vatican City, where we joined the tour group Enjoy Rome led by a lovely British lady named Agnes.

During this three-hour tour we visited the Vatican Museums, which includes The Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

Female tour guide looking at and explaining large posters of information regarding the Sistine Chapel, with two female tourists in foreground.
Our tour of the Vatican Museum was led by Agnes with Enjoy Rome.

While I was a bit too weary to write much in my journal, I did take a few photos of our tour experience. (These were taken on an Olympus point-and-shoot camera; please forgive the amateur quality of the photos.)

The information below was gleaned from Let’s Go Italy guidebook (2009 edition) a well as an online search of and

Vatican City

Vatican City, a sovereign city-state situated in a walled enclave inside the city of Rome,  is the administrative and spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Church.

With a population of less than 1000 and at approximately 0.44 square kilometers (about 110 acres) in size, Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world. It has its own national anthem, flag, currency and postal service.

Swiss guards at entrance to Vatican City, Italy.
Swiss Guards at an entrance to Vatican City

The Vatican has generally been the residence of the Pope since 1337. The Pontifical Swiss Guard is in charge of the security of the Vatican and the Pope’s personal safety. The Pontifical Swiss Guard has been filling this duty since the 16th century.

The entire Vatican State is acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984.

Sistine Chapel

Since it’s completion in the 16th century, the Sistine Chapel – named for its founder, Pope Sixtus IV – has been the site of the College of Cardinals’ election of new popes.

Michelangelo’s ceiling, the pinnacle of artistic creation, gleams from its 20-year restoration, which ended in 1999. The simple compositions and vibrant colors hover above, each section depicting a story from the book of Genesis.

Side-by-side images of the interior of the Sistine Chapel, showing the colorful paintings of Michelangelo.
Postcards depicting the interior of the Sistine Chapel and the amazing artwork of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo painted the masterpiece by standing on a platform and craning backwards – he never recovered from the strain to his neck and eyes.

The Last Judgment fills the altar wall; the figure of Christ as judge lingers in the upper center, surrounded by his saintly entourage and the supplicant Mary.

Sitting is only allowed on the benches along the side. Guards will ask you to be silent, as the chapel is a holy place. Photography is not allowed. (The images above are postcards.)

St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest temples for Christendom and one of the largest churches in the world.

Interior of St. Peter's Basilica, showing vastness of size, the ornate gold altar, as well as the marble walls and floor and religious statues.
Just prior to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Basilica was named after Saint Peter, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, who became one of the founders of the Catholic Church. He is buried where the Basilica now stands.

The Basilica houses extremely impressive pieces of art, including St. Peter’s Baldachin, a large bronze baldachin designed by Bernini, The Pietà, a sculpture by Michelangelo, and the statue of St. Peter on his throneSt. Peter’s right foot has been worn down due to the touches of the devoted.

Three women seated on floor next to marble column in St. Peter's Basilica.
The interior of the Basilica is nearly overwhelming in its beauty. We took a short break, but were soon chided for sitting on the floor.

The Dome

High above the altar rises one of the most impressive parts of the Basilica, Michelangelo’s dome. It is similar in design to the circular dome of the Pantheon. Out of reverence for that ancient architectural wonder, though, Michelangelo is said to have made the cupola a meter shorter in diameter than the Pantheon’s.

This dome has served as inspiration for many other cathedrals and buildings; for example, the Capitol in Washington DC and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Two images, side-by-side. On the left is the exterior of the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica. On the right is a view of Piazza San Pietro and a portion of the city of Rome, as seen from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica.
(L) Exterior of the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica; (R) View of Piazza San Pietro and Rome, taken from the Dome.

Karyn and I later climbed the 551 steps to get to the top of the Dome. This gave us a spectacular bird’s eye view of Rome.

Although we chose not to use it, there is a lift that goes to the interior balcony at the base of the dome. (This allows you to skip the first 231 steps.)

According to this portion of the ascent is wheelchair-accessible.

Image of woman climbing narrow stairs to reach the top of the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

The remaining 320 steps are taken on a narrow spiral staircase to the top. (It’s important to note that once you start up you cannot turn around and go back down.)

As you can see, the climb was absolutely worth the view!

View of the Piazza San Pietro and the city of Rome, as seen from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

Piazza San Pietro

Statues of Christ, John the Baptist, and all of the apostles except Peter are on top of the Basilica.

Blond woman in foreground standing next to white metal fence, with large marble statues of saints in background.
On the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The famous artist Bernini’s colonnade around Piazza San Pietro is lined with the statutes of 140 saints perched around the perimeter.

Three women standing in front of fountain, with colonnades and statues of saints in background, taken at Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City.
Fountain in Piazza San Pietro, with Bernini’s colonnades and statues in background.

In warm months the Pope holds papal audiences on a platform in the piazza on Wednesday mornings. (We were fortunate enough to attend; I’ll share that experience in a future post.)

Vatican Museums

Although we began our day by touring the Musei Vaticani, I have saved those photos for last. There are more than two dozen museums, and so much to see that one visit certainly was not sufficient. I look forward to returning in the future. And I highly recommend the Enjoy Rome tour (linked above).

In the meantime, here are a few images my granddaughter and I took on our little point-and-shoot cameras. I hope they will spark your desire to go see them yourself!

Brightly colored religious mural in Vatican Museum.
Two photos, side-by-side. On the left is an image of a curved ceiling in the Vatican Museum depicting smaller ornate paintings. On the right is a view down a crowded Vatican Museum hallway, with many marble statues and busts along each wall.
Colorful mosaic depiction of man and dragon, on floor of Vatican Museum.
One of many stories told in mosaic tile!
Marble status of reclining man - Bacchus - at the Vatican Museum.
Two side-by-side images; on the left is a marble statue of a woman holding a baby, with a cherub at her feet reaching up. On the left is a seated woman listening to small headphones and looking at something to her right, with many tourists standing in the background at the Vatican Museum.
Two side-by-side images; on the left is a young smiling woman standing between two marble statues of women playing musical instruments. On the left is a view of those two statues, plus one more, taken from a few feet away. Both photos taken at the Vatican Museum.
Four-square collage of art at Vatican Museum. Top left is mural of two seated women being attended to by winged cherubs. Top right is mosaic tile floor in concentric circles, with soldier in center and moon, stars and other patterns in outer circles. Bottom right is mural of kneeling soldier receiving gold necklace from angel; bottom left is round ceiling mural of many angels in battle with men.
Crowded hallway in Egyptian section of Vatican Museum.
Reclining bronze lion on bronze and brick pedestal with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved on pedestal stand.
Exterior courtyard of Vatican Museum, with people holding umbrellas and looking at artifacts in background, and grassy area in foreground.
In the courtyard of the Vatican Museums
Two women standing beside large granite basin, with gold bas relief art on wall in courtyard of Vatican Museum.
Two happy and weary travelers!

By Jeri Murphy

Traveler, writer, photographer, former wedding officiant, mother, friend, explorer and new Texian ... that's just a little about me!

2 replies on “First Day in Rome – Vatican City”

This is an amazing museum with so many masterpieces. I really enjoyed visiting it. We went to the Dome too. The view was spectacular. Your post brought good memories. Thank you!


Thank you, again, Jeri, for helping me to relive my trip to Italy. The Sistine Chapel is forever etched in my memory. Thank you.


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