The Vatican City (the smallest country in the world) is located in the very heart of Rome. It is the pulse of Catholic life. It attracts millions of pilgrims from all over the world, who come every year to gather in prayer and seek the blessing of the Pope.A beloved destination for all those visitors attracted by the magnificent artworks in the Vatican Museums, its foremost monument is St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church on the globe, the imposing dome of which stands regally over the rooftops of the Eternal City.
The Basilica overlooks St. Peter's Square, designed by Bernini in the 17th Century, who realized the imposing lateral colonnades, consisting of 284 Doric-style columns that are topped by 140 10.17-feet-tall statues of saints and six large coats of arms of Alexander VII Chigi.
Thanks to the genius of Bernini's architecture, the columns are arrayed perfectly one behind the other; positioned on their porphyry disks, as if by magic they seem to move. The piazza's longest diameter measures to 787 feet in length, while the central obelisk stands at a height of more than 82 feet.
Taking the front stairway, renovated by Bernini and consisting of three levels, visitors enter the portico, with five gates arranged along its 233 meters. Each of them corresponds to one of the front portals of the Basilica. The portico and facade were both realized by Carlo Maderno.
While entering the Basilica, the visitor is immediately struck by the artistic profusion of the interior and the spiritual evocations of thisis masterpiece. At the end of the central nave is the statue of St. Peter giving his blessing, with his foot worn by the public's caresses. In a chapel on the right nave is the famous Pietà by Michelangelo, a marble complex of sublime expression, completed by the artist at the age of 23.
Symbol of the Catholic Church and of the city of Rome is the main dome, an impressive work designed by Michelangelo, and completed after his death by Domenico Fontana and Giacomo della Porta. The Vatican Grottoes, located under the Basilica's floor, guard the tomb of Saint Peter and those of other popes, including Pope John Paul II.
Not very far from the Basilica, walking along the walls, visitors arrive at the entrance to the Vatican Museums, housing incomparable works of art. Among the various exhibition halls, the Museum of Egyptian Art displays numerous examples of sculptures, sarcophagi and mummies, Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and seals. The Painting Gallery (Pinacoteca) contains works by Giotto, Caravaggio, Beato Angelico, Perugino, Leonardo, Titian and Raphael. In the Apostolic Palace, visitors are allowed to enter the Raffaello Rooms that are decorated with beautiful frescoes realizsed by the artist between 1508 and 1524.
Nonetheless, the main attraction is the Sistine Chapel, a wonderful masterpiece brought about by the efforts of many artists, particularly Perugino, Botticelli, Rosselli and Ghirlandaio. Although the most famous contribution was undoubtedly that by Michelangelo - i.e. decoration of the ceiling and the realization of the Last Judgement behind the altar.