[Sept 13, 2007]
Our next stop after the Piazza di Spagna was somewhere that is too far to walk. So we took the Metrebus Roma, Rome’s underground train system.
It was quite interesting. The metro fare here is not charged based on how many stations you travel, but how long you spend traveling. 1 Euro for 75 minutes…
So we took the train. Where to? Well, to the world’s smallest country, to the holiest place on Earth for more than 1.5 billion Roman Catholics around the world.
Yes, to Vatican City [Stato della Città del Vaticano]!
You wonder how small this city-country is, don’t you? Well, there you go…
The city is made up of St Peter’s Square [Piazza San Pietro], surrounded by a few buildings, and that’s it!
Vatican City is ruled by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Since a long time ago, the Popes have all resided in the Apostolic Palace [Palazzo Apostolico] in this city. But we’re not here to visit the palace, it is off limits for civilians like us anyway. We’re here to visit the largest and greatest church of all Christendom, the Saint Peter’s Basilica [Basilica di San Pietro].
“And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it!” Jesus said to Peter. Or at least that’s what the Bible says. The name Peter is derived from the word “Petra”, which means “rock” in Greek. Peter means rock, rock means Peter. And so the Roman Catholics built a church over Saint Peter’s tomb, the biggest church in the world!
I did mention this is the holiest place on Earth for more than 1.5 billion people in the world, didn’t I? On top of that, this city is also incredibly famous for everyone else as a tourist attraction. So you can imagine the number of visitors who come here every day.
Well, although the queue is long, it is a constantly moving queue, so it would probably take just 30 minutes for you to get to the entrance of the basilica.
We also spotted someone interesting while being in queue..
The Swiss Guards are like the bodyguards for the Pope. They are recruited among the Catholics in the Swiss military and each one of them have to go through a very rigorous training and selection criteria. It is a very prestigious role.
Just before we entered the basilica, we spotted a very interesting and grand looking door right next to the entrance.
This door is locked from the inside and cannot be opened from the outside. It is only opened on Jubilee years, which are special years for universal pardon of sins, so that pilgrims can enter and gain the pardons. Apparently, this year happens on an average of once every 25 years or so.
Anyway, the door was locked when I was there, and I am not a
Christian Catholic anyway, so… time to enter the basilica…
It is a very beautiful church, but since I am no
Christian Catholic, I don’t know much about the significance of all the drawings and patterns and statues, so I will just bombard you all with pictures…
Oh, this cordoned off area is quite interesting. See those patterns on the floor? They are symbols of all the major Catholic churches all around the world. How this works is that you measure from the basilica’s entrance to the symbol of a specific church, and that is the entire length of that particular church. In other words, this is an indication that Saint Peter’s Basilica is indeed the largest, and shows you how much larger it is compared to other churches.
This was as far as we were allowed to go in the Basilica. “And on this rock, I will build my church“, most Catholics believe the rock means Saint Peter, and they basically built this Basilica around Saint Peter’s tomb. The actual tomb is beyond this staircase leading down from here.
So, we were done touring the basilica. There is one more thing that you can do in Vatican City. You can go to the Vatican City post office and send yourselves (or your loved ones) post cards. Apparently, post cards from the Vatican City is a very popular souvenir.
And then it was time to end our tour of the Vatican City.
Well, the crowds here are insanely large. But it is a remarkably beautiful place to visit. I am not a
Christian Catholic, and I am able to admire the beauty of the basilica. I believe it will be more so for Christians Catholics, who (I think) would better understand all the intricate patterns and elaborate statues and artworks here.