Vatican City (yes, a thing with “city” in the name) is the world’s smallest country. It’s just over 100 acres, and it’s completely surrounded by the city of Rome. So basically, it’s a really tiny country (with “city” in the name) that’s inside of a different country’s capital city.
And apparently everyone is okay with that.
Vatican City has its own radio station, post office, and a national bank, with ATMs that give you instructions in Latin. Not a joke. Inserito Scidulam Quaeso.
A somewhat unfortunate fact about this tiny city-country is that you can’t show your Longhorn pride here. Some Americans were once arrested in Vatican City for dancing around and throwing up a Hook ‘Em Horns sign in celebration of a UT win. That particular hand gesture has satanic connotations in some parts of Europe… and the Vatican is not playing around with Satan gang signs, y’all.
We were just babies when this picture was taken. We didn’t even know we were doing hoodrat stuff! Sorry, Pope Francis.
Anyway. Despite this fact, Vatican City is also home to some of the greatest and most famous art in the world, and is a pretty mandatory stop if you’re visiting Rome.
First, let me say that the Vatican Museum is HUGE. Two tips: 1) Book your reservation online, and 2) Read the Rick Steves walking tour (available in his Rome book) and follow it to a T. Bonus points if you have the e-book on your phone and can read as you go.
In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek!
There are a lot of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Some of the sculpture people are in the middle of an epic battle.
Some are being strangled by a snake.
And some are just straight loungin’. (This guy knows what’s up.)
There’s also the Round Room, modeled after the Pantheon interior, with a giant oculus sun roof. (Except this one is actually covered, so if it rains, you’re still good to go.)
And there’s the Map Gallery, with gigantic 16th century maps of Italy on the walls and exquisitely painted scenes on the ceiling. This hallway is about a mile long, so comfy walking shoes are a must. Also, prepare to have a massive crick in your neck from looking up the whole time.
There are a lot of other things too. Egyptian artifacts, Etruscan pottery, and lots of paintings by Rafael. We tried really hard to be appropriately awestruck by everything we saw, but also get to the Sistine Chapel before we were burned out. The Sistine Chapel is the real gem.
Unfortunately, the Sistine Chapel has a pretty strict NO PHOTOS OR VIDEOS policy. They even make announcements over a loudspeaker every couple of minutes. Seriously, don’t do it.
Except that I can’t imagine that one teeny little iPhone picture (without flash) could do much harm, so I did it anyway. (It must be the Longhorn in me. ) Though this photo is only a very small portion of the ceiling (and without a view of the surrounding walls, which are equally impressive), it’s still a glimpse of Michelangelo’s incredible masterpiece.
Next up is St. Peter’s Basilica. (Use Rick Steves’ sneaky, off-the-books shortcut if you dare! We did. )
This is one of the biggest churches in the world.
And it feels like it.
That bronze canopy is TEN STORIES TALL.
The Holy Door, the northernmost entry to St. Peter’s Basilica, is typically cemented shut. It’s only opened during Jubilee years (typically every 25 years). Pope Francis opened the door in December 2015, so we got to walk through it.
They didn’t even ask if we were Longhorns first, so I guess it was okay.
You can also pay extra to walk up the 550ish (narrow, one person at a time, slanty) stairs to reach the top of the dome. And get an up-close view, like this. Daaaang, y’all.
This dome rises almost 450 feet from the floor. That’s one and a half football fields high, making it the tallest dome in the world.
You can also head outside of the dome, for incredible views of Vatican City.
And since Vatican City is a tiny country inside of another country’s capital city, you also get a great view of Rome! It’s the weird geography 2-for-1 special.
Can you find the Colosseum? It’s like a Where’s Waldo picture, except instead of lots of people in stripes trying to trick you, there’s just lots of old, famous buildings trying to trick you. (Hint: It’s behind the gigantic white building, just left of center.)
So… all in all, despite you having to check your Longhorn status at the door, Vatican City is pretty cool. Plus, unless the UT football program makes some drastic changes, there won’t be many celebratory Hook ‘Em Horns signs in the near future anyway.