Standing in Vatican City hoping to gain entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, we gazed upon one of the most magnificent and imposing churches in the world.
A Visit To Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica – Rome
Arriving late in the afternoon, the line up for the security checkpoint was short. With my scarf wrapped snugly around my neck covering my bare shoulders, and Dave and I practically on bended knee trying to make our hemlines touch our knees to meet the dress code, we awaited our fate.
An unsmiling security agent motioned for my purse to go through the x-ray machine. Within seconds he waved us in. I had been prepared to plead and beg but now we stood in one of the most renowned pieces of Renaissance architecture in the world. Regarded as the holiest of Catholic churches the vastness of St Peter’s Basilica leaves one’s jaw gaping open in awe.
St Peter’s Basilica is the final resting spot of Saint Peter and has subsequently seen the burial of many Popes. Designed by Michelangelo, Bramante, Maderno and Bernini the construction began in 1506 replacing the old Basilica from the 4th century AD.
Suddenly we were stopped by a group of unsmiling security guards. Anyone near us now was barricaded from moving forward by a heavy rope. Perhaps those with shorts and skirts above their knees were being corralled.
Another rope was then erected opposite to us creating a wide path. Standing near a side door of the Basilica we began to understand that an important entrance or exit was about to happen.
As a procession began toward us, Dave and I each began snapping photos repeatedly. What if the Pope was at the end of the procession? Sadly it turns out he was not although we have a hundred or so photos of this group leaving mass which had been going on in another section of St Peter’s Basilica.
Following our being freed from the ropes of the security guards, we headed for the Dome climb. You can take the elevator or stairs (231) to the base of the dome of the Basilica.
From that vantage point the most incredible views of the Basilica below can be seen. Beautiful architectural lines converge at the pinnacle of the dome. The walls are covered in intricate mosaic murals which makes a lovely distraction for those who are frightened to bits by the dizzying drop to the floor below.
Following our walk around the base of the dome, peering through the fencing to the miniature people below, we headed for what we thought looked like an exit. It seemed no matter where we turned we came upon locked doors. Knowing that closing time had to now be close at hand, the eerie emptiness began to give one the feel of an impending sleepover in the giant church.
While contemplating what to do when one might be locked in the Basilica dome overnight, a rather gruff security guard pointed to a door we had not previously seen. Being the obedient types that we are (no eye rolling from the readers please) we peered in to a narrow opening with steps going upward. Turns out another 323 steps to be exact. The guard assumed we were looking to climb to the pinnacle of the dome.
This climb is not for the faint of heart. A gentleman we caught up to sounded as though a heart attack would be imminent with his gasping and moaning echoing in the narrow chamber. My nursing brain began imagining the acrobatics that would be required to perform CPR in such tight quarters.
I am happy to report he did not expire on my watch. Meanwhile with my scarf still at least somewhat draped I did consider fainting as an option myself for dealing with the oppressive heat.
The views from the top, not to mention the gift of fresh air, are akin to summiting a mountain. Don’t get too comfortable though. There are 554 steps back to ground level.
Special tips for visiting St Peter’s Basilica
How To Get to the Basilica
The most convenient way is to take the Metro to Ottaviano station. then walk, if at all possible following a nun to make your path clearer and faster, south on Via Ottaviano, about 10-15 minutes.
St. Peter’s Basilica Dress Code
No bare shoulders and skirts and shorts below the knee. Carry a scarf for extra coverage. We were extraordinarily lucky to be allowed in with our above knee outfits.
How to Avoid Long Lines Ups
There will always be people visiting however if you can go before 10:00am or after 4:00pm you may avoid some of the throngs of tourists.
St. Peter’s Basilica Dome Climb – Caution
Those with any concerns about claustrophobia, heights or heart conditions should consider skipping this part of the visit. The entrance for the elevator or stairs to the first level of the dome are located just outside the Basilica on the north side.
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