St. Peter’s Basilica (wiki, map) The center of the Catholic world, this magnificent basilica with its Michelangelo-designed dome has an awe-inspiring interior. A strict dress code is enforced, so have shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and take your hats off. Women must wear scarves or something to cover their heads.
The Sistine Chapel (map). There is no exterior entrance, it being approached from within the Vatican buildings. Inside, the walls are divided into three levels. The lower is decorated with frescoed wall hangings. The middle of the walls has two cycles of paintings, “The Life of Moses” and “The Life of Christ”, painted by Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Signorelli, Pinturicchio and Perugino, among others.
The upper tier contains a Gallery of Popes. Around the tops of the windows are the “Ancestors of Christ”, painted by Michelangelo as part of the ceiling. The ceiling proper contains nine paintings inspired by the Old Testament, showing God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. Michelangelo was reluctant to work on the ceiling but was unable to refuse an instruction by a pope, Julius II.
Raphael’s papal apartments (Stanze) were begun in 1508 when the painter was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II. The first room on which he worked was the Stanza della Segnatura, the pope’s library and office. The four walls have the themes of Theology, Poetry, Jurisprudence and Philosophy.
Pinacoteca Vaticana. The art gallery was housed in the Borgia Apartment until Pius XI ordered construction of a dedicated building. The new building, designed by Luca Beltrami, was inaugurated on 27 October 1932.
! Because of the dense crowds of dazzled tourists, St. Peter’s Square and the Sistine Chapel are favorite spots for pickpocketers, who clearly don’t buy into the whole ‘Purgatory’ thing, or else believe their sins will be forgiven. Keep an eye on your belongings throughout your trip to the Vatican—even tour guides occasionally get pickpocketed here.