Prior to coming to Rome I knew what I wanted to see: the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica. The only thing I didn’t know was what differs these attractions, are they all in the same place? The older I am the more I know, so for all of these confused travelers I prepared a little explanation.
The Vatican and the Holy See
First of all you have to remember that the Vatican is a separate country, indeed the smallest in the world (about 0.2 square miles). Although there are people living there, none of them can feel too comfortable; they will never become permanent residents! Like every country, the Vatican has its own post office, bank and even its own butcher shop. Although you can’t actually go inside and buy the same beef that the Pope eats (unless you have special permission) you can send a postcard from the Vatican Post Office which is available to everyone (a lot of Romans say it works better than the Italian one!).
The Holy See isn’t the same thing as the Vatican. The Vatican was established as a country only in 1929 whereas the Holy See has been in existence almost from the beginning of Christianity. The Holy See, "Santa Sede", maintains the international relations and represents the Catholic Church on a worldwide arena. Let’s say colloquially that the Holy See acts like the government of the Church based within the territory of the Vatican.
The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
The Vatican Museums are some of the biggest in the world and although a lot of people say: "We would like to see the Vatican Museums and then the Sistine Chapel", I’ll tell you: "Don’t worry, you will see both, because it’s not possible to reach the Sistine Chapel without passing through the Museums". One important thing: Remember about the dress code! You have to have your knees and shoulders covered otherwise you risk not being allowed to enter the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica. Water bottles are allowed and strongly recommended as in the summer time the Museums get really hot! Also I’d recommend you going on a guided tour otherwise you might miss a lot. I used Rome Illuminated Tours. My guide Alex led me through the maze of corridors, galleries and courtyards bringing history to life with her wicked stories.
The Basilica of Saint Peter
While going to the Museums and Sistine Chapel means paying the entrance fee (15 euro adults; 8 students), going to the Basilica is free and accessible through Saint Peter’s Square. If you visit the Museums you can go to the Basilica using the right-side exit from the Sistine Chapel which will guarantee you skipping the line. Otherwise you might spend a while waiting to go inside. It is absolutely necessary to see this huge church dedicated to the first pope, Saint Peter. Geniuses like Michelangelo, Bramante, Bernini, and Fontana worked on it for 120 years, so need I say more to convince you?