A riddle: Which country’s area is only 110 acres and has the smallest population worldwide, yet it also boasts the most “members” at 1.2 billion (almost the population of China)? It’s also considered one of the richest countries, yet estimates itself to be one of the poorest, valuing its most priceless assets at $0.
The answer: The Vatican
The tiny nation, and capital of Catholicism, was established as an independent nation by the Lateran Treaty of 1929 within the city of Rome, Italy. The city’s boundaries are in many cases defined by stone fortifications, some old and some new. In the case of St. Peter’s Square, the only thing that marks where you leave Italy for Vatican City is a white line. You won’t even get a passport stamp after you cross, since the Vatican considers its borders open to the faithful and tourists alike to share all its treasures accumulated in the 2000-year history of the church.
If you’d like to visit the Vatican as a pilgrim or a tourist, here are a few tips:
- Book in advance – I don’t think it matters if you planning on going with a tour group or doing it yourself, book early. The Vatican has some of the world’s greatest treasures, including the master works of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and almost any other great renaissance artist you can think of. So you aren’t the only one who wants to visit. A $17.50 ticket gives you admission to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel with its legendary painted ceiling. It’s also home to the Conclave of Cardinals when electing a new Pope. The Vatican Museum ticket office is a clearing house for tickets, information and booking guided tours.
- Ask if you can see that thing – The Vatican likes to consider itself open with many of its treasured works of art. If there’s a particular piece of art you’d like to see, check with them; they might be willing to accommodate you.
- Cover up – You may not be Catholic, but they are. Access to the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Vatican Gardens and Saint Peter’s Basilica is permitted only to visitors dressed appropriately. Even if it’s in the middle of a hot Roman summer, no sleeveless blouses, no miniskirts, no shorts and like your grandma said, “take off your damn hat when you’re inside.” A comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts (but mainly don’ts) from photography to phones is under the Helpful Hints tag on the website.
- Papal Audience – Even if you’re not Catholic, you’ll want to do this. It’ll impress your Catholic friends, and it never hurts to cover your bases in case your view of the afterlife is … inaccurate. The Pope gives an audience every Wednesday beginning at 10-10:30 a.m. If you want to get a good look, arrive early (you’ll have to go through security). The audience is held in the Paul VI Hall of Audiences, but for big events he speaks from the balcony or a stage in St. Peter’s Square. You will need a ticket for the audience in the hall or the celebration of mass, but the tickets are free. The Pope also speaks from the window of his study on Sundays. Remember this pope is a traveling man so check his schedule before hand for tickets and times.