Faithful And Curious

By Heide Van Doren Betz


 

Yearly, an estimated 6 million pilgrims and tourists flock to Vatican City.  Many are there to receive a blessing by the Pope.

 

Vatican City is the smallest state in Europe {less than one fifth of a square mile}, with about 900 residents of which approximately 500 are citizens.   It has been the residence of the Popes since 1377.  The citizens include the Pope, cardinals and bishops, working clergy, members of the Holy See’s diplomatic missions and the 101 members of the Swiss Guard.   The Swiss Guard’s tradition of guarding the Pope dates to Julius II in 1505 and their colorful yellow and black uniform has not changed since then.  The official language of the Vatican is Italian, although the Swiss Guard give their commands in German. Within Vatican City are housed some of the greatest architectural monuments and works of art in the world, by artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini.  An abundance of ancient works from Egypt, Greece and Rome can also be seen at the Vatican Museum.

 

 

The jewel of Vatican City is St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest and most famous of all Christian churches with the dome, designed by Michelangelo, that can be seen from miles away.  The construction of the Basilica was begun by Constantine the Great in 324 AD, over the site where St. Peter was buried.

 

 

St. Peter’s Square, finished in 1667, is reached via the Via della Conciliazione and immediately strikes awe into the visitor with its great scene of two semi-circular colonnades with almost 300 columns by Bernini, two majestic fountains by Bernini and Maderno, 140 statues of saints on the rooftop of the colonnade and an Egyptian obelisk in the center, which was ordered erected by Sixtus V with the labor of 900 men.

 

 

The seated Papal audience is scheduled every Wednesday morning and requires advance reservation.  Then again, some pilgrims and tourists make the journey just to be there and stand on the sidelines of the majestic square and observe this extraordinary spectacle.






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