A Less Visited Part of Vatican City – Roman Holiday part 4

When people think of the Vatican, St Peter’s Basilica and the wonderful ceiling paintings by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel spring to mind. The latter is part of the huge Vatican Museums complex, containing an extensive collection of artistic and historic artefacts gathered by the Roman Catholic Church. The museums were prominent on our bucket list, but when checking on line a while before our trip, I found tickets were completely sold out for the duration of our stay. There was me thinking early January would be off peak!

Vatican City is a country in its own right, surrounded by Rome. It is bordered by a wall on 3 sides and the River Tiber on the other. I hadn’t brushed up on my climbing skills recently, so we decided to approach from the other side of the river. As we got closer, views unfolded of the Vatican, with St Peter’s showing clearly on the horizon.


We crossed the river at Ponte Sant’Angelo, a border post guarded by hawkers doing their best to sell us guided tours of this, that and everything. Nobody wanted to see a passport – only money. Directly in front of us was an old fortress building that looked quite interesting. We walked in and bought tickets after only a couple of minutes wait. We were in the Castel Sant’Angelo.


The original building was a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian. In the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great saw a vision of St Michael there, after which a terrible plague ended. This “miracle” led to the mausoleum being converted into a Papal fortress, for use in case of a siege. It was later used as a prison.

We began our tour by downloading an app, which ably guided us around the castle, although there were plenty of information boards too. While I might be content reading the boards, F struggles to compute information that doesn’t appear on a screen. We walked around the outer ring where we encountered catapults and cannons from days gone by. In another part of the building was an armoury museum. After circling the fortress, we entered the inner ring which housed Hadrian’s Mausoleum. An inscription written by Hadrian read “little lost and gentle soul, companion and guest of the body, get ready now to go down into colourless, arduous and bare places, where you will no longer have the usual entertainment”. Not sure he finished that verse well, or maybe it loses something in translation. The room thought to be Hadrian’s burial chamber was later taken over by the church and used to stash its treasure. As we proceeded upwards, more views emerged of our surrounds. About half way around the tour is a little cafe, whose outdoor tables must have some of the finest vistas in the city.

table with a view


We proceeded to probably the grandest space in Castel Sant’Angelo. The Paolina Room was built for Paul III, the counter-reformation Pope. It was the entertaining room in his apartment, where he would welcome his guests. The decor was so lavish in order to visibly communicate the pre-eminence of the Catholic Church, although ironically that was the sort of thing that helped provoke the Protestant rebellion in the first place. The room displays the coat of arms of Paul III, alongside scenes from the life of Alexander the Great and St Paul. The choices allude to the Pope’s original name, Alessandro and the one bestowed on him by the church. His bedroom was relatively frugal, but anything would be compared to the Paolina Room.

Paolina Room


The top of the fortress is where the best views can be had of Rome and the Vatican. St Peter’s on one side, the Centro Storico on the other and the River Tiber below. We stayed for a while to soak in the scene. I informed F that this was where the fictional heroin Floria Tosca flung herself from the battlements in Puccini’s opera. She was remarkably unimpressed, but I couldn’t think of a relevant story relating to Little Mix or Taylor Swift.


Leaving the Castel Sant’Angelo, we made our way to St Peter’s Square, the huge open space in front of the basilica designed by Bernini. This gave F an opportunity to use up some energy, although it had been difficult keeping up with her in the castle.


We passed on the opportunity to join the long lines waiting to go into the church and up into the dome. While missing some of the big ticket attractions, it had been a relaxed and enjoyable visit, seeing a less visited part of Vatican City without having to queue.


Rome is the capital of Italy, about half way down its west coast. Vatican City is just across the River Tiber from the historic centre of Rome


Termini station is the main rail hub, with good links to cities in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Rome’s largest airport is Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci), which has an express train link to Termini and slower services to other stations. Buses and fixed rate taxis are also available to central Rome. Ciampino Airport is connected by bus and taxi to the city centre


Click here for accommodation


Click the links for information on Rome and Castel Sant’Angelo

10 thoughts on “A Less Visited Part of Vatican City – Roman Holiday part 4

  1. Such beautiful pictures! Love the big smile on F’s face! It seems like every month of the year is now the new peak everywhere. Same experience in Vienna, tickets were sold out just an hour after the counters open. It would be nice to have a cup of hot Choco at that table. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. Yes you’re right, but we were pleased to find alternative places like the Castel where we could walk straight in. That table with a lovely view was actually vacant!


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