Vatican City

Basilica of St. PeterLocation: Vatican City (within  Rome, Italy)

Visited: August 3, 2013

Opinion and Background:

Vatican city is the center of the Roman Catholic Church, which has over one billion followers world wide. The only other groups with that many members are Facebook, Islam, China and India. Now go tell your friends this fun fact! (I actually don’t know if that’s accurate, so don’t quote me on that!) However, for such a powerful organization, Vatican City is also officially the smallest country in the world. Its entirety is located in the city of Rome, and is about 0.2 square miles (just over 100 acres).

Since the death of Jesus around the year 33 C.E., it is believed that Peter founded the church and effectively became the Bishop of Rome, a title now known as the Pope. Back then however, this did not mean what it does today. The pope was simply the bishop of the largest and most powerful city in the Roman Empire, and held no power above any other bishop.

Given how important the Vatican is to so many people, I was already coming in with high hopes. I am not religious at all, but recognize the significance of religious sites. When I read that the Vatican had a museum, I thought it was worth checking out. I was not prepared for the massive collection of artifacts owned and displayed here. For starters, the Vatican has the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the world. While this may seem out of place, a guard confided that is it a well known, but denied fact that a pope in the past was the gay lover of an Egyptian prince, leading to the fascination and collection of these artifacts. The things you learn if you just ask.

One of the few mummies in the Vatican.
One of the few mummies in the Vatican.

The museum also holds an insane amount of Roman sculptures and artifacts. This collection is so large, that you literally have statues on top of other statues because there is no room for it all. A bit further on the museum route, are a lot of paintings by Rafael and many other Renaissance masters. This eventually leads to the grand finale, the Sistine Chapel. While the “Creation of Adam” is a fantastic painting that is supposed to be serene and calming, it is a bit ruined by the guards yelling at tourists every five minutes for not following the “no pictures” rule. Maybe I should say that it is ruined by the tourists who can’t seem to follow simple directions, as the guards are just doing their (extremely frustrating) jobs.

If you see to both sides, sculptures are set up in layers because there are too many to display.
If you see to both sides, sculptures are set up in layers because there are too many to display.

In the Basilica of St. Peter, there are even more paintings, but more famously, it holds the Michelangelo masterpiece sculpture “Pieta” which depicts Jesus right after the crucifixion, dying in Mary’s arms.

If I had known what I was looking at, I might have tried to take a better picture.
If I had known what I was looking at, I might have tried to take a better picture.

My mom who was with me at the time (and is Catholic) really enjoyed the experience, but had a comment that I have yet to forget. She mentioned that the church is always asking for the people to donate or give a ‘tithing’ to help the less fortunate. “Why don’t they sell a painting or two, make a few million, and save the poor that way,” she blurted out. It was one of those things you say because it pops into your mind, without intending malice. Nevertheless, I think she was absolutely right. How can the Roman Catholic Church continue to parade around as a champion for the poor, and ask for common people to make sacrifices for the greater good, yet have its leaders reside in this overwhelmingly wealthy palace?  What other organization or country asks for its members to follow with unquestionable devotion and make sacrifices, while living in extravagant luxury, unfathomable to the majority of its members? The only comparison I can think of, is North Korea.

This is the ceiling along a corridor of the Vatican Museum.
This is the ceiling along a corridor of the Vatican Museum.

Now that my criticism is out of the way, one cannot be foolish to ignore what the Vatican represents. While I do question it’s justifications and methods, I have no doubt that it has good intentions. The Catholic Church is at least attempting to show its followers how to live in peace with what it believes to be a good moral code. It is definitely enriching to view this UNESCO World Heritage Site with your own eyes, regardless of whether you are religious or not.


1) Completeness and Originality (15/15): Complete and flawless as far as I could tell. Nothing was showing even the slightest hint of decay.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (11/15): The city is covered in about 6-8 hours if you take your time. While it is an entire country, it is the smallest in the world. This however, includes the Vatican museums, which take about 4 hours. They are definitely worth seeing. In fact, you haven’t been until you see the museums.

3) Cultural Significance (25/25):  It means a lot to over a billion Catholic Church members. The influence the Vatican has had for the last 2000 years is unparalleled by any other organization in the world.

4) Personal Impact (8/15): I must admit that the entire experience is a bit overwhelming as there is just so much to see. However, I couldn’t, and still can’t shake what I feel in my heart, is hypocrisy at its finest. Shouldn’t God’s residence be a bit more humble?

5) Logistics (4/10): Getting here from Rome Termini is pretty straight forward by subway or even walking. However, not only are the museums outraggeously expensive, but they are so crowded that there are, on occasion, 2-3 hour lines just to get in. Once you are in, it is more crowded than the most popular ride in Disneyland.

6) Uniqueness (8/20): The city is quite unique in that it is a religious entity. However, the bulk of it is a church, which are a dime a dozen in Italy. The museums are amazing, but there are a million amazing museums in the world.

Combined Score: 71/100

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares in our rankings.


Other Posts Like This One:

1) Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites

2) Evaluating: Mexico City and Xochimilco

3) Evaluating: Sian Ka’an

4) Ranking of UNESCO World Heritage Sites [so far]

Julio Moreno
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