There's an old idiom that says, "All roads lead to Rome". The funny part? At one time it seemed that all roads did lead to the Italian capital city. What's even funnier? That once most folks get to Rome, one of its most popular sites really isn't in Rome--or Italy at all, for that matter.
No, for those of you who think you're going to Italy to see the Sistine Chapel--you're not. You're going to Vatican City. Which, by the way, isn't just a city--it's a country all on its own.
Vatican City is the world's smallest nation, not even measuring a half square kilometer, with a population of around 1,000 people; and ruled over by the Pope. It is, however, totally surrounded by Rome so it experiences all of the same weather.
Most of the same entry requirements for Italy apply for those wishing to visit Vatican City, that's guarded over by those brightly colored medieval garbed Swiss Guard. Just remember, this is the Church that Peter built--and modesty is virtue--so if you're not dressed appropriately, you're not going to see the Sistine Chapel.
You didn't come all this way not to see the frescoes painted by one of history's greatest artists, did you? On the last Sunday of the month the entrance fee into the Vatican Museums (called the Musei Vaticani) is free, and lines can be exceptionally long. Understandable since Vatican City receives more than 4 million visitors a year.
Again, this is Peter's Church; and worth every minute of the wait to see not only the Sistine Chapel, but also Raphael's Room--another of history's greatest artists, who used these four rooms in the early 16th century.
Michaelangelo and Raphael aren't the only famous names to have their work here in Vatican City. Spread out over countless galleries you'll find the works of Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Fra Angelico. Inside the Sistine Chapel the works of Botticelli and Perugino are here, too.
No wonder the Vatican has been given a UNESCO designation. It's even more special when Vatican City holds its Special Music Events and Night Openings.
If you can tear yourself away from some of the Masters best works of art, you'll be treated to the Vatican Gardens. While beautiful all year round, the blossoms of Spring and Summer make them pop. The Vatican boasts not only the ornate Renaissance and Baroque Gardens, but also a medieval one created by Pope Nicholas III.
Vatican City is more than a bazillion museums (like the galleries of Etruscan art at the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco). This is a real working country with its own bank; its own post office (go ahead, mail your letter home with a Vatican City postmark); and its own newspaper.
What Vatican City doesn't have are nightclubs and restaurants; and no birth rate. All of Vatican City's residents all came from somewhere else--and no baby has ever been born behind its walls.
Babies might not ever be born here, but Vatican City has given life to creations by some of the best artists of their day. It's also where new popes are chosen during Papal Enclaves--more specifically in the Sistine Chapel after a reigning Pope dies.
Steeped in history and tradition, masculine rule by Popes and Priests, the Holy See (as it is also called) might be the world's smallest country, but within is limitless in creativity and eternal appeal. Forget all roads leading to Rome--it seems all were leading to Vatican City.