- Vaticano is Rome’s most recognised neighbourhood, if not for the visible-from-anywhere dome of St. Peter, but for its nearly 2,000-year history of papal control. For several hundred years, the neighbourhood was considered to be outside of the actual city and only integrated within the city proper within the last five centuries. In addition, the areas surrounding St. Peter’s Basilica and medieval Borgo were only developed as recently as the late 1890s. Traditionally, the Vatican area is considered ‘the Pope’s neighbourhood’ where, on a daily basis, a deluge of tourists (religious and not) come together to get a glimpse of the Holy See and the art world’s most famous ceiling.
A country within a city. . .
The Vatican is literally a country within a city. In 1929, the 108 acres of Vatican City were declared autonomous from the Kingdom of Italy and Vatican City was founded as a country. The Vaticano neighbourhood encompasses Vatican City and includes its surrounding suburbs such as the medieval Borgo. St. Peter’s Square and its basilica (highest point in the city) in the centre of the neighbourhood. The dome is an excellent point of reference for any traveller. The western and south-western areas are bordered by its Renaissance era walls, which still completely surround Vatican City.
Bordering the Vatican are the neighbourhoods Prati, Borgo, Trastevere and West. Prati, to its northeast, is a residential area busy with shops and businesses as well. The tiny Borgo area immediately east could be considered the Pope's front yard. To its south is Trastevere, a vivacious hangout with Basilica of Santa Maria at its centre. The large area denoted as West is perhaps most recognised as a predominantly residential area with the large Villa Pamphilj park.
Know your neighbours
Realistically, you will not get to know your neighbours in the Vaticano area, as many are administrative clergy - priests, brothers and nuns - that work within the non-public area of Vatican City. You may have a chance to chat with the area’s shopkeepers, but for the most part this is a distinctly tourist service only. For interaction with local residents, the side streets between Via della Conciliazione and Via Crescenzio, and including the Borgo area, may be your best opportunity to mingle with locals.
The Vaticano area is not a true shopping area and is better known as the place to find religious souvenirs. In the shops along Via della Conciliazione you can find everything from rosary beads and crosses to benedictions and mosaics. If you’re feeling explorative, the side streets behind Via della Conciliazione and in the Borgo have a nice offering of small boutiques selling anything from used clothing and faux jewels to designer glasses and mosaics.
Since the Vaticano is Rome’s most visited neighbourhood, it is well connected to the entire city - from the stadium to the catacombs. From the Vaticano area, it is an easy walk over Ponte Sant’Angelo and Ponte Vittorio to the centre, and also Trastevere to its immediate south. Rome’s public transportation system ATAC offers links via bus, tram and metro.
Buses 23, 40, 62, 64, 271, 280, 870 connect the Vatican with the Centre, Testaccio, Janiculum, Piazza Venezia, and Termini. Tram 19 in neighbouring Piazza Risorgimento (Prati) connects the Vatican area with Villa Borghese and San Lorenzo. There are also three metro stops from Linea A (red line) in close proximity in the Prati neighbourhood. Lepanto, Ottaviano and Cipro (designated also as Vatican Museums) will bring you to Piazza di Spagna and Termini.
- The Vaticano area is heavily religious and even administrative. Though its surrounding streets have bars and restaurants, the joie de vivre of the neighbourhood is inside its walls, whether in church or museums. Looking for a bit of life? St. Peter’s Square during papal events including Sunday masses and Wednesday audience is when it is most happening.
The multi-layered Vatican City is the site to see in this neighbourhood. It is comprised of museums, an excavation site and the largest Roman Catholic church in the world. St. Peter’s Church was built over the course of 122 years. The church contains epic art work including Michelangelo’s very first sculpture, 1498’s Pieta, decorations by Bernini and studio, and several papal tombs, most importantly that of John Paul II. Under the church is a level of papal tombs, each a fragment of history. And underneath that level is a 1st-century BC excavation site known as the Scavi, a coveted visit that requires a reservation made several months in advance. Within the complex are the Vatican Museums - miles of palaces that showcase almost every era of art history. From ancient to contemporary, the Museums are worth the expensive ticket price and are home two of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, the Sistine Ceiling and the Last Judgement.
At the far end of the neighbourhood is Castel Sant’Angelo, originally Emperor Hadrian’s tomb in the second century and more recently a papal stronghold and hide out.
The Vaticano area is not known for an accommodating range of restaurants. In fact, most dining spots tend to be the proverbial tourist trap. If you’re in dire need of a bite, the Borgo area has some cute restaurants, pizza al taglio and food shops. However, our advice to you is to head to Trastevere or cross the river.
Technically this area has no nightlife unless you are doing a 24-hour novena.
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