February 2013 Update: If you are planning to visit St. Peter's and the Vatican in the next few weeks, be warned that the Sistine Chapel will be closed due to the Conclave to elect the new Pope. I, as well as a group of priests, were turned away by courteous but stern Swiss Guards today as we tried to enter Sant'Anna gate to make purchases at the Vatican Pharmacy.
Security has been tightened... as it should be in view of the important Conclave coming up.
The neighborhood was-and still is-full of black-garbed nuns, scurrying priests and brightly dressed bishops and cardinals.
Walking across the Piazza recently I noticed that the Borromini colonnade is being cleaned .
Decades of dirt and smog are being removed to reveal the original white travertine marble.
Crossing the piazza you will note circular inserts in the cobblestones marking the winds and the center of the colonnade, where the columns “line up” creating an optical illusion .
On Wednesdays and holy days crowds from all corners of the world fill St. Peter’s Piazza, the Audience hall and the neighborhood souvenir shops.
|archway and palm trees inside Vatican City|
Here are bricks from the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica.
The letters “RFSP” refer to the Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro.
|Brick removed from the 1950 Holy Door|
|Brick from the 1984 Holy Door|
If you are taking the underground grotto tour, you will enter from the side door of the Reverenda Fabbrica’s office, to the left of St. Peter’s façade.
The workers in the Basilica, Sampietrini, are responsible for all the maintenance of the huge Basilica and they proudly hold their jobs which are often passed down from father to son.
|hammer & chisel used by reigning popes to open the Holy Door|
|a collection of bricks from various holy years, Vatican Museum|
One sampietrino told me how thrilled he was - when he was working on yearly inspection and cleaning- to find the name of his grandfather scratched into the bronze atop Borromini’s baldacchino.
The map of Vatican City State shows that this tiny country, enclosed inside the city of Rome, has most modern conveniences including a pharmacy, police and fire departments and a polyglot printing office.
During my recent visit I could hear the band practicing for the Swiss Guards’ annual swearing-in ceremony held in one of the internal courtyards.
|Government building, Vatican City State|
The Library and Secret Archives are opening up a bit thanks to Lux in Arcana exhibit now on at the Capitoline Museum.
|recently renovated Vatican Library entrance|
|Secretary of Vatican Library receives my latest book|
According to the Vatican website, children are now welcome in the Papal gardens and weekly conferences are being offered highlighting some of the Vatican Musem's treasures.
Vatican's pharmacy with its 45 employees, is one of the world's busiest. Roman citizens who need medicines not yet available in Italy enter through Sant’Anna gate and stop at the Ufficio Passi to ask for an entrance permit.
Inside the Vatican Pharmacy they will be able to purchase medicines, with a doctor's prescription, paying 12-20% less for them.
|Gendarmes control the entrance at Sant'Anna gate|
On their way to the pharmacy, they pass by the Vatican supermarket where prices are also exempt from Italian taxes.
There is also a Vatican gas station, located on the opposite side of St. Peter’s Square, where long lines form. The wait is worth it, for those with permission can buy gas at much cheaper rates.
|interior courtyard used as parking lot|
|Entrance to the Vatican Bank|
The Vatican postal system has two offices in the main square, plus the main office across from the discreet entrance to the Vatican Bank which has been under investigation in the past few years.
|Vatican Post boxes|
|Main Vatican Post Office|
Most tourists who visit the Vatican Museums only catch a glimpse of the territory through the museum's windows.
|view of Vatican gardens|
|Staircase detail , Vatican Museums|
The poor and homeless know this fountain, located on the corner of Via Gregorio VII around the corner from the charity kitchen staffed by nuns.
|At the end of the 64 bus line, connecting trains to Viterbo and Civitavecchia|
|train for cruise passengers from San Pietro to Civitavecchia|
For a perfect day in the Vatican area, ignore the tourist traps near the Museum and Basilica and cross over
|Light lunch at "Mimì e Cocò" with manager, Christian|
Ponte Sant’Angelo to Via Governo Vecchio on your way to Piazza Navona. Here tables are set up in the street offering light lunches for locals and tourists alike.
|perfect for summer -a caprese salad|
|caffe, ricotta sweet followed by an ice cold limoncello|
A favorite hostelry for visitors on a budget is the Beehive Hotel owned by Americans Linda Martinez and Steve Brenner.
|Recent Expat Writers Book Fair at the Beehive Hotel|
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