Above: The view of the dome of St. Peter’s from the Vatican Gardens in Rome

Another Side of the Vatican: Touring the Gardens and Necropolis

I hope to return to Rome many times, but I have no desire to revisit the Vatican’s star attraction, the Sistine Chapel. At least, not during regular opening hours. On my last attempt, claustrophobia set in well before I even crossed the threshold of what must be the most crowded church in the world.

But there’s more to the Vatican than the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. This time, I reserved tickets for a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens and the Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis, neither of which is accessible to the average museumgoer.

The combined tour, with about 20 participants, started in the gardens, which make up the majority of the Vatican’s city-state. We followed paved roads and well-maintained paths, occasionally ascending gentle hills. Our guide showed us the oldest garden, a formal sunken space adjacent to the apostolic palace, as well as the romanticist Fountain of the Eagle, Pope Benedict’s nearby residence, the Vatican’s former railway station and a reproduction of the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France. Throughout our walk, we had views of the dome of St. Peter’s, framed by ornamental trees and garden sculptures. Headsets ensured that we could hear our guide at all times, whether we stood near her or not.

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