Why is it called the Vatican?The site where modern-day Vatican City stands is named after the Vatican Hill on which it stands. The word “vatican” is taken from an ancient Etruscan settlement which was called Vatica or Vaticum, which meant garden, and the ancient Romans referred to it as vaticanus ager, or “vatican territory”. Agrippina the Elder, mother of Emperor Caligula, did build gardens on the site, before her son decided to built a circus for charioteers there instead. His project was completed by Emperor Nero, which is why it was named the Circus of Nero. It was in this circus that many early Christians were martyred, including, according to tradition, St Peter himself. The first basilica was built on the supposed site of St Peter’s tomb in 326 CE and the Vatican has been associated with Christianity ever since.
Who are the Swiss Guard?The Papal Swiss Guard are responsible for the safety and security of the Pope and palaces of Vatican City. The guards are all Swiss Catholic men aged between 19 and 30 who have completed basic training with the Swiss army. The guard was founded in 1506, and their modern dress uniform (which is stripy and multicolored) reflects the way the guards were reported to have dressed in the 16th century, and on formal occassions they also carry halberds, their traditional weapons. Today, their day uniform is a plain blue, with a white collar, brown belt, and black beret, and they’re trained to use the same rifles and pistols as the modern-day Swiss army. They have ceremonial roles as well as being in charge of security, and they’ve also recently undergone extra training in case of terrorism.
Can we visit the Vatican for free?You can visit parts of the Vatican without a ticket. St Peter’s Square is open to the public from 7 am to 11 pm and there’s plenty of architectural gems in the square alone. You can also visit St Peter’s Basilica for free, though lines can get pretty long during peak hours of the day. Papal audiences and the Sunday Angelus can also be attended free of charge.
Will we meet the Pope?It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be able to have a private chat with Pope Francis, but it’s usually quite easy to see him from a distance! You can attend a papal audience at 10 am on most Wednesdays, which is a 1.5 to 2 hour service where the Pope preaches and gives blessings to the congregation in St Peter’s Square, or you can be in the square for the Sunday Angelus, where the Pope appears on a balcony and prays with the assembled crowd for about 15 to 20 minutes. Just make sure you’re in the right place at the right time, it’s free to attend either service and you don’t need a ticket.
Can you only visit the Sistine Chapel?No, you can only visit the Sistine Chapel with a ticket to the Vatican Museums.
Do we need our passports to get into Vatican City? And do they use another currency?Vatican City has an open border agreement with Italy, so if you’re in Italy you can enter Vatican City state without worrying about a visa or border controls. It also uses euros, so if you’ve changed money for the rest of your trip to Rome then you’re all set for a day in the Vatican.