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The site where St Peter was martyred and buried, The Vatican became the residence of the popes who succeeded him and the centre of the Roman Catholic faith. It is home to some of Rome's most magnificent art and architecture.
The Vatican's awesome religious structure, the Basilica, originally grew around the site of St Peter's tomb in the 2nd century AD. By the 15th century it was falling down, so in 1506, Pope Julius II laid the first stone of a new church. More than a century later, the magnificent edifice was completed and every great Renaissance architect, including Bernini and Maderno, had taken a hand in its design.
The most popular time to visit The Vatican is during the Papal audiences, which are usually given at 11am on a Wednesday in the Papal Audience Chamber. Less frequent are the audiences on religious holidays in Piazza San Pietro, where the pope appears on a balcony to address and bless the crowds. Tickets for the audiences are free, and therefore heavily subscribed, and can be booked at the Prefecture of Pontifical Household on the north side of the Piazza. Otherwise they can be made in writing. Appearances are also held at noon on Sundays, at the library window.
When the crowds disperse you can use your time to explore the fascinating buildings surrounding the Basilica. The Vatican's five papal palaces house museums, and with the spectacular attraction of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms and their wonderful collections of Classical sculpture, they comprise the finest museums in Rome.
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