Postcard: Vatican City

The interior of Sistine Chapel with frescoes, image

For many visitors to Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, with its exquisite frescoes, is at the top of their must-see list.

Since 1972, UNESCO's World Heritage Centre has identifed 878 sites around the globe "considered to be of outstanding value to humanity." AAA Travel is a World Heritage Alliance member, and Postcard will feature a different one of these sites in each issue.

Here's a divine paradox: The world's tiniest nation is just 80 years old, yet its artworks were created by the masters of the Renaissance. It claims only 450-odd citizens but has its own train station, post office, phone service, and bank. It is completely surrounded by Italy but is guarded by Swiss soldiers in striped knee pants.

Still, the real awesomeness of Vatican City lies in its attractions: Saint Peter's Basilica accommodates some 20,000 worshipers above the ground and nearly 150 departed pontiffs below. Make the climb to its dome for heavenly views of Saint Peter's Square, where Pope Benedict XVI regularly addresses the faithful. Next door, the Vatican Museums wind for nine labyrinthine miles past Egyptian sarcophagi, Greek statues, and works by Giotto and Bernini, culminating in the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's great frescoed ceiling. Say a prayer to the patron saint of aching feet as you admire the world's most beautiful polling place: The College of Cardinals gathers here to elect the pope, leader of 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide and ruler of a fascinating 109 acres.

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Photography courtesy of Antoine Taveneaux/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in May 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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