Vatican City



Today Italy is predominantly Roman Catholic, a religion which has since spread across the world, however this was purely a quirk of fate caused by circumstances during the early centuries of the common era.


The first Xtians were Jews who were dissatisfied with the authority of the orthodox Hebrew religion, and were considered a rebellious cult by their peers. The first major breakthrough came for them when they decided to scrap some of their Jewish traditions regarding diet and circumcision, and accepted gentiles into their membership.


At that time the official religion of the Rome Empire was Pagan, with deities adopted from the earlier Greek pantheon. The major Gods being Jupiter the highest, Mars the god of war, Minerva the virgin goddess of wisdom, and the goddess Vesta keeper of the sacred fire. Also gaining in popularity at this time was the mystery religion of Mithraism, a bull cult similar to the Eleusinian Mysteries, adopted from Persia. It was until the 4th century that Constantine adopted Xtianity as the official religion, although he still utilised other Pagan temples.


Rome had grown in importance to Xtians due to the execution of SS Peter and Paul in the city, and in 313 CE the construction of St Peter's Basilica begun, and the seat of the popes established on the Vatican Fields on the west bank of the Tiber.


During the 8th century the pope was given secular power to rule Rome and the Vatican States of central Italy by the Holy Roman Emperor, which was to last over a thousand years. During the centuries following, the popes competed with Florence in embracing the Renaissance, "acquiring" many ancient Pagan artefacts, and robbing temples and ancient buildings of their marble and stone for building projects in Vatican City.


The massive Belvedere Courtyard, which was to set the standard for piazzas across Europe for centuries, was built at the beginning of the 16th century between the Sistine Chapel and Villa Belvedere, the palace of Pope Innocent VIII. The elaborate series of tiers was cloistered between a library and the Map Room corridor.


Before the end of the century, the whole appearance of the courtyard had been destroyed by Sixtus V, when a wing was added to the library right across the centre terrace cutting the courtyard into two. This was to screen off from his view, numerous statues of Pagan Gods which were considered to be idols.


Although now isolated from Villa Belvedere, the lower courtyard, where Leo X kept his pet elephant and menagerie, retained the name of Belvedere. The upper courtyard which terminated in a vast half domed niche as the setting for a twelve foot high bronze pine cone originally part of a Roman fountain, taken from the Temple of Isis. The now named Pine Cone Courtyard has a modern sculpture of "A Sphere within a Sphere" at its centre.


As well as being rulers of the Catholic Church, popes were secular rulers of all the central Italian Peninsular until Italy was united as a kingdom in 1870. From then until the Lateran Treaty was signed in 1929 making the Vatican an independent state, the popes were "imprisoned" in the Vatican City with no exit available except through Italian land.


Italian Tour



St Peter's Basilica


St Peter's Square


Gold Ceiling

in the Map Room Corridor


Laocoon and his Two Sons




Pine Cone Courtyard


The Pine Cone Fountain