The Vatican is a unique domain. The world's smallest independent city state, it is the seat of the papacy—and thus the spiritual headquarters of one of the world's great religions, Roman Catholicism—and at the same time it is among the largest and most distinguished complexes of architectural and artistic treasures in the West.
To the ancient Romans, the Vaticanum was a swampy and ill-defined region along the bank of the Tiber. It was the site of the Vatican Circus—begun by Caligula and finished by Nero—and the place where the apostle Peter, the first bishop of Rome, was crucified and buried. Less than three centuries later, the Holy Roman emperor Constantine erected a monumental basilica over the site of Peter's tomb, a church that stood for more than twelve hundred years until it was torn down, beginning in the 1500s, to make way for the magnificent Renaissance basilica that is today the focal point of Christendom.
This great church, built by Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and other Renaissance and Baroque architects, is at the heart of the independent city state, created in 1929, whose boundaries are determined by the walls built by four popes between 1540 and 1640. Inside this walled enclave, encompassing barely 100 acres within the city of Rome, are the administrative offices of the Church, the residence of the pope, and libraries and museums that form one of the richest treasuries of art in the world. The Vatican Museums house collections that range from Etruscan, Greek, and Roman works of art, through a series of Renaissance masterpieces, to renowned ethnological objects and modern religious art. Wholly self-sufficient, the Vatican City has its own railway station, post office, radio network, and daily newspaper.
This volume, written by distinguished historians and by curators of the Vatican collections, provides an authoritative and up-to-date survey of all aspects of the Vatican, including essays on the organization of the Church, its evolution, its councils, and its architecture and art. The growth of the papal museums and libraries is traced, and highlights of the Vatican's collections are shown in the more than 280 color-plates that illustrate the text. These plates serve to graphically emphasize the splendor of Saint Peter's Basilica, Bernini's great colonnade, the papal palaces adorned by Raphael and other famed artists, as well as the Sistine Chapel with its magnificent frescoes by Botticelli, Pinturicchio, and Michelangelo. In addition, the reader will find among these pages privileged glimpses into private rooms and apartments in the palaces and into secluded areas in the courtyards and gardens not usually accessible to the tourist.
This volume also treats the extraterritorial holdings of the Vatican that lie across the Tiber, such as the Lateran Palace and the Cancelleria, the latter a supreme example of quattrocento architecture in Rome. The six pilgrimage churches and the Roman Catacombs are also illustrated and discussed.In sum, this volume—the result of collaboration by many experts and endorsed by the Vatican—is the most authoritative and comprehensive book ever published on the Vatican.