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Social Life in Vatican City

Greetings

Vatican City is very multi-lingual and saying hello, goodbye, and thank you in nearly any language is often times understood. However, most of the non-tourists in the city speak Italian and/or English. In Italian some of the most commonly heard greetings are buongiorno, which means "hello," arrivederci, which means "goodbye," and the informal, and most commonly heard, ciao, which means both "hello" and "goodbye." Another important word to remember in Italian is grazie, which means "thank you."

Behavior

Vatican City is the center of the Roman Catholic Church and any visitor to the country should act in a respectful manner, especially in St. Peter's Basilica, which is an active Catholic Church and is first and foremost a religious building, not a tourist site. The Catholic Church welcomes visitors of all religions to visit St. Peter's Basilica and other religious buildings, but does ask all visitors (no matter their faith) to be respectful of the Catholic faith, the building, its symbolism, and other visitors. This respect begins with how to dress in St. Peter's Basilica (above), but expands to include behavior, such as not eating or drinking in the church. A final point of emphasis in the Catholic Church all visitors should be aware of is that, although people of all faiths are welcome to visit churches, non-Catholics should not receive communion if attending a mass.

Beyond the conservative dress and showing respect, most required behaviors in Vatican City should be common courtesy, such as: cell phone use (or ringing) is prohibited in churches, smoking is not allowed, and in many areas photos, photos with flash, and/or camera tripods are forbidden, this is especially true in the Vatican Museums. Common curtesy will get you far in Vatican City, but if in doubt ask any employee and they will happily assist you in the rules and etiquette of the country, museums, and churches.

Dress

When it comes to dress in Vatican City conservative is the only appropriate course of action. The city is home to many priests and nuns, both of whom dress very conservatively as the only skin commonly seen is the hands, head, and perhaps the feet, but most people wear closed-toe shoes. The priests tend to wear a more formal outfit at mass, while in public they have more freedom to wear a number of different outfits, but are still somewhat regulated in what can be worn. Many priests also wear a white "collar" so can usually be recognized no matter their clothing. Nuns tend to dress conservatively no matter the situation as some wear a full "habit," while others dress in western styled clothing, but again the dress is very conservative. Even the non-clergy citizens of Vatican City dress conservatively.

One of the most noticeable and famous outfits in Vatican City is that of the Swiss Guard's blue, yellow, and red uniforms. A common rumor is that Michelangelo designed these uniforms, but the reality is that they were designed in the early 1900s and are based on traditional Renaissance uniforms; the present uniforms were likely inspired by painting and frescos from the Renaissance, including many found in Vatican City itself.

For a visitor to Vatican City there are loose restrictions on entering St. Peter's Square, but there is a strict dress code for entering St. Peter's Basilica and this dress code is encouraged for all visitors, even if just entering St. Peter's Square. This dress code forbids hats of any type, does not allow shorts or short skirts (although women may wear skirts that reach past the knees), requires sleeves on all shirts (short sleeves are fine so long as they cover the upper arm), doesn't allow any obscene language, images, or advertisements on clothing, and men are required to wear long pants. These are the minimum requirements to enter St. Peter's Basilica, but many people will dress more conservatively. You are encouraged to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants at all times in Vatican City as a sign of respect.

Arts & Entertainment

Entertainment in Vatican City is limited to the museums, architecture, and art, but the art in Vatican City, from the paintings, frescos, and sculptures to the architecture and gardens, are among the most impressive in the world.

The arts begin with the most noticeable and obvious art in the architecture (which is discussed in the History & Architecture Page) and the gardens. In these architectural masterpieces the art continues as some of the most famous art in the world can be found here. Among the most famous sculptures is La Pieta, a marble statue of Mary holding Jesus after His death was carved by Michelangelo and can be found in St. Peter's Basilica. Also in the basilica is Bernini's Baldacchino di San Pietro or St. Peter's Baldachin, which is the large carved bronze canopy under the dome. Lastly, the art surrounding Cathedra Petri, or the Chair of St. Peter, also in the basilica, is an incredible piece of art, also by Bernini.

Among the frescos in Vatican City, all seem to take a backseat to "The Creation of Adam," which is Michelangelo's famous painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This is just one of numerous frescos in the Sistine Chapel and throughout the city. In the Vatican Museums are the Stanze di Raffaello or Raphael Rooms, which would be more famous than they are if these rooms of frescos weren't just minutes away from the Sistine Chapel.

In addition to the above highlights, the Vatican Museums are among the most impressive art museums in the world as they are home to dozens of additional sculptures, frescos, and paintings. Among the many famous artists who have work here are Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo among many others.

This page was last updated: November, 2013