St. Peter’s square is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding architectural spaces in Rome.  But this astonishing square, as most of the historical sites of the eternal city, “was not built in one day”. Not because   its construction  lasted 11 years (1656-1667) but because the square is the result of centuries of changes, additions, transformations  to the original IV century basilica that  in the XVI century had become a chaotic entrance to the Basilica dedicated to the first Pope of Rome: St. Peter.

In this first  1577 engrave  created by the artist Lefrery  you can appreciate that the Constantinian basilica (IV century) façade,  after centuries of transformations   had become an addition of different buildings, hights and styles.  In the background is appearing a round volume: is the new St. Peter’s Basilica created by Bramante in the XVI century, conceived with a dome.    On this  second  1588-90 engrave  by Cesare Nebbia,   there is an Egyptian  obelisk that creates a certain order in the chaotic space. This obelisk is part of wide urban plan created in Rome by   Pope Sixtus V’s architect: Domenico Fontana.   

With the Council of Trent (1545-1563) who produced the counter reform  within the catholic church, many new rules were issued, including the artistic ones: the new churches had to transform their layout into the shape of the Latin cross.  St. Peter’s basilica who have had a Greek cross layout was extended under Carlo Maderno’s  new project.     The new façade as a unity was inaugurated in 1612, without the 2 belfries, built some years later (1640) but then demolished.


The breakthrough arrived with the master Gian Lorenzo Bernini who crowned St. Peter’s Basilica with this brilliant creation.  He was able to unify all the different inputs around the Basilica: arrival, Papal palace entrance, basilica entrance, proportion, human scale. St. Peter’s square protects and connects the devoted visitors with the Dome, symbol of the kingdom of heaven. The two colonnades are the arms of the church embracing the faithful in an endless gesture of love.

In yellow all the buildings that were demolished to create the square.

Nolli’s plan created in 1748 showing the square before the fascist government intervention to create Via della Conciliazione.

3 things you didn’t know about the Vatican Museums in Rome

3 things you didn’t know about the Vatican Museums in Rome

3 things you didn’t know about the Vatican Museums in Rome

A must stop for every tourist in Rome, a state inside the city. What am I talking about? It is the Vatican city, of course.

This small country of its own sits right in the middle of the Roman culture, arts and history, with its boundaries enclosed in the – let’s say it – nicest city of the world.

There are many sites one can visit within the siege of the Catholic church: a magnificent square, the porch and the columnade that are called after St Peter, and then again fountains, gardens, statues and many more landmarks. Plenty to choose from and many different itineraries, so that you can come back many times and discovering always different spots.

One amongst all those beautiful places is one that certainly cannot be missed when in Rome: it is the Vatican Museums, showcasing a massive collection of art pieces, historical mementos and ancient objects from different times in history.

There are a million information that you can read about this place, but also a lot of secrets about the Vatican Museums that nobody will tell you about.

No one but me!

Ready to hear some? Here we go.

  • Michelangelo’s paintings are not only representing saints or angels.

I am not going fool, don’t worry. The Sistine Chapel is the best example of Michelangelo’s talent and a majestic work of art. The artist was able, together with his crew, to paint over a 5000 square meters ceiling and just over 300 human figures. As you just learned, it was not only saints and angels: many of the humans represented were in fact inspired by people living in Michelangelo’s times. Politicians, lawyers and other important citizens but one stands against them all: did you know that Jesus face in the infamous Giudizio Universale belongs in fact to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri, which was said to be the artist’s lover?!

  • There are way more visitors than you would expect

You are getting it right: there are a huge number of tourists visiting the Vatican museums everyday. And the number is increasing year by year.

There are in fact over 27 thousand visitors getting inside the Vatican every single day: just as if a medium-large town will go on a day trip there everyday! Impressive, and crowded of course. You can probably tell once you see the queue at the ticket office. The museums are open every single day (but on Sundays and catholic holidays) since 1771: can you work out how many tickets get sold in a year time?!

  • The Museums had some special closing date, which was neither a Sunday or a catholic holiday.

As just mentioned, the Vatican Museums were opened to the public for the first time in 1771 by Pope Clemens XIV and they have been open every day since. Every day but one: curiously, in 1938, Pope Pius XI decided to close the museums exceptionally on a week day. That was the day when Adolf Hitler, dictator from Germany, came to Rome on a visit. The Pope’s intention was to forbid the dictator’s access to such richness and beauty. And in fact he managed to do so.

So, tell me: did you know any of those special secrets about the Vatican Museums?! I bet you didn’t. But I will tell you more: there are a whole bunch of other curiosity about the Vatican City and other must visit spots in Rome I am happy to share with you.

So now you have 2 choices: keep reading this blog or book a customized tour around Rome.

Which one will you pick?



Hi Ximena,

Hope you are well!
It’s Amanda (and Terry, Jude and Sol) here from Sydney. We arrived back about a week ago and are settling back into routine and awfully hot humid weather! Finally had a few moments to sit down at the computer so wanted to send you a quick note to thank you very much for your amazing and personal service with the Ancient Rome and Vatican tours we attended with you earlier in January. We all agreed that you were the best guide we had the whole time we were away! Your knowledge and warmth was so appreciated. You were also so patient with the boys and read their behaviour well and tailored everything as needed. Thank you, we loved it!
We all loved the Colosseum tour too even though we didn’t get to see it with you. We were very fortunate that we had a very passionate archaeologist leading our tour who did a great job – and it was perfect having your added insight prior.
Here’s a few photos from the visits – a couple with you, and I apologise to that I don’t think I asked your permission to take these first. I love the view over the rooftops – you took us to the best location for that! It’s great that you can’t see the Piazza Venezia in view like you do from most other locations 😉
Best wishes,

Vatican City tour the richest art collection in the World

Vatican City tour the richest art collection in the World

Beautiful, stunning, magnificent. There are a million ways to describe Rome, the Eternal city.

Centuries of history, arts and social changes have contributed to building what is today the busy city of Rome.

But wait! This is not just a city, it is an open door museum. And it is very much worth to discover every little corner, every square, every fountain, every palace. That is how you will deeply understand the never-ending cultural features the city has developed.

Today you will join a Vatican City tour – well, not just A tour – this is my special Vatican Tour Rome. A tour that lets you learn about the religious history of Rome and the true meaning behind all artworks.

Not only that: with this tour you will get to skip the lines and enjoy every masterpiece in the Vatican state in just a day!



Associated Press – November 2015

Pope Francis has dismissed a question about whether condoms can be condoned in the fight against Aids by saying there are more important issues confronting the world, like malnutrition, environmental exploitation and the lack of safe drinking water.

Francis was asked about the church’s opposition to condoms while returning Monday to Rome from Kenya, Uganda and the Central Africa Republic,  Africa in general and Kenya and Uganda in particular have been hard hit by the Aids epidemic, and the Catholic church has faced criticism that its position has contributed to the problem.

Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, earned the wrath of healthcare professionals, gay rights activists and the United Nations by saying on a visit to Africa that condoms were not the answer to fighting HIV and could actually make it worse.

Francis has made scant reference to Aids in his speeches this past week. He did, however, visit HIV-infected children at a Uganda hospital and kissed each one, listened to moving testimony from a girl born with the virus and thanked the church’s healthcare workers for caring for those infected.

A clearly irked Francis criticized the question directed at him during his in-flight press conference about whether the church should change its position on condoms to limit HIV’s spread. He said it “seems too small, partial”, when there are bigger issues confronting humanity.

“I don’t like getting into questions or reflections that are so technical when people die because they don’t have water or food or housing,” he said.

He said when those problems are taken care of, questions like condoms and Aids can be addressed.

Francis has previously signalled that he doesn’t want to get drawn into culture war issues over contraception or abortion, and his response Monday was very much in line with such comments.

Francis was euphoric, though, about his first trip to  Africa, saying he was constantly surprised by the continent and the ability of its people to find joy with so little.

He denounced how Africa has constantly been exploited by foreign powers, citing the slave trade and those who “only look to take Africa’s riches”.

“Africa is a martyr. It’s a martyr of exploitation over history,” he said. “I love Africa for this.”



THE GUARDIAN- Harriet Sherwood –Religion correspodent –

 Catholic order’s British leader, Matthew Festing, had been in conflict wiht liberalising pontiff over charity project

The head of the Knights of Malta, an ancient Catholic order, has resigned over a dispute with the Vatican about free condoms that has become a battle of wills between the heads of two of the world’s oldest institutions and a test of   Pope Francis’s authority.

The Rome-based chivalric and charity institution said Grand Master Matthew Festing, 67, resigned after the pope asked him to step down on Tuesday. Grand masters of the institution, which was founded in the 11th century, usually hold their posts for life.

“The pope asked him to resign and he agreed,” the order’s spokesperson said, adding that the group’s sovereign council would sign off on the highly unusual resignation within days.

Confirming Festing’s departure, the  Vatican  said Francis had “expressed his appreciation and recognition for [Festing’s] loyalty and devotion to the successor to St Peter [the pope] and his readiness to humbly act in the interests of the Order and the Church”.

Ludwig Hoffmann-Rumerstein will act as the order’s interim Grand Master until an election can take place.

The Vatican said it was taking the unusual step of appointing a pontifical delegate to the order – a move seen by some as an attempt to curb its conservative faction. 

Festing and the Vatican have been locked in a dispute since early December, when one of the order’s top officials, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was sacked after the charity distributed condoms as part of a project for the poor.


Von Boeselager and his supporters claimed the condom issue was an excuse by Festing and the papal envoy to the order, Cardinal Raymond Burke – an American arch-conservative who has accused the pope of being too liberal – to increase their power.

Some Vatican observers have seen the Knights of Malta drama as a proxy battle between Francis and Burke. The US cardinal has been outspoken in his criticism of the pope’s efforts to reform Catholic teaching on the family, marriage and divorce. He was one of four cardinals who signed an open letter to Francis last year questioning new guidance allowing priests to decide whether divorced and remarried believers should be able to receive communion.

After Von Boeselager was sacked by Festing, he appealed to the pope, who appointed a five-member commission to look into the unusual circumstances of the dismissal.

Festing, a Briton who has been grand master for nine years and is seen as a conservative, refused to cooperate, saying the papal commission was an illegitimate intervention in the order’s sovereign affairs. He established his own internal inquiry.

The Vatican, in turn, rejected what it said was an attempt to discredit members of the commission and ordered the leaders of the institution to cooperate with the papal commission, which was due to deliver its findings in the next week.

“Behind this dispute is an internal struggle within the Knights between reformers who want the order to focus on humanitarian work and a traditionalist clique out of step with Francis,” said Austen Ivereigh, the pope’s biographer.

“Historically, the Knights have mixed ecclesiastical policy and high finance in a way which is repugnant to Francis. He is naturally inclined to support the reformers, and seized the opportunity to encourage them.”

Andrew Chesnut, professor of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the row could be “read as a proxy battle between Burke and Pope Francis.  Writ large, it’s really about the reformist vision of Francis versus the arch conservative old guard-ism of Burke.”

He added: “The Vatican hierarchy tends to be more conservative than the laity in general, but Francis has the backing of the vast majority of parishioners – he’s still wildly popular, he has momentum.” For now, Francis had reasserted his authority, “but only time will tell how far his reform project can be pushed.”

The all-male leaders of the Knights of Malta take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the pope. The institution has 13,500 members, 25,000 employees and 80,000 volunteers worldwide.

The order – formed in the 11th century to provide protection and medical care for pilgrims to the Holy Land – maintains diplomatic relations with more than 100 states and the EU, and permanent observer status at the United Nations.

When Festing fired Von Boeselager, he accused the German of concealing his authorisation of the use of condoms when he ran Malteser International, the order’s humanitarian aid agency.

The church forbids the use of condoms as a means of birth control and says abstinence and monogamy in heterosexual marriage is the best way to control the spread of Aids.

Von Boeselager said he closed two projects in the developing world when he discovered condoms were being distributed, but kept a third running for a while because closing it would have abruptly ended basic medical services to the poor.

Francis has said he wants the 1.2 billion-member church to avoid so-called culture wars over moral teachings and show mercy to those who cannot live by all its rules, especially the poor.



Wednesday 25 January 2017