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The Holy See

Background Information:


Altitude: 246' (ground level), 640' (on top of the Basilica Dome)


Tidbits:  Highest point in The Holy See (Vatican City)

Summitted, December 9, 2006

Time Zone: GMT +1 hours

When to go:

The summit is reachable any time of year, although you will need to check to make certain that the secure area of the Vatican is open (see trip description).

Route Selection:

See trip description.

Hotel and Climb Reservation:


Packing List:

Nothing special.

Getting There:

See trip description..

Trip Description:

Finding the high point in Vatican City is a bit of a challenge.  First, there is no general agreement on exactly where the high point is.  There are two opinions...first, it could be the highest natural ground area, but since almost the entire "ground" area is built OVER a labyrinth of underground buildings, this is hard to spot.  The second opinion is that it is on top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, the highest man-made structure in the "country".

I opted to stand on the highest point of both these locations.  This takes a little bit of planning.  First, you will need to enter the security area of Saint Peters Basilica.  The entrance is obvious and you need to pass through a standard metal detector.  Entrance is free, but check the schedule with The Vatican since the area is sometimes closed for religious or other events.  I recommend getting there as early as possible (when I went it opened at 8:30am).  I noted that at 8:30, there was no line for the Basilica, but there was a 5 hour line for the Vatican museums.  When I left the Basilica about 90 minutes later, there was a 2 hour line to enter the Basilica. 


After passing through the metal detectors, on the right side of the Basilica doors you will see signs for the stairway to the dome.  There is a small charge (4 Euros to walk all the way up, or 7 Euros for an elevator that takes you 1/2 way up and you will need to walk the rest of the way).  After purchasing your ticket, you will step outside to gain access to the stairway and elevator.  On the right is a brick wall.  On the right side of the wall is a concrete sculpture of what appears to be a bumble bee.  I believe the highest natural ground point is here (other points in back of the Basilica appear higher BUT they are obviously built on top of underground buildings).

To get tot he top of the Basilica dome you enter the stairway/elevator across from the bee, and start your 394 foot climb to the top.  I recommend walking in order to get a better impression of the massive size of this structure.  The elevator and stairs let you out on the roof where there are some interesting statues and views.  You then need to enter the base of the Basilica dome, where you can look down into the Basilica itself.  If you have vertigo, don't do it.  You will walk about 1/2 way around the inner dome base and then enter a series of staircases that get narrower and steeper as you ascend.  The final staircase is so narrow that you have to hold onto a rope in the center and you have to lean to one side as you climb because of the curvature of the dome (with NO RAILING). 


At the summit is a nice exterior outlook, followed by a stairway that leads back down to the roof and then finally exits into the Basilica itself.  

Approaching Vatican City and Saint Peter's Bascilica. The highest point on a manmade structure will be on the roof of the Bascilica and the highest point on the group is toward the right of the Bascilica

Highest point on the ground, located on the side of the Bascilica

Walking along the Vatican rooftops on my way down

Rope and ancient stairs used to get to the summit on the roof of the Bascilica

Summit selfie

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