Rome: River to Vatican Walk

Here is a step-by-step way to reach Vatican City during a 45 minute stroll along the Tiber River. The scenery is beautiful, the history is amazing and when you arrive at St. Peter’s Basilica it will be glowing in the morning light. Enjoy!

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1 Tiber River from Pointe Cavour in Rome, Italy

The Tiber River flows for over 250 miles but the most beautiful section can be enjoyed an hour or so after sunrise when golden light bathes the western bank. Start your morning near the bridge called Pointe Cavour. Then walk south along the tree-lined path on the eastern side in order to fully appreciate the spectacular scenery. Take time to greet the locals who are out walking their dogs. This makes a perfect 45 minute stroll towards Vatican City. Your first sight is the Catholic church called Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio.

Ponte Cavour 00186 Roma RM, Italy
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2 Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio in Rome, Italy

The Church of the Sacred Heart of the Suffrage is often called the Little Milan Cathedral thanks to its similar neo-gothic design. Surrounding its slender bell tower are six elegant spires. The façade is also graced with nineteen statues of saints. This Roman Catholic church was built in 1917 on the west bank of the Tiber River. Inside you’ll also find the small Museum of the Souls of Purgatory.

Lungotevere Prati, 12, 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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3 Ponte Umberto and Palace of Justice in Rome, Italy

The Ponte Umberto is a three-arched stone bridge that stretches 344 feet over the River Tiber. It was designed by Angelo Vescovali and named after Italy’s King Umberto I who was present during the opening ceremony in 1895. On the right is the Palace of Justice.

Piazza dei Tribunali 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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4 Palace of Justice in Rome, Italy

Corte Suprema di Cassazione or the Supreme Court of Cassation is housed in the Palace of Justice. This view of the Palazzo di Giustizia from the Ponte Umberto I gives you a sense of its enormous 580 foot width. This Renaissance and Baroque style structure was designed by Guglielmo Calderini. Italians call it Palazzaccio or the Bad Palace for three reasons: the construction scandal that erupted soon after its completion in 1910, their dislike for its complicated façade and because of the powers of the court.

Piazza dei Tribunali 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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5 Lady Justice Statue on Palace of Justice in Rome, Italy

Most depictions of Lady Justice portray her with a blindfold and holding a double-edged sword in the right hand and scales dangling from the left. However, beneath the central arch on the Palace of Justice’s facade in this sculpture of lustitia, which is Latin for Justice, it shows the Roman goddess with the sword but holding a book of law on the left. Look closely and you’ll also see two images of the she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome. Typically this iconic Roman image shows the infants together yet here they are apart, perhaps alluding to their quarrel and the subsequent murder of Remus.

Piazza dei Tribunali 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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6 Quadriga Atop Palace of Justice in Rome, Italy

Driving this four-horse chariot on top of the Palace of Justice is Victoria, the goddess of victory. The bronze ensemble was created by Ettore Ximenes in 1926. During Roman antiquity, chariot races were extremely popular. However, this winged deity was mostly associated with success during battle. A temple in her honor was built nearby on Palatine Hill.

Piazza dei Tribunali 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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7 Ponte Sant’Angelo and Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, Italy

When you reach this point on your river walk, stop a moment to fully appreciate the beauty of the Ponte Sant’Angelo. This five arch marble bridge was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian early in the second century to connect the ancient city of Rome to his mausoleum on the right. It is called Castel Sant’Angelo or the Castle of the Holy Angel. This bridge is not only one of the most stunning in Roma but also all of Europe.

Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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8 Angel With The Whips Statue on Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome, Italy

The Ponte Sant’Angelo is also called the Bridge of Angels because of the 10 stunning sculptures that flank its 443 foot length. These statues were commissioned in 1669 and designed by Gian Bernini. Each one depicts a scene from the persecution and crucifixion of Christ. The Angel with the Whips is the second in the series. It was sculpted by Lazzaro Morelii. Look closely and you’ll see your first glimpse of the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica.

Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome, Italy
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9 Archangel Michael Above Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, Italy

Roman Emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 76 to 138 AD, commissioned this enormous circular structure along the Tiber River to be his mausoleum. He died a year before it was completed but his ashes were interred here in 139 AD. Over the centuries, the Castel Sant’Angelo has served as a military fortress, a citadel for popes, and a prison. Since 1901, it has been the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo. Notice the bronze statue on top. According to folklore, the Archangel Michael appeared over the castle in 590 AD during a procession led by Pope Saint Gregory. This apparition signified the end of the bubonic plague that had devastated Rome.

Lungotevere Castello, 50, 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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10 Ponte Vittorio Emanuel II in Rome, Italy

Ponte Vittorio Emanuel II is the third and youngest bridge to admire during your morning stroll to the Vatican. When it was finished in 1911, it was named after Victor Emmanuel II who established the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The king’s reign continued until his death in 1878 when the Padre della Patria (Father of the Fatherland) was buried in the Parthenon. You will notice St. Peter’s is looming ever larger. This is the spot where you want to cross over to the west bank of the Tiber River.

Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II 00186 Roma RM, Italy
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11 Winged Victory Statue on Ponte Vittorio Emanuel II in Rome, Italy

As you enter the east side of the Ponte Vittorio Emanuel II at Piazza Paoli you will be greeted by two of four Winged Victories. This one is shown holding a bouquet of flowers and a broken chain. These enormous bronze statues of the Roman goddess Victoria pay tribute to the bridge’s namesake, King Victor Emmanuel II. He was victorious in his quest to unify Italy during a political movement called Risorgimento and during the Second Italian Independence War of 1859.

Piazza Pasquale Paoli 00186 Roma RM, Italy
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12 Allegorical Statue on Ponte Vittorio Emanuel II in Rome, Italy

As you walk along the 354 feet of the Ponte Vittorio you will encounter four allegorical sculptures. They were carved from travertine marble in 1911. They symbolize Oppression Conquered, Loyalty to the State, Freedom and the Unification of Italy. The bridge was designed by Ennio De Rossi and opened on the 50th anniversary of Italy’s unification. In the background is the Mausoleum of Hadrian named Castel Sant’Angelo.

Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II 00186 Roma RM, Italy
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13 St. Peter’s Basilica View From Via della Concilazione in Rome, Italy

Once you cross over to the Tiber’s west bank, walk straight until you reach Via della Concilazione and take a left. Positioned at the end of this third of a mile boulevard is your first magnificent glimpse of St. Peter’s Basilica. If your morning timing is right, it should be glowing in the sunshine. You will probably quicken your pace because a full view is blocked by buildings until you reach Piazza Pio XII. A few more steps are needed before you technically leave Italy and enter the independent city-state of Vatican City. It is the world’s smallest country by size (110 acres) and population (less than 850 people).

Via della Conciliazione 57, 00193 Roma RM, Italy
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14 St. Peter’s Basilica View From St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Italy

It is breathtaking to enter St. Peter’s Square and stare in awe at St. Peter’s Basilica. Its façade stretches 730 feet across and 448 feet tall, making it the world’s largest church. Among the architects who designed this iconic home to Christianity was Michelangelo. As you marvel at its ornate Renaissance features it is understandable why it took 120 years (1506 until 1626) to build Basilica Sancti Petri. It is humbling to know you are standing on the spot where the Apostle Simon was crucified in 64 AD. Inside is Saint Peter’s tomb.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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15 Vatican City-State Seal at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

The façade of St. Peter’s Basilica and the grand colonnade surrounding the Piazza di San Pietro are filled with historic ornamentation. An example is this early version of the Vatican City State Seal. On top is the papal tiara, the crown worn by the pope. Below it are two crossed keys which represent the keys to Heaven given to Saint Peter by Christ. Also notice the inscription “Alexander VII PM.” This refers to Pope Alexander VII. During his papacy from 1655 until 1667, he commissioned extensive urban development throughout Rome. Many of those architectural projects remain as city landmarks.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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16 Clock Tower at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

Flanking both sides of St. Peter’s Basilica are two towers. On top is the coat of arms for the city-state of Vatican City. Beneath it is a clock with Roman numerals held by two angels. And then you’ll notice the bells, the oldest of which was cast in 1288.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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17 Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

The Romans are credited with creating the dome as a major architectural feature during the first century BC but they did not appear in their present form until the mid-15th century. Since then over 70 churches in Rome have included a dome. They give the city a unique and beautiful skyline. Towering over all of them is the 448 foot dome crowning St. Peter’s Basilica. It was redesigned in the mid-16th century by Michelangelo who specified two layers of bricks surrounded by 16 ribs of stone. Beneath the 63 foot lantern is a very impressive diameter of 136 feet. No wonder it has been copied so often but never duplicated.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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18 Statues on Colonnade Surrounding St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

Embracing the Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square) are two oval shaped colonnades with nearly 300 Tuscan order columns each with an Ionic frieze on top. Standing tall along the balusters which peak at 64 feet are 140 statues of saints and martyrs. It took Lazzaro Morelli over a decade to carve half of the 96 original sculptures. Shown here are the male saints that line the south colonnade. This grand architectural ensemble was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII and the Baroque style was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Construction started in 1656 and was finished in 1667.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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19 Fountain In Front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

Before you leave St. Peter’s Square to attend mass inside the Major Basilica or to tour the Vatican Museums and/or Sistine Chapel, take one last admiring look at St. Peter’s Basilica. Regardless of your religious affiliation you can’t help being impressed with one of the most beautiful buildings ever constructed. On the left is a water fountain that was created in 1613 by Maderno.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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20 Lamppost in Front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy

Any photo gallery of churches in Rome must start with St. Peter’s Basilica. Many people mistakenly believe it is a cathedral and the mother church for Roman Catholics. Instead, it is one of four Major Basilicas in the city. However, as the world’s largest church and arguably one of the finest buildings through the 17th century, it richly deserves every accolade it has received since it was finished in 1626. Please see more photos of St. Peter’s Basilica in the “River to Vatican Walk” gallery in the Italy collection.

St. Peter's Basilica Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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