Why you'll love this tour
Exclusive Vatican adventure off the beaten track
Even at a destination as popular as the Vatican, we strive to offer our guests unforgettable, exclusive experiences beyond the beaten track. As one of only a few selected tour companies, What a Life Tours has got special access to take our guests behind the scenes, to a venue where few tourists go – the Vatican Mosaic Studio. You’ll be given special badges to pass the Swiss Guards and make your way to observe the best artisans of the mosaic world (in action!) and explore the 16th century workshop together with a Vatican representative.
Of course, we’ll want to put your new knowledge to good use! To admire the most masterful of the mosaics in person, you will end your Vatican visit with a guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. Stroll right past the lines and straight to some of the most prized art masterpieces in the world. With 110,000 square feet to examine, you’ll truly be amazed at the sheer mass and quality of it all. Get the best facts and insight on all of the essential highlights, including Bernini’s bronze Baldachin and Michelangelo’s Pietá, with one of the Vatican's own expert guides.
Get a “backstage pass” to the Vatican Mosaic Studio
Initially set up by Pope Gregorio XIII in 1576, the Vatican Mosaic Studio gathered the finest in the field to maintain the massive stone-laden walls in St. Peter’s Basilica (that’s right, those gigantic masterworks aren't paintings, they are mosaics!). Over the years the studio has expanded beyond restorations and repairs and – nowadays – micro mosaics are pieced together daily. We’ll have the pleasure of following along and learning how the stunning works are made, from start to finish. Restorers in white lab coats concentrate intensely, cutting and carving colorful stones, arranging elaborate images, and sticking them together with an interesting plaster recipe that has been used for generations: oil and wine.
The downsized mosaics produced in the workshop are available to be ordered and shipped to art lovers around the globe. One modest neighbor, Pope Francis himself (yes, he actually lives just next door!), has become quite a regular of theirs, known for gifting these intricate mini-editions to his most esteemed Vatican guests – including the former U.S. President, Barack Obama! Though fitting décor for The White House, these original Vatican mosaics would be the perfect piece for anyone’s mantle, as well as an extraordinary souvenir.
An in-depth look at St. Peter's Basilica
We'll end the Vatican adventure with a comprehensive St. Peter's Basilica tour. Our route brings us to this world-famous shrine through a private back entrance – so we can avoid the lines completely! This is excellent news as we aim to spend the whole of the hour filling you in on the rich art and history held within the towering walls. Analyze the incredible mosaics (with all of your newfound knowledge) in the most stunning ambiance – laid between enormous marble columns, surrounded by gilded ornaments, and illuminated by a combination of classic chandeliers and natural light streaming in through the 290 windows of the basilica. There’s no better way to see them!
You’ll also have a chance to see other must-sees – including Bernini’s bronze Baldachin altar and the incredible basilica dome designed by Michelangelo. While we’ll have to admire his dome from the ground up (452 feet up!), we will get up close and personal with the artist’s most moving marble sculpture, the Pietá – an absolutely iconic stone depiction of Mary cradling Jesus’ lifeless body in her arms. With our savvy cicerone at your side, you’ll get all of the most interesting facts and gossip about the many artists who contributed to this holy sanctuary.
What you'll experience
The workshop that created the almost 108,000 square feet of mosaic splendor inside St. Peter’s Basilica still exists and is very much in use today. In fact, it's only thanks to the Vatican Mosaic studio that Rome has become one of the three main cities of the mosaic in Italy, surpassed only by Venice and Ravenna. On this tour you’ll get a backstage pass to the workshop to see firsthand how the intricate marvels are made, led by a papal stoneworker. The studio atmosphere is perhaps a bit more modest than you’d expect – no frills are necessary when quality work is done.