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Here’s An Exclusive Tour of The Vatican Gardens

We take you on a virtual tour of the "great green heart" of the smallest state in the world.

The Vatican Gardens are a popular destination for those who visit Rome, Italy. They predate to the medieval times when Pope Nicholas III moved the papal residence back to the Vatican and built its walls.

During his papacy, Pope Nicholas III wanted an orchard, a lawn, and a garden inside the Vatican. These originally appeared on the hill of San’Egidio but have expanded through the years, bearing witness to all the popes who spent moments of prayer and meetings in their lush vicinities.

These days, Pope Francis enjoys an hour of walks in the sunset—often stopping at the Grotto of Lourdes and the Eagle Fountain (Read: Where does Pope Francis pray?). He would also sometimes visit Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery.

While we cannot join Lolo Kiko on his walks, we can still take you on a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens—and the spots you should not miss! (Read: Your Guide on Your First Visit to the Vatican)

The Papal Coat of Arms

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Man-Made. The papal coat of arms that stands in front of the Governorate was made using different types of plants and flowers that play with form and colors. (Photo from Marek.69 / Wikipedia)

If you pass by the staircase in front of the Governor’s Palace, you will see the papal coat of arms made with various plants and flowers to color the parts. The coat of arms has fixed parts, which are the tiara and Keys of Peter. The other parts change for each pontiff. 

Historical Buildings

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The Governor’s Palace houses the Vatican government offices. (Photo from Marek.69 / Wikipedia)

There are many important buildings within the Vatican Gardens, which over time have changed in purpose and function. For example, the Casina of Pius IV, which was built in the 16th century, now houses the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Another is the Torre San Giovanni, a defense post in 848 that was renovated by Pope John XXIII. It is now one of the places to stay for the Pope’s guests.

97 Fountains

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The 17th-century Eagle Fountain got its name from the eagle statue that towers above the cave. (Photo from Gaius Cornelius / Wikipedia)

There are 97 fountains in the Vatican Gardens. Among them are the Laghetto, Vela, Greek Cross, Candelabrum, Chinese Hut, Toads, Five Fountains, and Eagle Fountain.

The Cliff

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Photo from Rebecca Dru / Flickr

Along Observatory Road, there is a man-made cliff about 200 meters long. It is built to contain the sloping ground and has become a rock garden full of plants that explode with flowers in the summer.

Two Central Statues

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Embedded in History. On July 5, 2015, Pope Francis visited the Vatican Gardens to bless the statue of Archangel Michael who pierces Lucifer (an artwork by Giuseppe Antonio Lomuscio). Behind him, we see Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The names and coats of arms of the two popes are embedded on the bronze basement of the statue, as their co-presence marks history. (Photo from Vatican Media)

There are many statues and busts in the Vatican Gardens, but you shouldn’t miss these two: the monument of St. Peter, which marks the geographical center of Vatican City, and the St. Michael statue that pierces Lucifer—a co-presence of Popes Francis and Benedict XVI in 2013 that bears their names and coat of arms.

Mater Ecclesiae Monastery

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The Mater Ecclesiae Monastery has been the home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI since 2013. (Photo from Shutterstock)

Built from 1992 to 1994 during the term of Pope John Paul II, the monastery has been the home of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI since May 2, 2013.

Grotto of Lourdes

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Special Gift. Lolo Kiko prays to the replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens. The image was donated to Pope Leo XIII by the French in 1902. (Photo from Vatican Media)

The perfect replica of the Grotto of Lourdes is the heart of the Vatican Gardens, Pope Francis greets the faithful here after a torchlight procession through the Gardens.

Parrots

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Photo from Dorit Bar-Zakay / Getty Images / The Spruce Pets

Do you hear curious screeches coming from the trees of the Vatican Gardens? They come from the colorful monk, parakeets, and parrots that have taken residence in the cedars.

Railway

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Photo from Staselnik / Wikipedia

Perhaps there’s no other urban park in the world that has an international railway. From the Giardini Station (now a shopping center), the Vatican Railway connects the state to the Rome-San Pietro Station. Of its 1,300 meters, 300 meters run in the Vatican Gardens. (Read: From Vatican: The Little Railway that Could)

Green Art

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The Italian Garden is among the most picturesque sites in the Vatican Gardens. (Photo from Shutterstock)

Green sculptures can be seen all over the Gardens. There are Italian (scenographic), French (rigidly organized), and English (apparently wild) styles. If you’re in the Pius XI Avenue, you won’t miss the Italian Garden. You won’t see any flowers, though, because of its Renaissance style. (Read: An Exclusive Interview with the Pope’s Female Gardener)

Sacred Keeper

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Faith and Adventure. To visit the Shrine of the Madonna della Guardia, guests will have to enter a small wild forest. (Photo from Shutterstock)

Pope Pius XI has assigned Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, as the patroness of the Vatican Gardens. She is also Lolo Kiko’s favorite saint. A small chapel was built in her honor along the Leonine walls, immersed in a palm grove. In order to pray in her shrine, one must first enter a small wild forest.

Maintenance

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Vatican gardeners in a greenhouse in the 1970s. The man on the left is Tiziana’s father. (Photo courtesy of Tiziana Baiocco)

Because of its vastness, the Vatican Gardens require enormous maintenance. Hence, it’s quite certain that tourists will meet gardeners and ecological operators at work. On top of the Vatican Hill, there is the Casina del Giardiniere, one of the few civilian houses still existing in the Vatican. This is where the head gardener lives.

Dawn of the Radio

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Photos from Vatican Radio

The history of communications was also made in the Gardens—Vatican Radio began broadcasting on February 12, 1931 from a building inside the Gardens. On that day, the world heard the message of Pope Pius XI. The radio transmission was set up by the radio inventor himself, Guglielmo Marconi.

Sky and Water

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Photo from Gregor Galazka / Mondadori Portfolio

At the western end of the Vatican Gardens is the heliport build during Pope Paul VI’s papacy. Emergency non-Vatican flights are accommodated here. Next to the heliport is an 8-million-liter cistern– the water that irrigates and makes the fountains work. (Read: An Insider’s Look at the Pope’s Helicopter Service)

How to Visit the Vatican Gardens

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Photo from Vatican Media

If you wish to visit the Vatican Gardens, the Vatican Museums organize guided tours for individuals and groups. A ticket costs about P1,905 and includes access to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Packages are available for school groups, which are designed according to age groups. Discounts are also available for university students.

Guests who are part of a guided tour for groups on pilgrimage can each avail of a discount of about 462. A written request from the local parish, diocese, or religious institute must be submitted to avail of the promo.

Group visits are done with an open bus and Vatican-authorized tour guide.

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