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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 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)
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.
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
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
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
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.