Why I wasn’t allowed in the Vatican

I recently wrote a blog post on my first and only trip to Rome. Going to the Vatican was part of my trip, but that post got long and I figured this was another story for another day so I decided to write this one separately. I had planned to do all the typical tourist matters on my trip to Rome; go to the Vatican, see the Trevi Fountain, and eat my body weight in gelato. I had been wanting to go to the Trevi Fountain since the Lizzie McGuire movie came out in ‘03, 90s babies know what I’m talking about. I got to Rome only to discover the fountain was empty and under construction.

Okay, fine, no big deal. I still had the Vatican to go to and see the beloved, and slightly woke, Papa Francesco. On my second day in Rome, I woke up early to get in line at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. I checked my weather app in my hostel and it was another sweltering day at 103 degrees fahrenheit. Rome in the summer, was by far the worst heat I’ve experienced and I’ve been to climates that are typically warmer like the Caribbean and Africa. I walked less than a mile to get to the Vatican and was drenched in sweat by the time I got there. I thought because I had gotten there early, the wait wouldn’t be so bad…boy was I wrong. The line seemed to be a mile long, but this was a must see, and although I’m not catholic, it is apart of my Italian heritage and something I really wanted to do. So I got in line, behind a sweaty, blonde, Eastern European looking couple.

The first hour was fine, except the couple in front of me were trying to make small talk and it was mostly about how hot it was. I was well aware of how hot it was, and if I wasn’t, the sight of their shirts glued to their backs was a kind reminder. The line was pretty tightly packed, so every half hour or so the couple would accidentally bump into my arm and their sweat was left on my arm which made matters that much more uncomfortable. The second hour was worse, but the couple stopped talking to me which meant less energy I had to exude. I started to get extremely thirsty and I had to use the bathroom but I couldn’t get out of line. I kept telling myself that I’ve waited in line for rides at Six Flags for 2 hours, so the least I can do is wait here. The third hour was absolute hell. The only thing that was getting me through was dreaming about the possibility of seeing the Pope and how if I saw him I would ask for cooler weather, or a thunder storm, or even the name of a restaurant that actually had air conditioning. I’m not Catholic, but it seems like something maybe he could help with.

After 3 hours I had finally made it to the front of the line. My clothes were drenched like I had ran through a sprinkler and I was severely dehydrated, but I made it to the entrance. When I finally got to security, the guard informed me I could not go any further. I was completely confused and he could tell by the look on my face. The guard said “you are not covered up”. It was the middle of a scorching July day, I was wearing a sleeveless blouse with jeans and sandals, it was about as much covered up I could get without almost fainting. I hadn’t done much research before coming here, but I at least made sure to dress modestly as this is a religious place. He said “your arms need to be covered”. I tried explaining that I didn’t know that was a rule, there were no signs on this line, and I waited three hours to get in. He said I can find something to cover myself then go back and wait on line. When he said that, I starting pointing out all the men in tank tops that were being let in but he quickly shooed me away, telling me to leave. When I got WiFi, I looked online and saw that men and women are not allowed in with tank tops and shorts not covering their knees. I was not wearing a tank top with thin straps, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt with my shoulders mostly covered. There were men around me getting in with thin strapped tank tops.

I was so disappointed. I didn’t know if it was the heat, dehydration, or frustration but I got off the line and became very upset. I wasn’t upset because I wasn’t allowed in, its not like I’m a devoted catholic. I realized that I was upset because this was one of the few times in my life I was blatenly told I could not do something simply because of who I am. Throughout my life I have been told I couldn’t do things, but only by societal norms. As women we are often told by society, don’t take up too much space, don’t be too opinionated, and don’t expect to be a professional athlete, or a doctor, or a CEO because those positions are usually held be men. Women are absolutely not treated equally in most places in this world, but I am fully aware of my privilege as a white woman from a developed nation. My privilege has avoided being told “no” to my face in the past, but it didn’t this time. I became upset in this situation because it reinforced how unjust society can be. Me not getting into the Vatican is not to be compared to what disadvantaged populations face everyday. However, it was a time in my life where I was openly treated different simply due to who I am.

It was upsetting, but it was an experience I needed to learn a lesson from if I really wanted to continue traveling the world. I’m fortunate to live in a place where I’m mostly accepted, but when you travel, you are often put in situations where you are treated unfairly or are told “no” beause of who you are. Traveling isn’t just getting perfect photos for Instagram, it is emerging yourself into cultures that you may or may not always agree with or may or may not be treated fairly in. However, each adventure is enlightening and has a lesson to teach you. Traveling gives you the opportunity to experience life through a different lens, and see both the good and the bad.

  1. Alana says:

    That’s so sad you didn’t get to go in. But I like your quote that traveling lets you see life through a different lens! So true.

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