Unlocking the Door to the Vatican at Dawn

Rocco Forte Hotels

It’s 5.30am in the Vatican City. The sun has not yet risen over the Holy See. But Gianna Crea is up. He’s been up at this time every day for the past six years, he has to be. Gianna Crea is a man with many doors to unlock.

Gianni Crea, Head Clavigero

Mr Crea is head clavigero at the Vatican – the keeper of the keys. Every day he and his team emerge from a secure bunker that contains 2,797 keys and proceed to open 300 doors (and many more windows) across a 4.6 mile route through the Vatican Museums. 

Luckily for him, he now has some company along the way. Hotel de la Ville has teamed up with Gianni and his team to offer an exclusive tour of the Vatican Museums as they go about their work. Get up before sunrise to embark on this incredible journey through history. See the sun’s rays light up the monumental Laocoön statues and stand, in awe and blissful solitude, under Michelangelo’s staggering frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.

The History of the Clavigeri

The key is the logo on the coat of arms of the Vatican City. In ancient times, keys were a symbol of power and authority, and the clavigeri were responsible for carrying the keys of the city of Rome, which represented the pope's authority over the city. Over time, this role evolved into that of the key-bearers of the Vatican.

Join Mr Crea as he continues a tradition which began in 16th century Rome. He’s one of a small group of twelve priests, first selected by Pope Pius V who set up the "College of the Apostolic Clavigers". Responsible for carrying the keys of the Vatican and assisting the pope in his official duties, the clavigeri were also tasked with maintaining the archives of the Vatican – documenting the rich history of the Church.

Nowadays, the job of the clavigero is a bit more prosaic. Mr Crea is self-effacing when he describes his role as similar to that of a doorman at a museum. Through him, the symbolic importance of the key lives on.


The Beauty of Faith

Although a devout Catholic himself, Mr Crea sees the Vatican Museums as a crucial way to spread the joy of the Holy Spirit to people of all faiths, and none. Anyone who sets foot in the Vatican is fully aware of the importance placed on beauty by the Church. In 2015, Pope Francis published La mia idea di arte (My conception of art) which focuses on how important art is to bringing people into the Church. 

“The Vatican Museums must increasingly be a place of beauty and welcome. They must welcome new forms of art,” wrote the Pope. Opening their doors to people from all over the world, the museums can be, “an instrument of dialogue between cultures and religions and a tool for peace”.


The dawn tour

Walking alongside Mr Crea, past the Egyptian relics, Giotto’s masterpieces, past Vincent van Gogh’s “Pietà”, you’ll get an incredible view of the art. You’ll also see just how many people are involved in the smooth running of The Vatican City. It employs around 200 people in its “Restoration Laboratory” – an elite unit of experts working to keep the artefacts in pristine condition.

The tour itself is staggering. Many people find the experience of seeing the Sistine Chapel hard to put into words. This effect is even stronger when you are standing there, alone, the sun slowly rising over the Roman sky. “One thing that really left me in awe,” remarked Hotel De La Ville’s Head Concierge, Alexandra Sard, “was the morning dew on the grass of the Pigna Courtyard inside the Vatican, and the silence around it.”

Back at Hotel de la Ville, you can begin to relive the unique experience you’ve had over breakfast. As our Concierge, Ms Sard, puts it, “opening the Vatican Museums so early is a memorable lifetime experience”. For more information on “A morning with the key keepers of the Vatican Museums”, ask Alexandra and her concierge team by email concierge.delaville@roccofortehotels.com or phone +39 06 977931.

You may also like

Italy By Rail: Our Family-Friendly Itinerary

While air travel becomes ever more functional, the pleasures of the train are undeniable. you can lose yourself in a book, chat with your favourite people or watch from the window as scrolling landscapes unfold. A rediscovered love for rail journeys and a move towards more sustainable travel has fuelled a European-wide rail revolution over the last few years – but Italy has been running its brilliant services for decades. 

Celebrating the Art of Hospitality with Forbes Five Star Ratings

What makes a ‘five-star’ experience? Between seamless hospitality and indulgent surroundings, Forbes Travel Guide knows a thing or two about luxury service. As the only independent rating system for international luxury hotels, restaurants, and spas, we are delighted that six of our hotels are amongst the winners of its 2024 Five-Star Awards. Read on to uncover some of the highlights…