A View Of The Vatican

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Excel Roma Montemario

Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

11.24.09               A View Of The Vatican

Hooray, hooray – my stomach is finally better!  However, I heard from Mom via email that some members of the Egypt/Jordan tour group (now back in the US) are still not well.  Oh, dear.

Today Murray and I headed to Vatican City – the smallest sovereign state in the world (which has its own postal service, currency, newspaper, ratio station, and train station!).  It covers an area of less than one square kilometer, but in that space, it packs quite a punch!  The Popester, of course, resides there – as do miles of opulence and wealth, contained in the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica.  As a Lutheran (and a PK at that), I have a hard-to-explain fascination with the Pope and, frankly, with many things Catholic.  So, I was excited to return to the Vatican once again

The bus we took from our hotel dropped us just a few blocks from the Vatican Museums, so we toured those first.  I had forgotten how enormous and extensive these museums were, but was quickly reminded once we were inside.  The buildings that house the Vatican Museums, known collectively as the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano, cover an area of 5.5 hectares! 

Even in our whistle-and-stop tour of these museums, we still managed to spend about three hours there.  We first visited the gallery of Pinacoteca, where we saw Raphael’s last work, "La Trasfigurazione", amongst other paintings.  From there we breezed through the Museo Pio Clementino and the Museo Gregoriano Egizio (Egyptian Museuum – because, well, been there, done that!).  We then spent a little time in the Salla della Muse (Room of Muses), the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco (Etruscan Museum), and several other galleries (including the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, or the map room, and the Stanze di Raffaello, the private apartments of Pope Julius II).

Murray and I were so impressed – not only by the works in these museums (biggies from Raphael, Giotto, Bellini, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci, to name a few!), but also by the buildings in which these works were housed!  Leading to the Sistine Chapel (the obvious showpiece of the Vatican Museums), we walked through corridor after corridor of beautifully painted and carved walls and ceilings.  (Some of these ceilings were so stunning, in fact, that at one point Murray asked me if we had just entered the Sistine Chapel – but I told Murray, “Don’t worry – you will KNOW it when we actually get there!”)

Finally, we did, indeed, make it to the Sistine Chapel – and, while crowded with people – it was just as awesome as I remembered it from my last visit here.  The chapel itself is quite big, and contains a huge, barrel-vaulted ceiling.  It is here that Michelangelo (who considered himself a sculptor, not a painter) painted frescoes down the middle of the ceiling that represent nine scenes from the book of Genesis, including the “Division of Day from Night,” the “Creation of Adam,” the “Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden,” and the “Flood.”  These main images are framed by the Ignudi, or athletic male nudes; next to them, on the lower curved part of the vault, are large figures of Hebrew prophets and pagan sibyls.  In the spaces over the windows of the chapel, the ancestors of Christ also are painted. 

As you probably know, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel over a period of four years, lying on his back on scaffolding.  What you may not know is that while Michelangelo painted the ceiling, other important Renaissance artists, including Botticelli, contributed to the paintings on the chapel walls – some of which are quite stunning (yet they get overlooked, though, for some odd reason…).  When I was here nearly sixteen years ago, one was allowed to take photographs inside the chapel.  Not so anymore, which was a bummer!

[Final, random side note on the Sistine Chapel: in one of my favorite movies, “Six Degrees of Separation,” Stockard Channing gets to ride on motorized scaffolding up to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and slap the hand of God painted in the center fresco!  I’ve always wanted to do that, too!  I didn’t get to do it on this visit, either.]

After the Vatican Museums, and probably a little museumed-out, Murray and I walked along the outside of the Vatican walls for a while until we got to St. Peter’s Square (it’s really more like two circles though, isn’t it?).  Considered one of the world’s greatest public spaces, it is here that the Pope holds almost-weekly papal ceremonies.  (Murray and I considered getting tickets for the papal ceremony that would be held there the very next day, but due to our other travel plans, decided against it.)

After going through St. Peter’s Square, we had to go through outdoor security screenings before making our way into St. Peter’s Basilica.  And, once inside… holy cow (or maybe just “holy”!).  I forgot how huge and impressive it is.

On this site between 64-67 AD, Peter is said to have been martyred and buried here.  A first basilica was then built on the site in the 4th century, and almost a thousand years later, the current structure was built.  St. Peter’s Basilica took more than 150 years to build, and it is the second biggest basilica in the world (the first is in Cote d’Ivorie).  The cavernous interior (187m long) can hold up to 60,000 people and contains some spectacular works of art by many famous artists, although most of the basilica is owed to Michelangelo, who took over the project in 1547 and was responsible for the design of the dome.  (Michelangelo’s famous “Pieta” sculpture is also housed inside the front entrance to the basilica.)

Dominating the center of the church is the 29m-high baldachin, designed by Bernini.  Supported by four spiral columns and made with bronze taken from the Pantheon, it stands over the high altar, which itself sits over St. Peter’s grave.  The pope is the only priest permitted to serve at the high altar. 

Murray and I spent nearly an hour inside the basilica.  There is so much to see!  Of course, in different ways, it rivals every other church we’ve seen so far since leaving the US.

[By the way, as we left St. Peter’s Basilica and exited back onto St. Peter’s Square, Murray and I were amused to see a massive billboard hanging just 50m or so from the stage at which the Pope conducts his weekly outdoor ceremonies.  It was an advertisement from an energy/oil company regarding some sort of sponsorship of the restoration of St. Peter’s Square!  In the Vatican, of all places.  It just seemed so odd and out of place.  I will refrain from adding further political or other commentary here… haha.] 

It was late afternoon by time we left Vatican City (but not before I got a few happy snaps of the colorfully-clad Vatican Swiss guards, who are responsible for the Pope’s personal security and for defending the Papal States!).  We decided to tour more of the Prati neighborhood, walking for several blocks until we found a great little café for a late lunch (delicious pizza, paninis, and pasta; and, of course, some beer for Murray!).  Since the “free Wi-Fi” in our hotel is total crap, we also found an Internet café to sit at for a while and catch up on emails and book next part of our trip (Tuscany/Florence).

After all that, we boarded a very crowded bus (although – gotta love the baby bump – I was offered a seat right away) and got back to our hotel around 6:30pm.  I enjoyed a light dinner in the hotel restaurant, while Murray watched me eat, as now HIS stomach is starting to feel off!  Since we were back up to our room by 8:30pm or so, we decided to order a movie to watch in our hotel room.  In the end, while we did manage to watch a terrible movie (for the record, Murray’s choice – I’m too embarrassed to mention what that choice was, so you’ll have to ask Murray), I will say that ordering said movie was the biggest, most involved process ever, involving the hotel reception desk several times and even getting the hotel maintenance guy to come into our room for several minutes.  So not worth it!  At any rate, we were in bed late, so not much sleep to be had before our early morning tomorrow and our trip up to Florence.  Ciao!
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Minties on

I'm glad to see you're managing to see so much and hopefully Baby Boo is taking it easy on your stomach now. Can't wait to see you guys when you get to Oz.

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