The Vatican

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Flag of Italy  , Latium,
Thursday, May 3, 2012

After yesterday's amazing race with my wonderful Mexican roommate, I had my day of °tours°. I signed up for these guided day tours while I was in Canada. The first tour was of Classical Rome. It was nothing to write home about, but I did get more information from the tour guide about the sights that my roommate and I had so crazily discovered yesterday, such as the fact that the Pantheon's doors are actually the original bronze from 200 A.D.!

At the end of the day tour, I ended up at the Basilica of St. Peter, the seat of the Popes, the centre of the Roman Catholic world. The entry into the Basilica is a double colonnade of enormous columns arranged in a semicircle, white in the bright sunlight. You walk into St. Peter's through enormous bronze doors. One door, the Jubilee Door, is sealed shut and only open once every five years, to celebrate the Jubilee. St. Peter's inside is....massive. There are pillars of marble. The first sight you see is the bronze altar with its twisted bronze columns. Only the Pope can hold a mass at the main altar. If you look to the right, you can find the most famous sculpture in the world, Michaelangelo's Pieta.

I spent about twenty minutes in front of the Pieta, taking photographs, looking at it from different angles. The Virgin Mary looks young, and her expression is that of gentleness and peace, not of anguish. Christ is draped across her knees, seemingly asleep. Michaelangelo did not sculpt Christ with any wounds or nails, surprisingly enough, because he wanted the sculpture to portray the peace of resignation to God's will. The Pieta is the only sculpture that Michaelangelo signed.

I went next to the bronze altar. On the floor or centre of the altar is St. Peter's tomb, in the catacombs below. The bronze altar was built directly over St. Peter's tomb. The theme of St. Peter as the rock of the church is repeated over and over in the Basilica. In two metre high gold lettering on the rim of the dome, it is written in Latin: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (direct from the Gospel).

It would take an age to describe everything in the Basilica of St. Peter. One thing I found particularly touching was that people lined up to touch or kiss the feet of a bronze sculpture of St. Peter, which dates to about 8th C A.D. The Basilica is lined with the marble figures of saints, with secondary chapels, and with mosaics. And domes, domes of light.

After a few owl-eyed hours, I was on overload. I had about two hours to spare for lunch. I decided to look for a restaurant in the Lonely Planet guidebook. But my directional sense is not as good as my roommate's, and so I walked along the Vatican walls, confused, until I found a little restaurant that served a three-course meal for 13 euro. The owners were really friendly and hospitable, even to a single traveller like myself. One amusing thing I noticed is that once I'm brave enough to go into a restaurant and sit at the sidewalk area, other single female travellers come into the restaurant too. Two, in fact! One of them said that she was from Russia, and she was looking forward to the Map Room in the Vatican Museums. (The map room?! What map room?! But I was stoked.)

The highlight of the day was the Vatican Museum. Words fail me. The Popes, God bless them, were crazier than private art collectors. They kept unearthing and collecting Roman art, and so the Vatican Museum has one of the richest collections of pagan art in the world. Do you find this amusing? I do! I saw sculptures of great antiquity, rooms upon room of them. My favourites were floor mosaics, one of Diana encricled by different phases of the moon. I saw the porphyry casket of Helena, mother of Constantine. Then I came to the room of maps. The Vatican has a forty-foot long hall of maps, of all the maps of Italy that it controlled, in great detail.

Finally, right in the heart of the Vatican Museum, were the crown jewels of the Vatican Museum: Raphael's enormous frescoes, each covering one of four rooms of the ancient Papal apartments. One fresco illuminated how men may reach the truth, through science, and the other fresco illuminated how men may reach the truth through religion. It was wonderful to feast my eyes on the vibrant, subtle, swirling colours. I finally understand why the art world thinks that Raphael is one of the greatest artists in the world.

The final stop of the tour was the Sistine Chapel. The first thing you notice is the explosion of colour - bright subtle yellows and reds of the prophet's clothing, the aquamarine blue of the Last Judgment, Christ with bodies swirling around him, and the light clear bright colours of the frescoes on the ceiling. I saw Michaelangelo's portrayal of God, reaching out to Adam to give him the spark of life, and Adam's langorous response.

We spent as much time as possible in the Sistine Chapel, but it is a crowded place, full of tourists craning their necks upwards to look at the frescoes. Finally, near the late afternoon, we left the Sistine Chapel and into St. Peter's Basilica again, to the bright sunlight of the entrance of St. Peter's.

I think I headed straight home that day, not stopping really to have much of an actual dinner, as my eyes had feasted. I dropped into a dreamless sleep that night.

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Chris on

Geez, the Vatican are such HOARDS! Well, thankfully us plebeians are allowed to enjoy the art too, heheheh. Ah, glorious art!

dad on

Have you tried the pizza yet especially the thin bread type with seafood....oh la la....Try to steal some short with you point and shoot camera without flash at the Creation in the Sistine Chapel....dare you to do ...Dad

lynnloparo on

Hi Chris, they were hoarders! They really were! All the popes collected art to one extent or the other, so the Vatican Museums have a great deal of art, all from different times. And lots of Roman art too! I think I had the feeling when I walked in that, okay, so THAT'S where all the art went! Hehehe.

lynnloparo on

I had a lovely thin crust bruschetta pizza today, but I have yet to find THE PIZZA, the best pizza! And I did not dare to take photos of the Sistine Chapel. Too scared of getting yelled by the guards! But the photographs were sublime. Love you lots! L.

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