Today we visited country number 17! Well it was country #17 for Justine…for Kristin it was #18 since Telus texted her that she went to Croatia… But this is all besides the point… Today we went to another country, without really ever leaving Italy! Vatican City is a tiny independent country of little more than 100 acres. The Vatican has it’s own postal system, armed guards (called the Swiss guard & who have the most ridiculous outfits ever), helipad, mini train station and radio station. Being so small in size, the Vatican is religiously powerful, being the capital of over 1.1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. The Vatican is the home of two main sights: St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the richest and grandest church on earth. The atrium itself is bigger than most churches. There are actually markers on the floor telling you where other churches would end if they were placed on top of it. From the outside it looks like a hulking palace of a place. The dome points up above a great columned portico. The white columns at the entrance date from the first church on this site in the 4th century.
A highlight in the church is the main altar which sits directly over St. Peter’s tomb and under the fabulous seven-story bronze canopy designed by Bernini. This is a marvel of carving with intricate designs running all the way up to the cross studded top. Then behind it lies a stunning stained glass window depicting a dove in the golden sunlight. Surrounding it is a mass of golden statuery that appears to be both drawn into the light and overcome by it’s intensity. Basically, it’s beautiful!
But that is just the center of the curch. Below lies a crypt containing the bodies of centuries worth of past popes. Each side of the Greek-cross shaped church is lined with biblical figures, candles to be lit and small altars ready for prayer. Many of the works found here are world famous, but none more so than the Pietá. Michelangelo sculpted his Pietá (any work that represents Mary with the body of Christ taken down from the cross) when he was only 24. This one is so well loved and protected it’s kept behind bulletproof glass.
Once we had absorbed the majesty of the church we climbed the 551 steps to the top of the dome. This dome was Michelangelo’s last work and is the biggest anywhere. It is such a feat of engineering and even the present day Romans are so proud of it that no buildings in Rome can be taller than the dome of St. Peter’s….its actually a law. The dome is huge, taller than a football field is long. And it takes a lot of energy to climb…but we did it…even with Kristin’s reduced lung capacity. In the end we decided it wasn’t even the hardest climb we’ve done on this trip. The view from the top was spectacular. You get a great view of the Vatican, with it’s key shaped square & enormous museum, and of the vast expanse of Rome. It really is a sprawling city…just not for us tourists who just want the ancient part.
We had been able to pretty much just walk into St. Peter’s but by the time we left there was a solid line up forming. Good timing on our part. We knew that lunch time was the worst for line ups at the museum as well so we took a break & had lunch. Venturing down the side streets away from the Vatican you could see a clear development in restaurants. They start cheap, touristy & with annoying people out front trying to convince you to come in. They develop into expensive, sorta touristy & still annoying. Then cheap, not touristy & not annoying. And lastly expensive, not touristy & not annoying. We opted for the second last group…cheap (Yay!), not touristy (=better quality food) and not annoying (because we would rather pay more than listen to some guy bug every person who passes by while we eat). The place had a daily special of spaghetti (your choice of sauce) with wine & dessert. We jumped at that and ate some spaghetti bolognese with red wine & tiramisu to finish! It was great quality food…the pasta was cheesy, the wine was fruity and the dessert had a delightful texture 🙂
The Vatican museum is big, over 4 miles of ancient statues, Christian frescos and modern paintings. They all culminate in the end at the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. We had heard from the Padget parents that this place could be super busy…when they were there they were walking shoulder-to-shoulder with those around them. We were ready for a long line & packed exhibits…then we were suddenly inside… Apparently the line-up runs along the sidewalk and we had wandered into it, but it was moving so fast that we had just thought it was a busy street. We were into the building, through the ticket line & at our first gallery with zero wait time.
First up was statues. The collection of Greek and Roman statues contained many originals but even more Roman copies of Greek originals. To put this in laymens terms, there were really old statues that were actually just knock-offs of even older statues. Interestingly, one of the Popes was not a fan of the naked men scattered about. To remedy this he had all of their privates hacked off and the resulting nothingness covered up by a fig leaf.
As we walked though the rooms we learned some random things by eavsedropping. The best was when we followed a random private tour guide around while we talked about the developments of light & dimensions through the Renaissance. Rick Steves accurately described the museum…after long halls of tapestries, old maps, broken penises and fig leaves, you’ll come to what most people are looking for…
The Raphael Rooms are filled with frescos, which are actually paint mixed with plaster so are considered part of the wall and not paintings. These rooms were frescoed by Raphael and his assistants. This series of chambers is exquisite to walk through, even for “art for dummies” folks like us. The use of color and the realistic nature of the people was a wonder to behold.
Finally you come to the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s personal chapel and also where a new Pope is elected. The chapel is famous for its paintings by Michelangelo, who spent 4 years on this work. The roof is a perfect depiction of the story of creation. Also one wall is covered with a painting of the Last Judgement. As in all similar paintings the message is clear: Christ is returning, some will go to he’ll and some to heaven. This place was just incredible. We stood and stared for so long because there is so much to take in & all of it is worth seeing. The details & dynamics of the paintings are so amazing that you understand how this work of art could inspire many of the ideas coming out of the renaissance movement.
Sorry the photo is a bit blurry…you’re not actually allowed photos in the Sistine Chapel so this was a sneaky one!
Leaving the Vatican we slowly meandered our way through the streets of Rome. We popped into some tourist shops and bought some souvenirs off the street. We’re on the last leg of our trip and need to finish up souvenir and present buying! Eventually we made our way to the Spanish steps where we partook in our favorite pastime of sitting on steps and writing some blog post. It was crazy to watch the scene on the street below. There was hardly room to walk on the streets, yet once you climbed up a few steps there was hardly anyone around. We couldn’t understand why more people weren’t just loitering on the steps…we swear it’s good fun!
It was slightly chilly on the Spanish steps so we headed back towards our hostel, looking for somewhere for supper along the way. We wandered the streets near our home looking for a place that was a) open and b) had people eating at it. We only succeeded on the first point. Like we have many times already, we ate supper alone. Tonight Justine dined on spaghetti & clams while Kristin has gnochetti with tomato sauce & sausage. We weren’t sure what gnochetti was, but since Kristin likes anything with sausage she thought it was a good choice. The meal was topped off with some wine…an entire litre of wine to be exact…a wonderfully cheap liter of wine!
By the time we had finished eating (and drinking all our wine) other people has finally started to come to the restaurant. Crazy Italians who eat so late! At this point we were a little giddy and didn’t really care if we were alone of not.
Tomorrow is ancient Rome…and Kristin can hardly contain her excitement!
Love, Luck & Lots of wine 🙂