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Posted by on Jul 15, 2012 in Italy, Travel | 0 comments

When in Rome Pt. 2: The Vatican City

I probably shouldn’t entitle this post “When in Rome” because the Vatican is not actually part of Rome.  While it is technically in Rome, the Vatican is its own sovereign state, the smallest in the world at only 44 sq. kilometers.  This means that it has its own newspaper, postal service, radio station, and army.  The Vatican is walled-off from Rome and is shaped like a giant keyhole when viewed from above.  This probably has some religious significance, since it is the capitol of the Catholic world.

The Papal Swiss Guards

There is a train stop for the Vatican, then it’s a straight walk to the entrance.  You’ll know that you are close when you start seeing the pope’s face everywhere (on rosaries, plates, shirts all “blessed by the pope”).  You’ll also start getting harassed by tour guides.  We opted not to pay for a tour guide, since it seemed a little shady to us.  Any ol’ Joe could pose as a tour guide and tell us that the Sistine Chapel was painted by Jesus!  How would we know the difference?  It may have been helpful to have a tour guide in the Vatican Museum, but I’d suggest doing some online research first.

When you enter the gates of the Vatican, you’ll be in St. Peter’s Square.  When I went, the line to St. Peter’s Basilica wrapped around the whole square.  Don’t worry though, it moves surprisingly fast!  Just like all of the other churches in Italy, there are “bouncers” at the door checking out your attire.  I had been told that I would not be allowed in with shorts or a skirt, so I wore jeans on a VERY hot day.  It turns out that you CAN wear shorts as long as they are an appropriate length.  No need to sweat like I did!

St.Peter's Basilica

I was not prepared for what I saw in the basilica.  It was truly jaw-dropping!  I’m not very religious, but the immense beauty of the basilica almost brought me to tears.  No photo I took can even do it justice, which is why I think I took so many!  Even looking at them now, I find it hard to pick just a few to post.  Here are some of my favorites:

Bernini's baldachin (canopy) that stands directly over St. Peter's tomb.

Stained glass in St.Peter's Basilica

Michelangelo's Pieta

At every corner and archway is a giant ominous statue of some saint, pope, or apostle glaring down at you, each one serving as a memorial for their contributions to the Christian world.  The amount of work that was put into this building is mind boggling, especially since it was built before machines.  No corner was left untouched by some detail, mosaic, stone work, or piece of art.  There are two famous works of art in the basilica, the first one being the Pietà by Michelangelo.  When you enter the doors to the basilica, the massive statue sits in an enclave of bullet proof glass to the right.  It has been protected ever since 1972, when a mentally disturbed man took a hammer to the statue shouting “I am Jesus!”  Mary’s nose had to be fashioned from a block of stone from her back.

13th C. bronze statue of St. Peter.

Another famous piece is the statue of St. Peter.  This one is not behind glass.   In fact, so many people have touched it that St. Peter’s feet are worn down smooth.

I could literally have wandered around the basilica for hours!  It was huge!  But alas, we still had to see the Vatican Museums.  It has been said that if you were to spend one minute on every exhibit, it would take you twelve years to finish!  It would be wise to hit St. Peters in the early morning before the crowds arrive and the museum in the afternoon when the sun is the strongest.  I don’t know about you, but I always plan on getting an early start and usually fail miserably at it.  I am lucky if I get out by noon!  The Vatican museum, though, is well worth waking up early for.

Vatican Museum courtyard

This museum, unlike the Capitoline museum, is laid out very well.  It was very easy to follow.  I hate going to a museum that has no apparent flow!  The Vatican Museum was the most impressive museum I’ve ever been to.  Not only were there are a lot of famous pieces by Raphael, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, but even the building was a piece of art.  A lot of the rooms had high domed ceilings with walls covered in frescoes or tapestries.  One of my favorite parts was the Raphael rooms.  Instead of art work hung on walls, the art work was the walls.  Raphael’s frescoes were amazing!

Raphael's "School of Athens" fresco Sistine chapel picture= I got this picture from Google, since you cannot take a picture of the Sistine Chapel!

Most people come to the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel.  Sadly, there are direct routes that you can take to get to it, which means that people can bypass seeing all the other great exhibits.  While I most certainly wouldn’t look at every last thing, I would at least go in every room!  If you take the normal route, the Sistine Chapel is almost the last thing you see before exiting the museum.  You’ll know you’re there when you see the massive crowds that seem to appear from nowhere.

I’m sure most people know a little about the Sistine Chapel, so I’ll give you an abridged history of it.  The chapel was built in 1484 and was painted by, not Jesus, but by Michelangelo in 1508.  He reluctantly accepted the job even though he considered himself a sculptor, not a painter.  It took him four years to paint the entire 800 square meter ceiling lying on his back!  His frescoes depict scenes from the Book of Genesis, the most famous being the Creation of Adam.  This scene sits smack-dab in the middle of the ceiling and shows God stretching out a finger to Adam, thus giving him life (the object of many “pull my finger” parodies).

It’s absolutely beautiful, extremely crowded, and loud!  The guards try to keep it as quiet as possible; it is a holy relic after all.  Every two minutes the guards yell, “SIIIIIIIILLLENCE SHSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!” Everyone shuts up for about twenty seconds and then it gets gradually louder, until the guards yell again and the whole cycle repeats.  You are also not allowed to take pictures of the chapel, and the guards will all but spit in your face if you do.  I found this extremely disappointing, since I love to take pictures of anything and everything!  I was one of those stupid tourists who thought the “no photography” sign actually said “no flash photography”.  I pulled my camera out of my purse and a guard pretty much pounced on me from across the room.  So save yourself the embarrassment and buy a postcard if you want a picture.

Another great part of the Vatican City is the Castel Sant’Angelo.  This round castle has been used as a mausoleum for emperors, a prison, and as a papal fortress.  The castle is connected to the Vatican palaces by an above-ground covered corridor, making it a hideaway for many popes in times of danger.  Today it is used as a museum.  I loved the angel-lined bridge to the castle that you may remember from the movie Angels and Demons.  I’m a sucker for seeing things in movies!

As far as the Vatican City goes, that’s about it!  Like I said it is pretty small, but extraordinary!  The one thing we didn’t get a chance to do was wander around the vast gardens behind the Vatican Museums.  I like to think that there is always next time!  When you have limited time in a place like Rome, you will have to forgo seeing some things.  The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica is a no-brainer…you pretty much have to see them.  It would be like going to New York City and not seeing the Statue of Liberty or France and not seeing the Eiffel Tower!  It would be a crime against the traveling gods!

I chose to write about the Vatican City and the historical section of Rome because they were my favorite parts, but there is so much more to see.  Other top sites are the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and all of the other picturesque piazzas.  I could literally go on posting forever about Rome or the rest of my trip to Italy, for that matter, but I think it’s time to give the floor back to Kelli.  I have realized that blogging about travel is tough!  Especially when it’s been almost a month since you’ve been home and you have a really bad memory!  Kudos to Kelli for doing a great job relating her travel experiences to us in a timely manner (it took me over a week to write a post sometimes).  I have enjoyed every minute of guest blogging and I hope that I get the opportunity to do it again soon.  But for now, it’s back to your regular scheduled program with your host Ferocia Fatale!  Thank you so much for allowing me to share my trip with you and I hope that I’ve persuaded you all to take your own Italian vacation sometime! 

If you’ve been to Italy, what was your favorite part?

Ciao e Buon Viaggio!

Lisa

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