The Vatican was as wonderful as we had hoped it would be, the icing on Rome’s cake. For a week, we just cycled and walked. We walked till our legs ached and our feet throbbed or if you Mac n Tosh paws steamed. Although when it came to visiting the inside the Vatican buildings they stayed home in Vin, its not a dog friendly place!
We always thought the Vatican City as being ancient, but it is far from it. Vatican City was granted independence in 1929 when Mussolini and the Pope signed the Lateran Treaty. At that point it became the smallest country in the world. Besides containing the official site of the Pope and the Catholic Church, the so-called Holy See, it also boasts some of the most jaw droppingly beautiful buildings and artworks in the world. There are only about 800 residents of this tiny nation with even fewer citizens. Vatican citizenship is not guaranteed by birth, but by appointment.
The tradition of the Swiss Guards began in 1506 when Pope Julius II decided soldiers from Switzerland were the most loyal employees. To qualify for a post you first have to be Swiss and a Catholic. All the guards swear to give up their lives to protect the Pope. The guards’ uniform was designed in the early 1900s by a commandant inspired by the paintings of Raphael. I love the colours but a few think its time for an revamp?
St Peter’s Square
St Peter’s Square is usually regarded by tourists as the place where they have to wait in line in order to access the Basilica, but it is actually a piece of art in its own right. Ignore the crowds and look around, it is stunning. Designed and built by Bernini between 1656 and 1667, it is enclosed by two colonnades which create a circular space in the middle. This peculiar shape is unique and stands for the open arms of the Church, which are extended to both the Catholic and the non-Christian community as a gesture of warm-hearted acceptance. (click on the small images to increase their size).
The Vatican has its own post office and stamps, which we found down the side of St Peters. Rather a dingy looking building, would you say? Locals often use its mail system because it is better than the Italian state’s service.
St Peter’s Dome
We arrived at St Peter’s at 6.30 am to beat the crowds. I was still wiping sleep our my eye when the security guard waved us through the gates. I trotted behind Craig as he made a mad dash for the basilica. As we arrived at the steps we were stopped in our tracks by a smart security guard who asked us to deposit our helmets in the locker room. We then noticed a sign for the dome, so we followed it. Entrance fee €6 or lift €7 (only operates at 9am). We commenced the ascent and by the time we reached the top we’d lost 2 stone in sweat. The tiny almost claustrophobic stair well was hot and humid with no aircon.
Access inside the dome was restricted to just one side and high railings limited your visibility. Slightly spoiled view but still the detail of the mosaics was superb. However, up another notch and back outside the dome and wow. The views over Rome and the Papal gardens were magnificent. I went in to day dream mode whilst Craig scoured the gardens. He searched for the hidden doorway and said “the museum contain roughly 70,000 piece of art, of which only 20,000 are on display. Now look at that massive lawn. How many more are stashed away that we don’t know about. I bet that is one huge underground net work, a secret world, The Vatican”
The trek down the staircase to the Basilica was equally as sweaty and very slippy on the 50’s ceramic tiles.
St Peter’s Basilica.
This wonderful basilica was assembled throughout several centuries and is the result of the efforts of several important figures in art and architecture. With its enormous size, it is one of the largest churches in the world. Inside the building is a plethora of awe inspiring pieces, such as Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ and the gilded bronze baldachin designed by Bernini.
If we are being honest, our first impressions were very mixed. It was only after about half an hour did we start to warm to the place. The sheer scale and immensity of the place just over whelmed us. We wandered down the aisles and started to look at each section, one at a time. It is 730 feet long and 364 feet wide, so it took us a while to get around. The four grand pillars that support the dome don’t look that large until you look up and see the dome balcony. You see the tiny dots of people…that was us just an hour sooner. The art in St. Peter’s itself is mostly mosaics, although they resemble paintings. In order to ensure that the artwork in the church would persevere, most “paintings” are actually mosaics.
Looking back down the length of the church the sun was just starting to peer through the glass. Craig took a picture, light beams shooting across the floor. It was beautiful and a perfect time to watch the Basilica slight up. Perfect time to avoid the crowds too by 10 o clock it was heaving.
The baldacchino, or the centre altar of St. Peter’s, lies directly over where St. Peter, the first pope, is buried. It is 96 feet high (more than half as high as Niagara falls!), made from bronze mostly stripped from ancient Roman monuments such as the Pantheon, and the only person who is permitted to say mass at this altar is the pope. Underneath is amazing (no photos permitted) although we did have to wait for entrance as the church conducted a private first holy communion.
Did you know…Each Pope wears the Ring of the Fisherman because he is a successor of the Apostle St Peter “fisher of men”. A new ring is cast in gold for each new Pope and placed on the third finger of his right hand. When a Pope dies the ring is broken with a silver hammer and removed. No further documents can be sealed by wax marked with that ring until there is a new Pope.
We booked our museum ticket at the official ticket office near the Basilica exit. It cost €16 plus €4 to jump the queue, well worth it.
The museum contain one of the largest art collections in the world, with over 9 miles of pieces, which could wrap four and half times around the Vatican walls. Its 1400 rooms, chapels, and galleries constitute former wings of the Vatican Palace. They display works from the immense collection built up by the popes throughout the years including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of renaissance art in the world.
Currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments. Given the amount of tourists they could do with increasing the staffing limits and employing a ‘director of tourism’. No water fountains, little air con and grumpy staff could easily be rectified with the right direction and after all, they are getting oodles of cash from the entrance fees.
The sistine chapel is possibly one of the most awe inspiring masterpieces in the world. With a wonderful, completely frescoed ceiling that is beautifully crafted. The queue to the chapel is large and it gets very hot and sticky with no aircon. Once inside it is cooler and the crowds are controlled, so you get a chance to view. No photographs permitted but being a short arse I managed to get a shot or two…like everyone else! The combination of architecture and pictorial art creates a harmony that is hard to match, while Michelangelo’s incredible depiction of the nine central stories from the book of Genesis is surely one of humanity’s finest artistic achievements.
Every inch of the museum is just sensational from the floor to the ceiling and all the collections of art in between. You find your mouth falls open whether you want it to or not. It is a marvel, so vast and filled with treasures that you don’t know where to place your gaze. It is the only museum I have ever been in where I have felt like pinching myself.
Was it worth coming back to Rome to see the Vatican…absolutely. Hope you enjoy the pictures.