This is the second part of the Vatican trip report. You can read the first part here.
After the tour of the gardens, we had a quick bite at the Vatican cafeteria, where the cashier seemed to be genuinely relieved I could place my order in Italian and knew what things were. Surprisingly few Italians speak English, even fewer understand an accent that is new to them. Learning some basic Italian before your trip is probably a good idea.
The garden tour ticket allows access to the Vatican museums, you just need to make sure you do not leave the secure area. If you do, you will not be allowed to re-enter.
I have been to several of the world’s largest and most famous museums and none of them can beat Vatican as far as classical and Renaissance art is concerned. There are 54 galleries each one of them choke full of the art we all read about in school, see in documentaries and trip reports. This time we just walked through these galleries, taking an occasional picture and pausing in awe in front of some of most striking works of art. It is my hope that I can come back and dedicate at least a full day (preferably several days) to this amazing collection.
One of the first galleries or “salas” you see is sala rotonda with its amazing dome that is modeled after Pantheon. It also boasts an incredible 2nd century mosaic floor and a giant porphyry basin that was carved from a single piece of Egyptian porphyry stone and stood in Nero’s infamous Golden House.
Another gallery that makes your jaw drop as you enter it is the Maps Room. While the maps are unique, cool and incredible, it is the ceiling that first captures your attention.
As you walk down those halls the crowds get thicker and thicker, reaching a very uncomfortable level in the Sistine Chapel. I can only imagine what it is like at the height of the tourist season. If you want to have fewer people around you, visit Vatican in January or February.
Photography is not allowed in the Chapel, so I do not have a picture to share. You have all seen it anyway. Instead, I will share a picture of another ceiling, that of the Sant’Ignazio Church at the Campus Martius in Rome. Sistine Chapel is beautiful but you will never be able to admire it by yourself, take your time and savor the details. The frescoes at the Sant’Ignazio are equally stunning, in my opinion, and if you go in the morning, you can have it all to yourself.
The Sistine Chapel is connected to St. Peter’s by an almost hidden door. We had to as a Vatican guard to find it. A quick walk through some corridors and down couple of staircases and we were in the one of the largest and most beautiful churches in the world.
The bronze structure in the background is the bronze baldachin (baldacchino) that stands above the altar, which, in its turn, stands directly above the grave of St Peter’s underneath the cathedral. The baldachin is one of the masterpieces created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. His other most famous works are the St Peter’s square, the Ecstasy of St Teresa and the fountain of four rivers in Piazza Navona. The baldachin is also historically linked to my favourite building in Rome – the Pantheon. The bronze it is made of, was taken from the Pantheon beams and roof, melted and used by Bernini. Pope Urban VIII, who ordered the removal of the bronze, was born Maffeo Barberini. His last name produced the famous (and illegal) joke at the time “what the barbarians did not do, the Barberini’s did”.
After St Peter’s Cathedral, we walked through St Peter’s square (another of Bernini’s masterpieces), past the Egyptian obelisk and out to Italy.
Egyptian obelisks were very popular with emperors and popes. So popular that to this day, there are 13 of them standing in Rome – more than anywhere else in the world, including Egypt. This particular one has a very long and interesting history. Little is known about where the Romans found it but it was moved to Alexandria by the order of Rome’s first Emperor Augustus. Caligula had it moved to Rome, where it stood in what became the circus of Nero and the epicenter for brutal games and Christian executions.
Once in Italy, you will see a long row of embassies from all over the world lining the street leading to St Peter’s. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 183 countries and many of them have embassies just outside the Vatican.
On our way back to the hotel, I had to pass by the castle of St Angel. I had no time to go inside this time of explore the grounds but I definitely will next time.
Here is a little quiz for my readers: what do the following structures have in common: the castle of St Angel, the Pantheon and the sala rotonda in the Vatican museums? Let me know in the comments 🙂