When I came to Rome almost 14 years ago there were so many things that just blew me away. But man, the Sistine Chapel was and still is breath taking! I sat and stared at it for a good forty-five minutes back then; and its still the second most beautiful thing I’ve seen. We’ve all seen pieces of it, and pictures, but you don’t realize that the art will actually engulf you! Long before Michelangelo painted the ceiling and The Final Judgement, other artist had painted the walls. The art in this room stretches from the floor, across the ceiling and back again. All you really want to do is lay in the middle of the floor and stare at it! But that will get you yelled at by the guards, so I wouldn’t suggest it.
We actually started our days in the Vatican Museums. These halls were once the living quarters of the Pope’s. They are as grand as any palace I’ve seen! Each Pope came in and made his mark, trying to out do the last one. It seems weird, because you see them as just running a church but at this time they were also the Kings of Rome. They had to keep it up on the political side as well as the religious. In any case, they did some amazing things with their money!
For instance, there is a whole hall of maps. Each of the 20 city states of Rome has its own map on the wall, as well as maps of all of Italy.
There was also a hall of tapestries. These were intended to help keep the Vatican warm, and they still seem to do a good job because this hall is still warm! One of these giant things took longer to make than it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel
There’s this ceiling, that is all painted, meaning you aren’t looking at 3D models, but instead are just painted to look like they’re standing out.
There are halls upon halls of different statues. They have a whole hall set aside for just the animal statues!
They have a model of a Greek temple that includes statues of all the gods, as well as a giant… I’m gonna say bird bath. And this room also has mosaics on the floor that they kiped from Greece and installed here.
And I am not even scratching the surface of all they have. I know for a fact that there is more… so much more. It is probably one of the most comprehensive museums in the world!
So, after we spent a little time in the museum we headed to the Sistine Chapel. Now, unfortunately we can’t take pictures in there because of copyright reasons, but I’ll share a couple pieces of interesting information, because I’m a nerd and that’s something we love to do. If you look a picture of the ceiling you’ll see that three of the scenes of creation down the middle are much more detailed than the others. This is actually where Michelangelo started. While working on them close up they looked great, but once he finished and they took down the scaffolding allowing him to see it from the floor he realized that everything was much too small. From then on, he did simpler and larger pictures. Also, the process for applying a fresco usually involves sketching the design, then poking holes along the line so you can see the lines after you’ve started. Then you apply the colored stucco, but you have to work quickly because of how fast it dries. Michelangelo got so good at it, that he ended doing a lot of it freehand without the extra prep. Funny that he never considered himself a painter!
After being given a half hour to soak in the chapel, we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. Which really is the big show in town. No other building in town can be taller than the dome of St. Peter’s.
You can take all the pictures you want in here, because the decorations are not done in paints (and therefore won’t fade from the lights of flashes), but are actually beautifully detailed mosaics. If you want to see them really close up climb the dome, that will take you close and personal with some.
The basilica is also the tomb for many of the Popes. They are mummified, and they end up being canonized they will bring the mummified bodies (with wax face masks) into the main part of the basilica. Interestingly, autopsies are not allowed on Popes, so they never officially know how they die. A few years ago, they agreed to let a few off the sarcophagi be x-rayed. They discovered that one of the Popes had been stabbed in the head!
We also got to see Michelangelo’s Pieta. This is one of his early works and depicts Mary holding the body of Jesus after he was taken off the cross. He made two more Pieta (or possibly three, jury is still out on that one) but never finished the others. The Pieta is kept behind glass because in 1972 a man jumped the barrier and took a hammer to the statue, even breaking off Mary’s nose. Crazy man!
This is also the final week of their holiday season, so they had this huge nativity set up.
After exploring the basilica, we headed out St. Peter’s square. Like the basilica itself this was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who is my personal favorite! The Pope was going to be holding an audience in the afternoon, so the place was filled with chairs.
That was the end of morning tour, and they took us back to the hotel. After charging my phone for a bit, I hopped on the Metro and went to the Spanish Steps. The fountain at the bottom of the stairs is also the end of the line for the aqueducts, which is just an interesting tidbit.
From there I started heading to the Trevi Fountain. On my way there I saw a grocery store, and I was so excited! I’ve been keeping an eye out for one because I wanted to get some cheese. Some big, ole wedges of parmigiano reggiano at a reasonable price. I was able to get two big blocks! And they gave me a scratch off to see if I won a new car. At least that’s what I think they were… I didn’t win. I don’t think…
The fountain is amazing, I love the sound of the water and power of the sculptures. It always fees so Rome to be there! Which is probably why it was packed. I ran into several people from my group. They were part of an optional tour that was a walking tour of the piazzas and fountains of Rome. I’m sure it was a beautiful tour, but I have to try and keep my walking down.
I did throw in my coins, from my right hand over my left shoulder. Tradition says I have to come back now. I’m game!
I took a taxi back to my hotel to get ready to meet the group for dinner. We went to a little restaurant near the Colosseum. It was a really good space, under ground level with barrel ceilings. Not only did they give us a delicious meal, but they also had a trio of singers. They would come out and sing, it was beautiful and powerful in that little room. Sometimes a little too powerful!
Tomorrow we start with the Colosseum and Forum!