Published: August 6th 2007June 30th 2007
Seeing Il Papa and Bernini’s Masterworks in Rome Best Laid Plans and All That…
As we awoke on Friday and started our morning rituals of getting up and getting breakfast, we were completely unaware of the fact that Friday the 29th of June is Saint Peter’s day in Catholicism. This day, which is a national holiday in all of Rome (and maybe Italy as well) is a huge day for visiting the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica since the Pope (Il Papa) addresses the crowd of gatherers in St. Peter’s Square outside the massively beautiful and famous Basilica. We, thus, unknowingly decided that we should use our Friday to visit St. Peter’s so that we could get this hugely important sight checked off our list.
Since Mom and Dad were coming with us we decided to take a cab as it is the easiest and fastest method of transportation for four. We showed up in front of St. Peter’s and all gasped at the beauty around us. This immense building truly does inspire feelings of awe in all who come here, even those of us who aren’t Catholic (aka all of us).
just after Mass had started and were startled to see the Pope giving Mass on huge big screen TVs set in front of the church. We had been informed that the Pope only did mass on Wednesdays and Sundays. This was the first inkling of evidence that today wasn’t a normal day in the Vatican.
We proceeded to join the small line of people who were congregating to get inside and look around St. Peter’s. It was presently 11:30am. As we stood in the ever growing line (we were initially about 40 people from the front of the line) time passed slowly in the hot and sunny square. Thinking that maybe we would be let in at 12:30 when Mass was over, we waited patiently.
By 12:30 there were easily 10,000 people in St. Peter’s square and only about 2 to 3 thousand of them were standing in line. Suddenly the voice of Pope Benedict XVI came over the loud speaker system and the crowd cheered. Just about everyone in line dove for the crowd to be able to catch a glimpse of the Pope giving his address to the masses gathered. From one of the top floors
of the Papal residence he stood in shadow and blessed the crowd in almost every major language of the Western world, including English. It was incredibly cool to hear Pope Benedict XVI bless people in fluent German, Italian, Polish, English, and Spanish. The Holy See had such joy in his voice and seemed incredibly pleased that we had all gathered on this momentous day. When you seen this sort of spectacle on TV you never truly capture the happiness in his voice and the awe and elation in the crowd. It was truly an amazing experience that I will cherish.
As we returned to the line the crowd continued to grow and unfortunately many very rude people decided they didn’t want to wait in line like everyone else. These unfortunate people just started inserting themselves into the line wherever they saw fit. I, always the underdog, had a clash with two Italian ladies who tried to push in to line in front of us. After telling them no and standing in their way, they proceeded to yell at me in Italian. After airing their grievances for a few minutes they tired of venting and moved on to butt into
the line somewhere else. Feeling slightly giddy over my accomplishments and the ever steady heat from the baking sun, I slunk back in next to Kel and my parents and proceeded to let anyone else who wanted to jump into line go ahead and do it. I had lost my will to argue and soon after lost my will to stand in line. As 1pm came and went, Kel and my Mom started to wilt in the heat and we soon after decided that our hearts were no longer in it.
Despite the fact that we had stood in line for close to two hours, we gave up in somewhat disgust. During our time in the line we were pushed around by other tourists, almost trampled and had numerous (close to fifty) people butt into the line around us. On top of these frustrations the sun had sapped all our energy and given most of at least minor cases of sun burn. We were done.
As we left the line we agreed to split up and get back together for dinner. Kel and I followed our normal course of action in such situations and walked a few blocks
away from the major crowds and found a restaurant to cool off in and recharge our batteries while we sought a plan of action. The food was decent, not too expensive and filling.
When we had finished with our food, we returned to St. Peter’s square so I could take some pictures. As I took a few pics of the area, we scoped the line to enter the church and found that it had shrunk considerably and that it was moving at a good clip. We figured we might as well give it a shot.
20 minutes later we entered St. Peter’s Basilica and found out what all the fuss was about. We’ve been through many cathedrals on this trip but few of them have left us awe struck with wonder at the vastness and intricate quality of the interior. From the many domed ceilings with paintings by Michaelangelo, the blue and gold mosaics, to the huge altar standing directly over Peter’s burial spot, the place stuns you with its beauty and splendor. As with many cathedrals, St. Peter’s is supposed to make you small and insignificant because you are standing in the house of God. In this
case, it accomplishes the task of making you feel like a merely a mote in the vastness of the universe. The main dome alone is taller than a football field is long. Wild.
As usual we separated and Kel went off to do her own thing while I admired and attempted to capture the feeling of grandness on film. While St. Peter’s is often very crowded, we found that the crowds were not too bad. Many people come and go very quickly which moves the crowd at a pretty respectable pace. The only major challenge for reverential tourists like ourselves is the fact that at least half the other sight seers are incredibly rude and disrespectful. From people sitting in pews while putting their feet on the kneeling cushions (meant for prayer) to people using the confessionals as a perfect place to pose for a fake confession picture, we found many of the people around us to be disrespectful and down right unholy. I guess in the long run God will judge each by their actions. I probably shouldn’t judge because for all I know He frowns on me taking pictures of one of his greatest churches.
an hour and a half of awe we moved out of St. Peter’s and caught a cab to go home. Kel really needed to use the restroom so we opted for quick transportation over economy. (Quick note: Public bathrooms are almost non-existent in Rome so be prepared and use restrooms whenever they present themselves even if you don’t feel like you have a need of one. Just a tip!)
Later that evening we got yet another fabulous dinner with Mom and Dad. We are definitely gaining weight with them here because they love to watch us eat. These dinners will be sorely missed when they leave and we go back to eating on a budget! Villa Borghese: Not a Bad Way to Live
The following day we woke with our morning already planned out for a change. Mom had arranged for us to go to the Villa Borghese and see the Borghese Gallery. This private museum can only be entered with a reservation which usually must be made way in advance. We were really lucky to get a reservation for a prime slot at 11am on a Saturday.
After breakfast we headed out of
our hotel and into the huge park which was once part of the Borghese family estate. This huge park (I estimate it is at least a couple of square miles) was part of the original land owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese who commissioned and bought masterworks during his life in the mid-1600s. The Cardinal, who was known as a ferocious collector, was given items by the Pope and bought many of the pieces seen in the gallery. All of the remaining art is shown in the gallery (or shared with other galleries around the world) but many of the interesting pieces were stolen or “bought” by Napoleon and now reside in the Louvre (been there, done that!).
We spent about an hour and half in the museum and used the very informative audio guide as a means of understanding what we were looking at. The reservation system is pretty nice because it limits the number of people who can be in the museum at one time by giving all sight seers a two hour time window within which they can visit the gallery. The only thing that could be improved is the climate control, most of the museum is
without air-conditioning which makes many of the rooms difficult to stand in for very long.
The works that are really inspiring are the sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini was a master of sculpture which is obvious even in this modestly small gallery. Throughout the many downstairs rooms you can see Bernini’s David
, Apollo and Daphne
, and The Rape of Proserpine
. Apollo and Daphne
was definitely our favorite because of its delicacy and detail. The story goes that Apollo, crazed by Cupid’s arrow, chases Daphne and just as he catches her she shouts to her father, the river god Peneus, to save her. Peneus changes Daphne into a tree just as Apollo catches her leaving him with nothing but a handful of leaves and bark. Bernini has captured the moment that Daphne begins to turn into a tree. You can see her toes begin to grow roots and her upstretched arm begin to grow leaves. Meanwhile you can see the look of shock and love on Apollo’s face. The work is amazing and could be stared at for hours at a time. Of course we didn’t have that much time, but
it was still amazing.
After finishing with the museum, we went and got lunch as a group down by the Spanish Steps. Luckily we found a really nice and cool restaurant to enjoy an hour or two of respite from the heat. (Don’t ever expect to eat fast in Italy, food is meant to be enjoyed, not scarfed.) We then proceeded to browse the shopping areas for a little while before splitting up for the late afternoon.
Kel and I returned to the Villa Borghese park in order to explore the park via pedi-cart. As is usually the case in such situations, Kel saw a new means of transportation while we were in the park earlier and her curiosity would not be curbed until she had a chance to ride through the park. We almost immediately found the place where these four wheeled pedal carts were rented and proceeded to fork over the ten Euros to ride around the park for an hour.
The carts are really fun because they contain a small motor which stores energy from your pedaling. This energy is then released when you need it most, like when you are going up hill.
We explored the park and got to see pretty much everything in the couple of square miles. We stopped at the lake and watched people in the row boats, went to the back side of the Borghese Gallery to see the private gardens, and stopped once to watch some old men playing bocce. All in all it was a pretty pleasant way to kill the last hour of the afternoon before returning to the hotel.
Later that evening we headed off to a restaurant that someone had recommended to my Mom. This small, elegant restaurant is located in a back alley and can only be accessed by ringing a buzzer. A maitre d’ opens the door and lets you in if, and only if, you have a reservation. We all got the tasting menu of six very small courses and had one of the best meals of our lives. It was certainly not cheap, but man, was it amazing.
Well, hope life is all treating you well back home in the sunny USA. We miss you all!
There are more photos below