Mellowing In Italy - Rome, Thursday 2007 May 3

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May 3rd 2007
Published: March 10th 2018
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Vatican wallsVatican wallsVatican walls

Waiting in anticipation
We were overwhelmed by Vatican City today. We left early to enter the Vatican as close as possible to the 9:00 opening time. I learned only this evening that until this year there were no reservations for groups, resulting in waits of 60 -90 minutes. We basically didn’t wait at all once it opened. We entered a vast, modern multi-level reception hall and received tickets and ear phones for the commentary by our guide, Stefano. We immediately went through a gift shop, seemingly just for groups - not busy. The most reasonable purchase was for Catholics to buy a rosary to later dip in holy water at St. Peter’s Basilica.

We first walked through the Vatican Museum, or rather a small portion of it. We seemed to walk backwards through the ages - from a three-story ramp in the form of a double helix designed in the fifties to eventually a magnificent statue of Caesar Augustus shown rousing the troops. Between these were famous paintings by all the most famous artists of history – Michelangelo, da Vinci, Dali, Bernini. The guide stopped by a few to help us understand the composition and meaning. Mostly we just walked by them, gazing all around
 Michelangelo's Pieta Michelangelo's Pieta Michelangelo's Pieta

Marvellous, even at a distance
at these wonders. In the galleries of Roman and Greek statues, it was easy to understand the tendency of rich men to have their “portraits” sculpted, because there were hundreds of them. In a way it was regrettable that so much is in one place because it can’t all be appreciated. Because of the huge numbers of tourists, no one (but scholars presumably) ever get to see any of the art works in a contemplative mood. Still, I am glad I saw it, as I am sure many are.

A few moments were devoted outdoors to the quadrangle and the gardens of the museum. Prominent was a sculpture commissioned by John Paul II – a great brass sphere that is split or burst to show a regimental, mechanical rank of “teeth”. I need to read more to have any idea of why he wanted this.

Our entry into the Sistine Chapel was a moment of complete surprise. Even though it is seven stories in height, it seems small, probably because it is simply a box – all the paintings on the walls are trompe l’oeil. The top third of the walls are huge frescoes. The bottom two-thirds are painted drapes!
Dome of St Peter's BasilicaDome of St Peter's BasilicaDome of St Peter's Basilica

A wonder in the world!

The ceiling is so famous, but no photos properly convey its appearance. The whole ceiling is covered in painted panels depicting biblical stories. The famous panel of Adam and God is in the centre. It dominates not because of size but because of simplicity – only the two figures surrounded dazzling paintings with many characters. Strangely, Adam’s finger and God’s finger seem to come closer and closer together as you walk (head back, amongst pressing crowds) towards the centre of the room.

At the alter end is the huge fresco of the Ascension of Christ, painted by Michelangelo thirty years after the ceiling. Darker in lighting it is also more macabre in theme – showing the movement of some to hell after judgment and others ascending to Christ’s side. Amongst this cynicism about man’s fate is a very tender Mary at Christ’s side. You can understand why people came to pray to Mary to intercede. To my regret but complete understanding, photo-taking was not permitted.

From the Sistine Chapel we entered the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica. Everything is gigantic – almost too large to comprehend the meaning in the art works and monuments. Everything is many times bigger than
Altar of St Peter's BasilicaAltar of St Peter's BasilicaAltar of St Peter's Basilica

More impressive than spiritual
life – almost gross. Except the Michelangelo Pieta. It is lit separately with a bright yet diffuse glow. It seems life-sized. The marble flows into the robes of Mary. The body of Jesus has the firm musculature of a young man. The pose is at once at peace and in motion, because the weight of the bodies could not rest long – if it were not marble.

By the time we came out, about 12:30, we were exhausted and our legs were tired. Cecilia led us away a few blocks for a gelato. Then, we were on our own for lunch. A bunch of us walked a few more blocks to a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves - we found it overpriced, because they added an unexpected cover charge of 2 Euros each. The meal was a buffet – a good chance to try specialties such as roasted tomatoes, stuffed mushrooms, prosciutto, veal warmed in olive oil, plus a few things that tasted good but I am not sure what they were! Cost of 8 Euros.

Some people went on to other sites, but I was tired and didn’t want to push myself. So I returned to the
Entrance to Santa Maria degli AngeliEntrance to Santa Maria degli AngeliEntrance to Santa Maria degli Angeli

Built in the remains of the Diocletian Baths of antiquity
hotel via the metro with another couple. After an hour’s rest or so, I went to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was constructed inside the ancient Diocletian Baths. An oddly shaped, dully coloured building on the outside, it had the most beautiful, resonant, reverential interior space. The ceiling (of the original baths) soared over all, with no supports but the outside walls. One side of the transept was designed by Michelangelo. (The other parts were renovated and redecorated periodically). I am beginning to recognize the grace and lightness of Michelangelo’s work. Unlike the Vatican, this basilica was almost empty and very quiet.

Placed into the floor was a very long brass rod. From a small window the sunlight shines on the rod to form a calendar that started in 1702 and goes past 2000! All the dates, horoscope signs, and holy days are marked and tracked by the movement of sunlight.

Close by was the church of Saint Susanna – essentially a church for Americans in Rome. Nearby was Santa Maria della Victoria, which has a wondrous Bernini statue of Santa Teresa tested by an angel. The marble flows. Oddly though, the brass rods radiating from on-high seemed to me heavy
Piazza RepubblicaPiazza RepubblicaPiazza Repubblica

Over-the-top plaza near my hotel
and rather tacky instead of ethereal.

For dinner I went to a restaurant on a corner where I could sit outside on the sidewalk with a beer to watch Rome pass by. My accompaniment was a strange chicken panini, which seemed to be an ineffective attempt at a chicken burger: the bun was crisp, the chicken lightly deep fried (and delicious), the tomatoes transparently thin and the lettuce leaves miniscule. 5 Euros, 6 Euros for beer.

After supper Elizabeth called me. She and James and I checked out train possibilities for Siena on Saturday. Reservations are required so we walked ten minutes to the station and bought them. 23.10 Euros each.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


St JosephSt Joseph
St Joseph

About life-sized, and tucked away to one side
Christ and adherentsChrist and adherents
Christ and adherents

Beautiful carving in every glance
Pope Alexander VIIPope Alexander VII
Pope Alexander VII

Marble turned into flesh
Pope Pius XPope Pius X
Pope Pius X

Towering over both penitents and tourists

10th March 2018

Pacing the wonders
It sounds like you made a good choice to take a wee break from all the marvels. For me, too much of even a good thing can be too much, making it hard to appreciate what I'm seeing. Your photos are excellent, conveying what you saw in what I suspect was a tricky setting, both technically and crowd-wise. As for the great shot of the dome of St. Peter's, my eye caught it before seeing the caption, and my brain inverted the concave into convex. It would make a good study for those "What do you see?" quizzes.
18th March 2018

Too many wonders
Yes, I usually have trouble taking breaks, and by the end of this trip my brain was cement!
16th March 2018
Pope Innocent XII

Never get tired of the beauty

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