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August 12th 2009
Published: August 21st 2009
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But Maybe Not Quite As Much As This Place

So I mentioned that I was heading to a city that’s a country within a city today. It also happens to be the smallest country in the world at just one square kilometre and was given it’s independence from Rome in the 15th Century (I think???). It has it’s own postal service, currency, newspaper and radio station and has a unique army of Swiss Guards to protect it’s leader. If you need more than one guess as to where I am you should be shot right now!!!!

Vatican City is an impressive area to say the least. Surrounded by high stone walls (God knows why they had to build them when they’re in the middle of Rome… sorry for the pun), from the outside it looks more like a fortress then the head of one of the biggest faiths in the world, but as you pass through the columns and it opens up into Piazza Di San Pietro, you start to get the hint, that’s for sure. Now, I’m not a religious man and what others might see as a miracle of God, I can usually see the miracle was actually a bucket load of cash, but standing here in the place you see so often on TV and in the movies is humbling (and yes it probably did involve a bucket load of cash to make). To look from the base of the plaza at the columns surrounding it with their statues of saints and apostles mounted above (the crowning glory in Berlini‘s career), and on past the obelisk and fountains in the centre, right up to Saint Peter’s Basilica is awe inspiring without even thinking about a higher power.

The basilica stands over 120m high with the dome being designed by Michelangelo and being completed in the late 16th Century, well after the artist and architect had died. The site itself stands over a church that dates back to the 4th Century during Constantine’s rule, which was erected to mark the spot that Saint Peter was buried. His remains are still entombed (supposedly) under the alter within the basilica to this day. Once passed all the metal detectors and bag searches and actually inside the basilica, it opens up into a huge area with statues by Michelangelo including his Pieta (which he did at age 24 and is the only sculpture that he signed), and huge frescos depicting all kinds of sacred moments.

You can also visit the Cupola on the dome if you feel like waiting in line for an eternity and then finding out that it costs seven Euro just to do it. Not for me… I was heading to a different place that afternoon to get a view out over the city anyway. What I did do was take the line next to the cupola queue and head down into the Popes’ Tombs which is free and with no wait. Dating back to when the basilica was built it houses all the popes that served in the Vatican right up to the late Pope John Paul II. Although pictures are forbidden of his tomb, there is a steady flow of mourners still making the pilgrimage to visit it.

Around the back of the basilica are the Vatican Museums where the wealth and finery of the church are on display. Walking past tapestries and huge maps from the last few centuries, you make your way towards the Stanze Di Raphaello, which was once the private apartments of one of the popes and is decorated in beautiful frescos painted by Raphael. Right near the end of the marked route on the map is the Sistine Chapel, the private chapel of the pope built in 1473, and containing such famous paintings as Last Judgement and Creation which has the touch of life depicted. The entire chapel was restored recently and the paintings almost jump out at you when you enter. To think… it took Michelangelo four years to paint Creation and then it wasn’t until 24 years later that he painted the Last Judgement. Once again though, it’s one of those areas where photos are not permitted and the security guards are constantly telling people “Silencio, No Photos!!!” They even nearly took my camera off me when I tried even though there was a lady that was using the flash and everything and when asked “Didn’t you here me lady?”, she simply replied “No” and walked away. But, being the sneaky man I am, I found a way around it…. just after the chapel is a souvenir stall with wall posters of the works of art. A quick photo of them and, not only would you never know the difference, but it doesn’t have thousands of tourists in front of it. Up there for thinking I always say because buggered if I’m paying for something when I can get it for free…. especially when I’d already paid to enter the museum and they don’t tell you that you can’t take photos until your in the chapel.

From the Vatican it was back into Rome (obviously) as I crossed the Tiber River to Piazza Del Popolo and then up to Villa Borghese. Once an estate for a Cardinal, it now houses a few museums as well as being a parkland on a hill overlooking the city. From here you can see the other six hills Rome is built on and have a great view as the sun sets out over the Vatican. A fitting end to a day of marvels and “miracles”.

”The man who is truly good and wise will bear with dignity whatever fortune sends, and will always make the best of his circumstances." - Ethics - Aristotle

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