Welcome to the Vatican, officially the smallest country in the world (109 acres) and the seat of the Catholic Church.
After our Italian breakfast (an oxymoron), we boarded a coach for the Vatican. Upon arrival, we were ushered past the long line of tourists right into the security line. Entering the Vatican is similar to boarding a plane in the United States security-wise. After 10 minutes, we were all given headsets so we could listen to our guide while we walked through the Vatican Museums together.
The Vatican Museums were established in 1506, contain the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, and is currently valued somewhere around priceless. The Vatican Palaces together, real estate alone, is valued around $1.21 billion (109 acres).
The Raphael Rooms, a series of apartments painted floor to ceiling with Raphael's designs, are fascinating. The most famous fresco, The School of Athens, just is up on a wall, not an entirely large wall, just a wall on a rather small apartment...yet it's one of the most famous paintings in the entire world. More interestingly, when you see it in person, you notice that the bottom left corner is cut out with a door frame. Yet,
the 1000 other times I had seen the painting in books you never notice the chunk missing in that corner...but it's there!
The ceilings of many long promenades of the Vatican museums is something to behold. They are more ornate than the ceilings of El Palacio Real and Versailles I believe. The amount of frescos and gold leaf work on the ceiling is amazing. This is the church: ShaBAM!
The Sistine Chapel was a let down. Yes Michelangelo was on his back for seven-ish years painting the masterpiece of his life, yes it is one of the most important chapels in the entire world (obviously) but the poor painting is very poorly lit. If the painting was as vibrant to the naked eye as the enhanced photos in books, it would be something to behold.
That aside, the Sistine Chapel is central to art of the past 400 years. References to "the touch" refer to Adam and God's famous finger touch in the center of the room. Also enjoyable are the wall paintings lining the room with separate biblical depictions.
After we had finished our tour of the Vatican Museums, we paraded out into one of
the Vatican courtyards. There I found a bronze world sculpture mimicking one I saw at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland several years ago.
We left the Vatican City for lunch in a nearby cafe in Rome. The lunch was a continuously refiling Italian buffet. H'or d'oeuvres out the wazoo were arriving at our table ready for devouring. In a accidental fluke of the system, the wine became unlimited as well...we all re-entered the Vatican tipsy.
Next, on to St. Peter's Square in the Vatican! The square is key shaped and 100% geometrically planned for perfect lines, angles, and vistas. The key (meaning key to the church) is the symbol of the Vatican City and is shown on all official insignia and the flag. We took many pictures here before we were ushered first-class (DIS wins again) into St. Peter's Basilica, the most important Basilica in the entire world.
We had two choices, 5 euros and take the elevator half way up the Basilica and climb the rest of the stairs to the top, or climb the whole way. Five euros had never been better spent. We climbed the final steps to the top (320 in all) and walked
sideways (you're in between the outer and inner layers of the dome). Once in the Cupola, we saw Rome just before dusk. Gorgeous. Worth every step.
The top was inordinately crowded ("This would NEVER happen in America" - Joe American Tourist). Friends and I toured around the top. We encountered a school class visiting and we couldn't figure out which language they were speaking. You know you live in Denmark when you even consider, "That isn't Swedish, is it?" Nope, a friendly anglophile tourist told us it was most definitely German. Oh yes, German...that much larger, southern language.
After the Cupola, we climbed back down and toured the inside St. Peter's. I almost converted to Catholicism. The height from floor to ceiling is unimaginable. Bernini's Papal Altar was a beautiful dark construction that rose very high in the center. The small chapels dedicated to different popes are beautifully decorated. The famous Mary and Christ is a beautiful statue. I didn't want to leave this place, I could have spent another hour touring and taking it all in. While we there, a service took place and the cardinals marched out.
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