Hope you all enjoyed hearing about Rome so far! Next up- Vatican City. As it is technically it’s own country, I figure it’s acceptable to split it up into it’s own post.
Truly, I loved seeing the Vatican. I was raised Catholic, however am not practicing in any way. But I’ve always found learning about religion absolutely fascinating. As such, seeing the Vatican was my inner nerd’s dream come true. I begged and pleaded with Assen for us to have a guided tour of the Vatican and it was worth every penny (well…technically every pence, as we did pay for it with British pounds).
Honestly- if you go to the Vatican, get a professional tour. Between being able to skip the line (worth it right there as the line would easily have you waiting for 3+ hours just to get in the door), the information they provide, and the guidance of what to see- priceless.
So, the tour that we did was a 3.5 hour tour, and included several rooms in the Vatican museum. Specifically, the Raphael rooms, Gallery of the Maps, Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, as well as a few courtyards. Honestly, any tour you do will likely take you through the same areas, as you kind of have to go through those areas to get the next.
First, we saw the tapestries. Now, I have to admit. When I saw that we were taking a tour of a room of tapestries, I figured this part of the tour would be uninteresting. But this is why having a tour guide was so amazing. She spoke of the history and time to make the tapestries. A lot of them are from the 1400’s and were made by the Belgiums. They were sent a piece of art, and they copied the artwork onto tapestry. The skill to be able to do that just blows my mind. There were also examples of Roman tapestries, when a Pope tried to bring the work into Rome, and the quality is not even comparable.
There were beautiful marble statues scattered throughout the museum. However, anywhere that there were naked statues, there were two options- either the genitals had been straight up removed, or they had been covered by a fig leaf. The Catholics- not a fan of nudity!
The Map Room was another area that I figured was going to be a bit of a yawn- fest. But firstly, it was stunningly beautiful. Even the ceiling was breath-taking.
But even more interesting was actually seeing the maps. These maps were commissioned to be made in 1580. They were completed in a timeframe of 3 years. And they are accurate. Perfectly. They show landscape, all towns in the area, bodies of water- everything a map today would contain. Each map down this entire hallway even has a zoomed in smaller map within it, where you can see more detail of a particular area.
It’s google maps! Circa 1580! I was amazed at it. Both at the accuracy, as well as the beauty of it. These are painted directly on the wall- there was no room for error.
Just as I thought we had hit the peak of the tip, we hit the Raphael rooms. Now, I don’t really know anything about art. But even I have heard of Raphael. And after being in these rooms, I now understand a bit more why!
2 fun facts:
1) The painting from above is from the library of the Pope (previously was the library, now it’s filled with tourists). We can tell what books were held on this wall because of the painting itself. The man in the pink robe is Plato (and is pointing up as his philosophy was to live for the afterlife), and the man beside him is Aristotle (who is pointing down as he believed our life was to be experienced on earth). All of the men in this painting represent philosophers, mathematicians, artists, etc. Therefore, this wall was filled with books from ancient “greats”.
2) Back in the day, when you painted a picture for the Church, you were not allowed to sign your painting. Therefore, if someone is ever separated from a painting, or looking out of the picture, they were alive at the time of the painting. In the above painting, Raphael painted himself into it, as his way of “signing” it.
See the man in the right corner- with the black hat on? That’s Raphael’s self-portrait.
After the Raphael’s room’s, we headed off to the Sistine Chapel (after passing several rooms filled with art work that we didn’t even glance at- there’s just so much to see). I don’t have any photos of the amazing artwork in that room, as you are not allowed to take pictures while in the Chapel. To respect the fact that it is a chapel, I didn’t try and take any sneaky pictures. However, if you google “Sistine Chapel pictures”, many great options come up ;).
However, some more fun facts about the paintings.
1) The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, famously painted by Michelangelo, was his first attempt at painting. He had originally been commissioned by the Pope to create a marble pyramid, as a means to hold the Pope’s remains. He spent 8 months picking out the perfect marble, before returning to Rome, and finding out the Pope had changed his mind and now wanted him to repaint the ceiling. Michelangelo refused, saying he wasn’t a painter, and left Rome. Instead, on his way back to Florence, he was stopped by the Pope’s policeforce (the Swiss guard) and he was forced back to Rome, and told that he would be painting the ceiling.
2) As he wasn’t happy that he was painting the ceiling (which took him a total of 4 years to complete), he found little ways to get back at the Pope. Such as painting these two little boys who look like they are hugging the Pope. However, upon closer inspection, the little boy seems to be doing something funny with his hands:
Apparently, back then, this was equivalent to giving someone the finger. However, as it was 60 feet up, the Pope never knew that Michelangelo had completed this.
There were so many other fun facts, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t gp into anymore. However, these are things you learn with a guided tour!
After the Sistine Chapel, we exited this area (and stood in a queue for a bit):
And then went to see St Peter’s Basilica. This is the official church in Vatican City, and where the Pope occasionally holds services. It has also been built on top of the believed site of where St.Peter (the man who Jesus left in charge to continue his teachings) was crucified and buried. They have found bone fragments buried in this area. The fragments show that it is for around the right time, and is fragments of every area of a man’s body except for his feet. As Peter was crucified upside down, to take him off the cross, he would’ve had his feet cut off to take him off the cross, and therefore further supports that this is his burial spot.
There is a statue of St Peter, that you can rub his feet for luck in the church
Check out how his feet are being rubbed away due to so many people touching them for luck. Just imagine how long it would take to rub away marble like that! Kind of crazy to think about.
The actual church itself is stunning. There is no Catholic cathedral or church that matches St Peter’s in size. It is perfectly portioned in every way. It is breathtaking.
It was incredible. I loved my brief trip to the Vatican City. I know that I saw only a teeny teeny tiny fraction of everything there is to see there, and I hope to go back and see more.
After our tour, we had to leave to meet up with Assen’s cousin who had driven into Rome to spend the afternoon with us. We wandered around a bit more to enjoy some more the sites, and finally ended with a stunning view of the setting sun over the Colosseum
The next day we woke up, and were off to the airport to fly to Paris on the 30th. Next post is final segment of the trip- our time in Paris. Which I think may be my favourite place in Europe so far…