Vatican Museums 2 - and on to St. Peter's Basilica

Vatican City Travel Blog

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Approaching the Vatican. The walls surrounding it are massive.

When we reached St.Peters I took a few pictures of the square and the basilica. All of those columns are pretty impressive!  It wasn't hard to figure out where to go - just look for a line, stand in it and you'll probably see something worthwile.  If I would have known the line was going to take such a large amount of time, I probably would have done things differently but we decided to go for it.  It took us an hour in line to get to where you buy the tickets to be able to walk up the stairs to Michelangelo’s cupola in St. Peter’s Basilica!  And after that line, you have to stand in another one, just to actually walk up the stept! 

There are two ways of doing this - For 7 Euros you can ride part of the way up in an elevator.  But that would have meant another line so, for 4 Euros, we hit the stairs!  I didn’t even really intend to do this, but I’m glad I did.

Approaching the Vatican
You get an excellent view of Michelangelo’s work on the inside (ok, it’s not that close, but it’s a lot closer than when you’re down in the church below!) What you do get is an even better feel for just how immense this cupola is and what an enormous undertaking it must have been for Michelangelo.  Just climbing up there to paint, every day, hundreds of feet above the ground, laying on his back....amazing!

Then, on the outside you get some fantastic views of Rome.  Ok, and it was good exercise too, which I need after trying so much gelatto, pastries and pizzas!  If you’re afraid of heights or have heart problems or some other health issue, this may not be the best visit for you • it’s quite a walk up and some of the steps were pretty steep.

Vatican Wall
Personally, I loved it!

Ok, I have to admit that what I really wanted to do was to get in line to see the crypt with all of the tombs of the popes and other Vatican VIPs.  The lines are next to each other • if you stand to the left you’re in the line for the crypt and if you stand on the right you’re in the line for the cupola • anyhow, by the time that I realized that I was in the cupola line we had been waiting so long that we decided to just stick it out to the very end and check out the cupola. Again, I’m glad I did.  This whole thing is quite a money-making enterprise, but as long as you’re here you might as well spring for some of these extras and really see everything. Even if it’s not something that fantastic, at least you won’t go away feeling that you missed something (which was my experience the last time I was in Rome)!!

From the cupola we headed to the crypt • from top to bottom.

Exit from the Vatican Museums.
  We weren’t charged anything for this part of the visit, although if you want to get up close to St. Peter’s tomb you do have to pay something additional • I think it was 4 Euros. Anyhow, this part was pretty cool • you can see the graves of many Popes including John Paul II.  There were many people praying there.  Obviously you need to keep quiet and photography is not allowed (and that is enforced). One bothersome thing is that in this place for prayer and contemplation, where silence is required • there is a recording playing every few minutes reminding you to be quiet in many languages • this recording was worse than all the noise of all the visitors combined!

St. Peter’s Basilica is really impressive. It’s the second largest church in the world (the first being one built in Africa).

Matejko's Rescue of Vienna
  The dimensions are incredible.  Enormous.  The main things that impressed me on the inside were Michelangelo’s Pietà (behind bullet-proof glass, but still beautiful to see) and the immense dome, the canopy over the altar (by Bernini • called the Baldachin and made with brass taken from the Pantheon) and a statue of St. Peter with the foot extremely worn down from all of the people touching it.  In general, it’s simply the sheer size and massive amount of sculpture and art that are incredible. 

 

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Sala delle Carte Geografiche - detail on one of the maps lining the walls of the 175 meter gallery.

This is going to be a busy day.  We are going to try to see the highlights of the Vatican Museums and from what I’m reading that’s quite an undertaking as there is very much to see there.  From there I'd like to visit St. Peter's Basilica again and take another look at the Pietà.  We’re up early and head down the hall for the hotel’s breakfast.  When that was over we headed directly to the Vatican • about a 10 minute (if that) walk from the hotel.  As we get closer to the Vatican we see that there are more and more people.  I figured that being early we’d beat the crowds! I’ve been here before and it seems to me that the crowds and lines are omnipresent.  Anyway, as we approached the entrance to the museums, after walking along the immense walls that enclose the Vatican we saw posters celebrating the Vatican’s 80th anniversary as a state.

Details of the Sistine Chapel. You can see the creation of Adam and the Temptation of Adam and Eve... Turned out pretty good considering I didn't use a flash!
I was surprised to learn that it was the fruit of an agreement between Mussolini and the church... So, they’re currently celebrating that anniversary.  As I said, there were hundreds and hundreds of people everywhere and lines, lines, LINES... but actually it wasn’t too bad once I realized that most of those people were in special lines for tours.  We were able to walk right past them and straight in to where you buy tickets (after going through a security check • more or less the same as when you are entering an airport • where you walk through a metal detector and have your bags and whatever else you may be carrying scanned).

 

The admission to the Vatican Museums costs 14 Euros.  We headed straight to what most people don’t want to miss • the Sistine chapel and the rooms decorated by Raphael (Stanze di Raffaello).

  Along the way we passed through literally a mile of some incredible galleries with statuary, then tapestries, then maps (the “Galleria delle Carte Geografiche” which was spectacular!), then more statuary, more tapestries, then the apartments of St. Pius V.  And so on and so on... Sensory overload.  Everything is so ornately decorated that it’s overwhelming. 

 

For me, highlights of that first part of the visit are:

  1. The Galleria delle Carte Geografiche - The 175 meter long Gallery of Maps which was the creation of Pope Gregory XIII, who is mostly remembered for devising the Gregorian Calendar which we use today.
    Gregory's vision was that the entire world should be under the rule of the Catholic Church lead from Rome, and the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche is a bold attempt to map this dominion. In 1578, Gregory had a new storey built on top of a corridor alongside the Belvedere Courtyard, with the map gallery being just part of a celebration of his papacy. This pope was attempting to leave a very material record of his time as pontiff. It is significant that all of this took place against the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation, as the Papacy desperately tried to assert the supremacy of Rome. The gallery was to describe, in cartographical detail, just how the Catholic Church had pulled the whole (known) world together, with the Pope at its head. Down both walls are massive maps of all the provinces of Italy, some extant, some commissioned to complete the set. The Pope played fast and loose with historical and political fact: the former papal seat of Avignon in France was included, as were Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, though these were currently controlled by Spain.
    Sculpture in the Stanze della Signatura
    The placing of the maps on the walls represents (roughly) their place on the Italian peninsula, so one can get a sense of viewing maps within a larger 'map' - that being the whole room.
  2. The Sala Sobieski  - with an original painting by a very famous Polish painter named Jan Matejko “Odsiecz Wiedeñska” which depicts Polish King Jan III Sobieski rescuing Vienna from the Turks! Seriously, I was excited about seeing this one! I've seen some of Matejko's works chronicling great moments in Polish history here in Warsaw.

 

At first I wasn’t taking any pictures because I thought I had seen a sign saying that it was prohibited and my pictures in rather dark places don’t turn out so great anyway.

Amazing angels
But as we moved on I saw that just about everyone there was clicking away and the only ones to be bawled out were the ones using flashes so I turned off my flash and started taking some pictures too. 

So, we continued along this massive, enormous labyrinth of art through a room dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, then finally through the Stanze di Raffaello.  This really is art overload. It would take a number of visits to truly appreciate all of the treasures here.  I mean, it would take days just to look at them, much less really derive anything out of that “looking.”  And you run a serious risk of either tripping over someone or at least getting a very stiff neck because the ceilings are amazing!! See my pictures • every single square inch is lavishly decorated.   If all you want to see is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel • you’ll need quite a while to traipse through all of the galleries along the way!  But missing Raffaello’s work would be a shame.

Cool staircase at the Vatican Museums
If I counted correctly there were four rooms • the Sala di Costatino, The Room of Heliodorus, the Stanze della Signatura and the Room of the Incendio.  I’m uploading pictures of these, but they don’t do justice to Raffaello’s amazingly intricate detailed paintings and his use of light. 

After the Room of the Incendio we went through a small entry room, down some stairs to the Borgia apartments, decorated in the 1490’s • rooms that were for the personal use of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo de Borgia).  Walking through these rooms you almost feel you’re being transported to the Renaissance!  They owe their fantastic preservation to the fact that they were shut off for many many years due to the disgrace and crimes of the Borgia family.  I found the following:  “Pope Julius, moved partly by reprobation of the crimes of his predecessor, partly by hatred of the whole house of Borgia, refused to live in the apartments ; but at the end of the sixteenth century the nephews of Leo XI.

Sala delle Carte Geografiche
used them for a time. For two centuries they seem to have been uninhabited, and the Abbé Taja in 1750 laments this abandonment, and deplores their loss to all lovers of the fine arts. Later, in the eighteenth century, we learn from Chattard that they were used for the meals of cardinals and officials who assembled during Holy Week. In 1816, when, in consequence of the peace of Tolentino, the precious collection of pictures was sent back from Paris, some of them were collected in the Borgia apartments, and the marble cross-bars of the windows were replaced by iron ones to give more light. The light was, how-ever, so bad that the pictures were removed, and a miscellaneous museum and library took their place.

“In 1891 the present Pope, Leo XIII., moved the library, and the delicate task of restoration began.” 

These apartments hold an exhibition of modern art which, among countless other works includes a Dali that Juan Carlos I of Spain gave to the Vatican in 1980.

Sylvia! there were plenty of nice displays with souvenirs and keepsakes!
 

FINALLY after walking and walking and walking and truly overloading on intricate ornate art in every nook and cranny.... we reached the Sistine Chapel which, in spite of hundreds of fellow visitors, is breathtaking.  Here again, photography is prohibited, but EVERYONE was clicking away. Maybe it depends on which guards are on duty.

 

By the time we finished seeing the Sistine Chapel we had been there for about 4 hours.  Time to get something to drink....

---------------------------------

As I wrote in my previous entry, this fantastic museum is overwhelming!  If you're an art student or are really interested in seeing this in detail, allow yourself several days.

Enormous columns by St. Peters
 

After a coke and a visit to the Vatican Museums men’s room we were ready to continue. This museum is hard work! The next stop is the Pinacoteca • Painting museum.  It was inaugurated in 1932 and includes hundreds of paintings, notably works of Michelangelo, Raphael and Fra Angelico.  I saw Caravaggio’s “Deposition” • Christ taken down from the cross and many other famous works which are spread out through the Pinacoteca’s 18 rooms.  One room is dedicated to Raphael entirely.  But this is almost too much. I’d need to do this over a few days.  Everything seems to blend together.  We continue to the Egyptian museum, with lots of Egyptian artifacts • even a couple mummies, then a sculpture and statuary exhibit which has a lot of Greek art, then an Etruscan museum...

Finally after a few hours it was enough.

St. Peters' Basilica
..  I’d love to come back and see a lot of this again, but it was enough for today.  So, we headed over to St. Peter’s Basilica and more LINES!!

Approaching the Vatican.  The wall…
Approaching the Vatican. The wal…
Approaching the Vatican
Approaching the Vatican
Vatican Wall
Vatican Wall
Exit from the Vatican Museums.
Exit from the Vatican Museums.
Matejkos Rescue of Vienna
Matejko's Rescue of Vienna
Sala delle Carte Geografiche - det…
Sala delle Carte Geografiche - de…
Details of the Sistine Chapel. You…
Details of the Sistine Chapel. Yo…
Sculpture in the Stanze della Sign…
Sculpture in the Stanze della Sig…
Amazing angels
Amazing angels
Cool staircase at the Vatican Muse…
Cool staircase at the Vatican Mus…
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sylvia! there were plenty of nice …
Sylvia! there were plenty of nice…
Enormous columns by St. Peters
Enormous columns by St. Peters
St. Peters Basilica
St. Peters' Basilica
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Ceiling of the Sala delle Carte Ge…
Ceiling of the Sala delle Carte G…
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche - jus…
Sala delle Carte Geografiche - ju…
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche
Sala delle Carte Geografiche - ok,…
Sala delle Carte Geografiche - ok…
Sala Sobieski - Painting by Matejk…
Sala Sobieski - Painting by Matej…
Ceiling of the Sala Sobieski
Ceiling of the Sala Sobieski
Carved shutters in the Sala di Cos…
Carved shutters in the Sala di Co…
Fresco in the Stanze della Signatu…
Fresco in the Stanze della Signat…
The ceiling of the stairway leadin…
The ceiling of the stairway leadi…
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Library
Library
Library.
Library.
Entrance to the Pinacoteca
Entrance to the Pinacoteca
Cafeteria in the Vatican Museums.
Cafeteria in the Vatican Museums.
Sant Jordi!
Sant Jordi!
San Sebastian
San Sebastian
Voltaire - got me thinking about m…
Voltaire - got me thinking about …
Inside the Vatican Museums
Inside the Vatican Museums
This is marble work on the floor -…
This is marble work on the floor …
You can get an audio guide to the …
You can get an audio guide to the…
Inside the museum.
Inside the museum.
Entrance to the Vatican Museums
Entrance to the Vatican Museums
Inside the dome at St. Peters
Inside the dome at St. Peter's
View from atop the dome at St. Pet…
View from atop the dome at St. Pe…
Ticket to the Vatican Museum
Ticket to the Vatican Museum
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photo by: EmyG