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On a recent trip to Rome I visited the Vatican State - this was mainly due to the fact I had just read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. I would have gone anyway but I felt I already knew so much about the state from reading the book. Therefore I was far more interested.
I am not a religious person, never have been, I appreciate those who have faith and beliefs in their own god or gods, I just don't. For me what happens happens.
The Vatican City (state) is located in West Rome, it sits nicely near the bank of the River Timbre and at the front of course is the large front with the Popes balcony, St Peters dome and St Peters Square set out before it (how everyone pictures the Vatican).
It was a hot day and I must admit whoever designed St Peter's Square didn't think about the heat, the ground is dark which in turn becomes very hot. Don't wear think flimsy shoes, you will feel the heat on your soles.
The Vatican has 44 full time residents including the Pope. The Vatican City is walled off and officially the smallest independent state in the world. Not part of Italy. (Even though it's in the middle of it).
The Swiss Guard operate the security for the Vatican City and those chosen are amongst those trained to the highest standard in the world.
St Peters Dome
St Peter's dome is the large dome you can see from St Peter's Square or anywhere on your approach to the Vatican. It was Michelangelo's last great piece of work, the dome sits on St Peters Basilica (Church). It is a whooping 43 metres in diameter with a 71 metre perimeter. It also has 16 windows.
The dome is accessible to tourists; it can be confusing getting in to the Vatican to see the things you want, as there are many entrances for different parts and attractions.
Entrance to the dome is at the front (St Peter's Square) on the right hand side. You must queue here and then when you enter the front of St Peter's Basilica you must queue to the right hand side (always the longest queue) to gain access to the dome. This costs: 8 Euro's per adult.
The dome provides great views over the city of Rome and the Vatican.
St Peters Basilica
St Peter's Basilica is the Church of St Peter, the first Pope. It is built on the tomb of Saint Peter who was crucified in 60 AC the resting place of Saint Peter has always raised questions.
Works started in 315 AC and were finished approximately 11 years later. Pope Nicola V decided to restore the Basilica to its former glory after a millennium of history had taken place within its walls. However after his death works were ceased on the command of Pope Giulio II, changing the project into the building of a new cathedral. Since many other alterations and demolitions undertaken over the years, we now have the current, spectacular St Peter's Basilica.
The architecture, sculptures, painting and detail throughout the whole basilica is quite extraordinary and amazing, I don't find churches appealing but the work and detail inside this building is quite breath taking.
Today the basilica is able to house 20,000 people in to the most famous church in Christianity and the house of god.
Entry is free.
The entrance to the Sistine Chapel is not visible from the front (or what I call the front - St Peter's Square) you must walk round the walled state going right.
I would say the entrance is virtually half way round the entire state (so directly half way from the entrance at St Peters). I would call this the back. The entrance is quite large and seems purpose built for tourists. It is labelled Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums.
After queuing for 20 minutes we entered and queued to pay for our tickets. This cost 7 Euro's per adult.
Walking to the Sistine Chapel is quite far as you have to walk through many passages that include the Tapestry Gallery, this is great and you feel like you're getting your money's worth BUT I do find 20 corridors of very similar things boring (or dragged out).
The Sistine Chapel is amazing and home to the famous painting by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, commissioned by Pope Julius II.
In the Sistine Chapel you are not supposed to talk (which is fine, except people do and the guards or workers shout at them to shut up) this completely ruins the atmosphere and totally lacks respect.
You are NOT allowed to take photos in here either.
Tombs of the Popes
The Tombs of the Popes was quite surreal and weird, I have since learned there is a webcam watching and streaming live over the internet - I find this odd due to the nature of the attraction.
The Tombs of the Popes is pretty much what it is called - the many tombs of the previous Popes. You walk down a corridor in to a chamber that is mostly white and clean. It is not eerie.
The tombs of various Popes are laid out on each side of the walk way around the chamber.
The strange thing is each tomb seems quite elaborate and extravagant until you reach the most recent which was John Paul II (1978-2005), his tomb, is a slab of marble, that lies pretty much flat on the floor, there is no sculpture of him, it wouldn't look too out of place in a normal cemetery. It was quite disappointing as he was the Pope when I was born and the one I have seen on TV before he died.
Entry is Free.
The Vatican Museums
The Vatican Museums contain paintings, sculptures and other masterpieces collected by the Popes throughout their rein.
The Sistine Chapel is technically part of these Museums.
The Museums are open every weekday morning and early afternoon to the public in the summer months.
These are a collection of different areas named specific museums relating to what is in them. Some of them are:
Gregorian Profane Museum
Chiaramonti Museum - Braccio Nuovo Gallery
Missionary Ethnological Museum
And many more. There is also a workshop for the restoration of paintings etc which includes a scientific laboratory.
Entry is Free every last Sunday of each month otherwise there is a charge.
I liked the Vatican City, it was interesting and it owns the most amazing architecture, paintings, works of art, you name it, they own it.
They have the largest catalogue in the world, and although barely anything is on display, there is more than enough to look at.
It is annoying how you have to pay separately for different parts of attractions but I suppose this helps when you don't want to visit certain areas, so you can just pay as you go. I just didn't like all the different queues.
If visiting Rome you MUST visit the Vatican City, I can't explain how thoroughly interesting and mesmerising it is, so take my word for it, as the saying goes - when in Rome.
A lot of the Vatican City isn't on display and you can understand that, simply because it is the Pope's home. But it did get us thinking, he must get lost in all the corridors (it's big and confusing) and b) does he have camera's everywhere and watch and laugh at the tourists?
A very good experience and if you don't want to go in for the religious aspect, go in to get out of the sun. You might enjoy it and surprise yourself.
YOU MUST WEAR KNEE LENGTH SHORTS - YOU CAN QUEUE BUT THEY WILL NOT LET YOU IN!!!
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SHOULDERS COVERED TOO - TAKE A PASHMINA!
As promised, here is my review of the Vatican and Vatican City. Not being a Catholic or overly religious person, you might think why go and bother to visit The Vatican? Firstly, I was always intrigued to see the spot where on Easter Sunday the Pope came on to the balcony to wish all his followers a Happy Easter. I was also keen to see Vatican City in order to cross off another city from my list of cities visited. Finally, I had always wanted to see Michelangelo's great work - The Last Judgement and visit the Raphael Gallery.
Was I impressed with the tour of the city and Vatican? Yes, I cannot find enough adjectives to describe my feelings and emotions on that day. I was absolutely choked and spent the whole day emotionally drained.
Before I describe to you some of the museums housed in the Vatican, I will tell you a little history of the city. Please note that this category is for Vatican City but as both are entwined I have decided to place the review here.
This regal city covers an area of approximately 44 hectares. It is the smallest independent city in the world. To protect the Pope and the main entrances to the city, over a hundred men of the Swiss Guard are employed. The total number of inhabitants is around 900 including 200 women. The city has its own flag which is yellow and white with the keys of St. Peter sitting underneath a triple crown.
Inside the city there is a Post Office where you can purchase official Vatican City stamps. I was really excited about sending a postcard to my family with the official stamp even though I know it is quite a bad taste thing to do but it was fun. There are cards, guide books and various other gifts sold in the post office but be warned, the queues are long.
Vatican City also has its own currency and national anthem which is the Pontifical March written by Charles Gounod.
Originally, the Vatican was not the official residence of the bishops of Rome, the Lateran Palace was. This palace was donated to the Roman Church by the Lateran family and was situated on the Caelian Hill over the river on the opposite side of Rome.
Popes have only resided in the area that we know now as Vatican City, since the signing of The Lateran Treaty in 1929.
We took the Metro from Termini station to visit the Vatican and its museums. From the metro stop it is about 10 minutes walk but be prepared for the wait and the everlasting line of people queuing to get in. It stretches for metres and metres and can get very noisy as people are so excited about what lies behind those doors.
In front of the entrance are street vendors selling souvenirs of Rome and the Vatican, key rings, trinkets, T. shirts and bags etc.
Once through the entrance you come to the atrium. It has a glass ceiling and an exquisite classical balustrade made of bronze. It was designed by the sculptor Antonio Maraini. Taking you on up to the floor where the museums are located is a ramp consisting of intertwined spirals. One spiral leads up towards this floor and the other takes you down to the exit floor.
I am sure every visitor must feel the same way I did. I was bursting with enthusiasm and excitement but irritated with being herded through every gallery. Taking photographs was difficult as people were stood in the way and I found it difficult to concentrate. The treasures on show are so vast and remarkable you become a little exasperated and brain dead trying to comprehend the beauty of it all.
Gallery of the Candelabras
The first crowded room we entered was the Gallery of the Candelabras. It was so packed with people I felt suffocated and frustrated. Views of some of the classical Roman sculptures were obscured by real life bodies which were annoying as historically they are very interesting as they date back from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. The art work on the vaulted ceiling was impressive and for all you art buffs out there the ceiling was painted by Domenico Torti and Ludwig Seitz. The
painting of the frescoes started in 1883 and was completed in 1887.
Gallery of Maps
Moving on to the Gallery of Maps I found this room fascinating. Both my husband and I adore maps and still would rather use a map than any Sat Nav. This gallery is named after the top 40 topographical maps of Italy. Each map is important as it constitutes a record of 16th century geography and cartography.
The whole gallery excited me as the decorated walls were filled with exuberant colours. Altogether 40 panels were painted by Ignazio Danti, a friar from Perugia. He was commissioned by Pope Gregory X111, whose reign lasted from 1572 - 1585. (Dates taken from Wikipedia) To give you an idea of the size of the gallery, it was about 6 metres wide and 120 metres long. The superb frescoes on the ceiling were painted by a group of Mannerist artists called Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muziano. Mannerist art was a period in European art which began in Italy in 1520 and lasted for round 60 years. It was a style influenced by Da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo (and I don't mean the Turtles in a half shell).
Gallery of the Libraries
Every room in this gallery is adorned with artefacts of one shape or form. Whole walls are covered in reconstructions of the city in different times. As well as housing the largest collection of books, treaties and writings from the Middle Ages it has a very beautiful sculpture of St. Peter's. It is made from gold and platinum. Figures have been recreated from precious gems and stained glass windows are miniature but correct in every form of detail.
It is impossible to take all this knowledge in and you could at least spend a day in this gallery alone.
This gallery has changed very little since it was first designed in the early 1800's. It is a large arched gallery which holds on both sides over a thousand pieces of sculpture of various kinds; status of gods, friezes, pagan altars and sarcophaguses. Unfortunately, not a lot of information is displayed in the gallery but it is still worth a visit as some of the statues are amazing and some of the works mix bronze and stone together.
Braccio Nuovo is another part of the Chiarmonti museum - the new wing. Over 3,000 stone tablets and inscriptions are on display being one of the largest collections in the world of its type. One of the most interesting statues is the Colossus of the Nile. A river God is represented as a giver of blessings. The 16 boy statues allude to the number of cubits the River Nile rises to during a flood thus fertilising the region. Carvings on the base of the statue depict life on the Nile River.
At first I thought this whole gallery might have been a bit boring but it proved me wrong and I actually enjoyed it immensely.
Raphael's Rooms and Loggias
This was one of the main attractions I wanted to visit but again this was difficult to navigate because of the crowd situation. Raphael's rooms or now known as the Stanza della Segnatura. It comprises of four rooms which were originally the residence of Pope Julius 11. They were named Raphael - after Raphael Sanzio (Raffaello in Italian) who was a painter and architect of the High Renaissance period. He was one of the great masters from this era along with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Having worked for 10 years on the project he only completed three rooms before he died at the age of 37. The fourth room was left unfinished. It was known that although he did all the detailed drawings he actually left his large and experienced team of painters to actually paint the walls and ceilings.
What did I think of the work? I was overwhelmed with the colours used and how smooth the actual brush work was. Although I am not mad on the religious topics that he covers, I just find the technique he used amazing. Throughout the four rooms my husband didn't hear a peep out of me which is unusual as I usually have something to say. The work was fantastic! And yes, I am now running out of adjectives!
The Sistine Chapel
Finally I have come to the last description in my review - this is the big one! This chapel must be one of the most visited chapels in the world. It stands in the south west section of the Apostolic Palace. Entrance to the chapel is through a small door at the back of the chapel on the right behind the altar. Photographs are not allowed so I advise you to buy a guide book although it didn't stop people from trying to take photographs with their mobile phones.
Apart from being astonished by all the great art work I was surprised that it was so small. It had an eerie feel to it and I felt like I wanted to cry and the hairs on my neck were all prickly. It was an amazing experience and one that should be respected. I was very cross because people never know when to be quiet and people were constantly talking amongst themselves or even on their mobile phones. Every now and again a voice from the loud speaker would say, please be quiet and then guides would walk around telling you to Shush! I couldn't comprehend how people could stand in such a beautiful place of worship and have no respect.
The Last Judgement which is meant to be Michelangelo's masterpiece stands behind the altar. This fresco took 450 days to complete and he was over sixty years old when he started.
The ceiling represents the history of man before the arrival of Christ. In the nine panels Michelangelo has tried to illustrate events from Genesis and the corner spandrels(space between to arches) contain pictures of how Israel was saved.
On the south wall there are other frescoes depicting events of Moses' life. We all remember The Crossing of the Red Sea - an event from the Old Testament.
Finally on the north wall you will see the baptism of Christ and Temptations of Christ.
Again I was amazed by the brilliance of the colours used but I believe restoration work on Michelangelo's frescoes was carried out between 1981 and 1993. That could be one reason why they looked so illuminated but taking that into account it doesn't take anything away from the splendour of the man's work. He was an absolute genius.
I found the whole experience of this visit to Vatican City and the museums exhausting. I have never seen such beauty and the Sistine Chapel was definitely an eye opener. I felt such waves of emotion of seeing the great man's work. It was too much for me.
Having said all that I was also quite shocked at the amount of wealth and treasures that exist in the Vatican and you have to remember that there will be more hidden away in vaults somewhere. In my opinion it seems wrong that the church should have so much wealth when there is so much poverty in the world but perhaps that is a topic for dooyoo to discuss. For now, I will conclude by saying that for a combination of good and bad reasons, it was a totally overwhelming experience. Too much! For all the beauty I will give it 5 stars.
A major must for any catholic but even if your not it really is a thing of beauty, a must see destination for anyone. When we toured we started at the Vatican museum first, please allow yourself 2 days to visit the Vatican. The beauty within is amazing, tapestries, paintings from pre Christ and post, sculptures by many famous artists, beautiful gardens to sit and relax, fountains. This day often finishes with the Sistine chapel, Michelangelos pride and joy, a ceiling painting of the Last Judgement. When we walked into the room I was dumbfounded by the shear beauty. You can almost feel the pain he must have suffered those years on his back. The attention to detail can only be classed as out of this world. The only irritating part of the chapel is the shear fact that people continue to take photographs even after being told not to.
The other side to the Vatican is St Peter's Basilica and the enormous square. The square is surrounded by columned arches topped with life sized sculptures of the saints. There is a giant obelisk in the centre with two large fountains on either side. I can assure you if its a hot day these will provide some amazing refuge. From the Square you can see the awesome dome, the highest point in Rome it was unfortunately partially covered due to maintenece from outside however and inside it was surprising how big it actually was. Gold and blue framed paintings lined the inside, with natural light pouring in from the windows at the top. You can also visit the papal tombs (previous popes) or take mass in Latin. Overall I would highly recommend paying for a guide - English speaking, not Italian and ensure the guide group is small.