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Where to start with the Vatican? Firstly, it is a must-see in Rome. You simply can't go to Rome and not say you've been to the Vatican.
We bought our tickets online as we had been advised to do so. The cost was Euro15 each plus a 'reservation fee' of Euro4 per person. We did feel the fee was a bit steep, but had been told the queues were ridiculous, especially in high season. It was August so we decided to suck it up and pay the fee. You can also choose which time of day you will be visiting during the booking process.
The Vatican is about 5km from the centre of Rome - a short train ride. It would be walkable if you were so inclined and fancied a walking tour of the city, but it was a hot August day so we went on the train. At the other end it was only a few minutes from the stop to the Vatican. When we got there, there appeared to be some kind of service going on, as St Peter's Square was absolutely jam-packed with people, seated and standing.
We made our way round to the museum entrance and were VERY glad we had bought our tickets online as the queue to get in was snaking right round the walls!
Note to ladies. You are not permitted to enter the Vatican with bare shoulders, so if you only have tank tops, you need to either wear something with sleeves - even short sleeves will doi, or get a scarf. There was a guy selling scarves to ladies waiting to go in who had either not heard this rule or had chosen to discard it. As a rampant feminist this rankled a little when I discovered the rule - how dare they tell me what to wear or insinuate that bare shoulders are somehow 'wrong'. But common sense won over and it doesn't hurt to show a little respect for the religion, even if you don't share it. I would take my shoes off if visiting a mosque, so this was no different really.
We were able to just walk in past all the queues and take our printed-off booking voucher to the ticket desk to exchange for our tickets. The tickets are actually very pretty and we have kept them as souvenirs of our honeymoon, in our little keepsake box.
Now, because I'm writing this review over a year after we visited, a lot of the details that we saw are lost to memory. One of the things that I remember most was the display of papal vehicles, old and new, that can be found in the basement. There are gold plated horse-drawn carriages as well as ancient pope-mobiles. We puzzled for a long time how the horses were driven, as there appeared to be no driver's seat on the carriage, before we eventually saw a photo showing one of the horses actually being ridden, and the others directed by the rider.
There was a scale model of the entire Vatican City in the entrance to the museum, which was fascinating. There was an awful lot of art and some stained glass windows. I remember seeing some ancient maps showing various parts of Italy and the rest of the world. The Sistine chapel is famous for its ceiling - but if you look up a few times as you are shepherded down the long corridors on the way there, there are other fine examples of art work on the ceilings.
The Sistine Chapel is stunning - and I'm not the only person to say this. It is patrolled by Vatican guards with guns! You are forbidden to take photographs, or even speak above a whisper whilst in the chapel - they were constantly shushing people. Seeing the famous God/Adam painting 'in the flesh' was an experience not to be missed but there are many, many other, less well-known images on the vast ceiling, so take some time to look at it all, including the trompe l'oeil archways which we were certain were real at first!
Once your taste for Catholic antiquities has been assuaged, there is the obligatory cafe and toilets. And when you leave through the shop there is the most incredible spiral staircase I think I have ever seen.
We did go back round to try to get into St Peter's Basilica, but the queue was HUGE and our tickets only covered the museums and chapel, so we didn't go into the church, which was a shame as I would have liked to. If you do go to the church, the entrance is down the RIGHT hand side of ST Peter's Square, not the left, which is the exit. If you go the wrong way, you have to walk all the way round again! As we discovered!!
There are SHEDLOADS of tiny shops selling Catholic souvenirs of every description - you can even buy replica Papal robes - although what possible use you could have for them I can't imagine, unless for a very posh Priests and Prostitutes party!
I have always wanted a Nativity set for Christmas and we found a fun, inexpensive set in one shop, along with a stable in another shop. So every Christmas, when I set it up, I am reminded of our honeymoon :o) (see photo)
If you love arty stuff and Catholic stuff, you will love the Vatican and even if you don't, it's still worth going simply to say you have been. There's nowhere else like it in the world.
(this review has also appeared on ciao.co.uk)
The Vatican is the spiritual home of all the Roman Catholics in the world, and is also the actual home of the Pope and a select array of his priestly minions. It's a stunning repository of the Church's wealth, some of which is displayed in the Vatican Museums.
The entrance to the museum is outside the main entrance and around the walls - follow the sign and take careful note of the restaurants on the right hand side of the street, because by the time you've finished hiking the halls of the museum you'll probably be starving. Most of them do good tourist menus.
Once you arrive at the museum, be prepared to wait a while in line. I've a friend who walks by here frequently, and he's never seen less than 10-30 minutes' worth of people lined up. The cost, when you finally get to the front, is about 7 euro, with discounts for students (26 and under - mature-r students have to pay full price), children and pensioners.
Inside the museum, the main aim of most visitors is of course the famous Sistine Chapel. This is the last thing you get to, and there are 20 or so opulent galleries to walk through on the way. There are some incredibly beautiful, priceless treasures in these intricately carved and painted galleries; security is high and the guards extremely proactive. If you try to take pictures in the places where it's forbidden or if you talk too much or above a whisper they'll Ssssssssssss and clap at you, yell, No photos! if you do it again and repeat offenders are escorted out. I find this rather wonderful - flash photography is damaging, and people who use it anyway are unspeakably selfish.
Back to the beautiful treasures. While they're certainly wonderful and awe-inspiring to look at, I can't help but be a little bit disgusted by their display. One of the ornate, solid gold, fifteenth-century chalices on display here could easily ensure a clean fresh water supply for an African nation. If the root of the Church is loving one's neighbour, why not sell the wealth and redistribute it where it's needed?
The net result of all these beautiful galleries is that when you finally get to the Sistine Chapel, after an hour or two of wandering through red, gold, glittering, glamorous hallways and galleries, it's frankly disappointing. It's chilly and dark to protect the painting, it's full of noisy tourists, and you can't see the detail in the paintings because of all the loud distractions and idiot people elbowing you out of the way to take clandestine photos.
Some of the art is definitely worth a visit, but I can't help thinking of Jesus tearing up the Temple in disgust at the thought of money-making and ostentatious wealth and wondering what he'd make of his representative on earth charging people 7 euro a time to look at his treasures instead of spending money on making people who don't have 7 euros for a half-day's activity a bit less uncomfortable. If this doesn't bother you - then go enjoy the museum. If it does - it's nicer to look at images of the Sistine Chapel outside the Sistine Chapel anyway.
The Sistine Chapel was commissioned in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV and this is where the name comes from too. It was designed for the Pope, as his chapel and is still used as today. The Papal elections also take place within the walls of the Sistine Chapel, and the important ritual of Conclave.
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), I mean yes the paintings and tapestries are amazing and intricately made or painted but really I've seen 100. I also know being human is to want to be 'top dog' but some of the stuff was disturbing, I know people have fought through the ages but paintings of grown men stealing and stabbing babies from women - is that art? Not in my book, I don't like looking at things like this, no matter who painted it.
After reading Angels and Demons I actually knew a fair bit more about the Sistine Chapel than my other half, we both had previously heard of it and he knew the paintings of Michelangelo were what made it famous, although I just assumed it was another holy room. I was not aware that this is the room where conclave took place and each new Pope was elected.
The Sistine Chapel is amazing and home to the famous painting of the twelve apostles by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, commissioned by Pope Julius II. Originally the ceiling was painted by Piero Matteo d'Amelia. Michelangelo was not happy about having to paint, he considered himself a sculpture and was working on the Popes tomb at the time. Lucky he did really take the opportunity to paint as it has ironically become his most famous piece. There are over 300 people in the work of art. Although this is one of the most spectacular pieces of art in the world today, Michelangelo suffered after 4 years of painting Michelangelo's eye sight was permanently damaged. This makes you really appreciate what it must have been like, stuck in the Sistine Chapel for 4 years, in dark, cramped conditions.
There are many tapestries and paintings to look out and it is a lot to take in.
Michelangelo was also asked back by Pope Clement IIV in 1534 to paint the Last Judgment on the alter wall. There are also tapestries on the walls designed by Raphael (for all you Angels and Demons fans), woven in Brussels in 1515-1519 then taken to the Vatican.
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 (and this is what gets me - why when told you are not allowed a picture, 10 people feel the urge to in fact defy the rules and take one?) This really annoys me as a tourism student I have learned a lot about preservation of these attractions and the reason you are not to take photo's is to preserve it, photo flashes very often affect paintings and colours so don't ruin it for the next generation by being selfish, if you want a picture in your album - google it and get an image. Rant over.
The Sistine Chapel is a must when visiting Rome and the Vatican, it isn't expensive, it's just a shame about the number of tourists, especially with all the corridors leading to the Sistine Chapel, you would think they would stagger entries. When I was in the Sistine Chapel it was over-crowded and ruined the experience a bit. I was more worried about treading on peoples toes than being able to fully appreciate the ceiling.
The Vatican City is the spiritual home of one billion Catholics. Inside the city you'll find St Peter's Basilica - the largest church in the world. It was built on the site where Nero martyred St. Peter and designed as a celebration of his life. Part of the magnificent basilica is the famous Sistine Chapel. Even if you're not Catholic, you'll appreciate the beautiful frescos and all the fine detail. Before you see the Chapel itself, you will get to see the treasures inside the Vatican museum - sculptures, rugs - all beautiful. Do be aware that you are not allowed to photograph anything inside the building. This doesn't mean you'll come back without any piccies, because the gardens aren't roofed and therefore okay to photograph. In order to enter the Sistine Chapel you must keep your shoulders covered and your clothes down below your knees. No shorts are allowed. After walking down the stairs to the Sistine Chapel, the first thing you'll notice is that the people there are big on silence. The Italian guardians frequently go "Ssssss" and clap their hands in an attempt to get all the tourists to shut up. Taking photographs is strictly forbidden and every time the guardians spot a new flash of red, they yell "No pictures!” If they get really annoyed they play a multi-lingual tape explaining how much they'd appreciate it if everyone would respect the silence and put away their cameras. Repeat offenders (these are mostly non-Catholic Americans) are yelled at and escorted out. The main wall depicts "The Last Judgement". If you look up to the top, you'll be able to see some black spots in the corners. These are deliberate - they show what the wall was like before it was cleaned up. It really makes you realise how much work has gone into it. All around the chapel there are seats, but they're pretty much permanently occupied. The chapel is jam packed with to
urists and pilgrims, so moving about is a difficult task. You'll probably be happy enough to stand still and gaze at the walls and the ceiling however - the artwork is awe-inspiring. If you look at the ceiling near the exit, you'll see part of the design missing. This is because it fell off and was concreted over. Outside you'll find the residence of the 264th Pope - John Paul II. He doesn't actually spend a lot of time there, so when I was there an invisible Pope blessed me instead. (Ok, it was actually a recording. But it went down well with the Catholics sitting down in the square - they couldn't stop cheering.) You'll probably also notice the massive Obelisk out there - well, how could you miss it? It was taken from Egypt after the whole Cleopatra affair and placed in the centre of the square. Water is sold frozen from little stalls in the square as well as pizzas folded in half. If you'd prefer to eat a more sophisticated meal, then when you come out of St. Peter's, look at the road straight ahead. The cafés to the left hand side are more likely to have air con than those on the right. Handy tip there! The official Vatican Museum gift shop is located on the left near the big road I mentioned. It sells things with varying price tags. If you want rosary beads for yourself or a Catholic friend/relative, then get them here. There's a huge range. You can also pick up touristy tack for those people you don't like, and some postcards to send home. The shop is air conditioned with toilets on the premises, so take as long as you like browsing. If you go to Rome, then you simply have to include the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in your itinerary. With the Chapel being so famous and you being in the area, it's a must-see. If you're a lover of art, you'll really enjoy the visit, and if you're a Catholic, you'll probably be overwhelmed. The Cat
holic family in my tour group were completely overwhelmed when they saw it - even though they'd been there before. Anyway, well worth a visit.