Day 7: Rome, Part 2

St. Peter's Square

I got up about 6:30am; Dan about an hour later. He woke up with that tell-tale scratch in the back of his throat. Bummer. He felt worse as the day went on – mostly tired – but it didn’t turn into the full blown congestion, etc., that I had. So we’re hoping it won’t. We managed to pack in a pretty full day and take it slow at the same time. Public transportation helped a lot!

We had breakfast in the hotel like always and left about 8:30am. The pass we had for St. Peter’s was one of those “skip the lines” things, but there wasn’t much of a line today anyway. It came with an audio guide that was actually very well done once we figured out how it worked. We spent about an hour and a half there.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Where to start? If you’ve been following us for awhile you know we’ve become a little snobbish about churches. We’ve seen a bunch across Europe over the last 4 trips and it’s now difficult to impress us. So when I say this one blew both of us away, it’s a big deal. Never in one place have we seen so much art of such great quality, so well placed, being over-the-top extravagant without being gaudy. Architecturally and artistically, St. Peter’s is in a class all by itself.

It is officially the largest cathedral in the world by length and by volume (length x width x height). It was designed by Michelangelo, Bernini, and a couple of other names I didn’t recognize. There has been a church on this site since the time of Emperor Constantine. The first St. Peter’s was built here around 400AD. This replaced it; construction started 1506AD and took 120 years. St. Peter’s tomb is directly beneath the high altar; and many, many other popes are interred here as well. Much of the art in the church are works done at the time of their deaths.

For me some of it is personal. While I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, the training I had as a kid kicked in and lots of memories came flooding back. Including lots of conversations I had with my mother over the years about what it means to be a Catholic, the Vatican, Popes, the voting process, Michelangelo and the Pieta, and all the rest. We had picture books of this stuff at home and would look through them and talk about each photo. I saw all the stuff today she never got to but always wanted to. This one was for you, Mom!

And some of that background was useful to Dan, who doesn’t really know much about Catholicism,  so we had lots of interesting discussions today, including one at dinner about “what does an altar boy do?” So somehow for me today was all about my roots. It’s been interesting to take it all in and weave it into the spiritual practices and understanding I have today. And in some ways, made it stronger. Much of the language in the audio guide was superb. If all of Christianity actually practiced it the way it was described, the world would be a different place. But that’s a whole other blog entry.

What you really came here for was pictures, so let’s get started. We took somewhere between 120-150 of them today between the two of us. We edited that down to about 70, and as I upload them here I may cut some more. Because here’s the deal: the phrase “the picture doesn’t do it justice” was created for days like this.

We didn’t take any outside pictures first thing because there was a low mist and you couldn’t even see the top of the church. There will be some later.

 This is after you get past the steps. I’m trying to figure out the audio guide, which was very simple once you learned the trick.
 This is your first view walking in. It’s high, it’s long, it’s wide, it’s very gold.
 This is in the first knave to the right, and the definition of “the photo doesn’t do it justice.” Ropes keep you pretty far from the altar it’s behind, which is also encased in glass, both conspiring to limit your chances of getting a good shot. But in person, it’s pretty stunning. It looks soft despite being marble.
 Oh, and it’s Michelangelo’s Pieta if you didn’t know that 🙂
 Turning left from the Pieta, this is the way through all the side altars.
 The audio guide had a very long story about this woman; the only part I remember is she was the first of only 3 women to be interred here. (This will be true unfortunately for most of the photos – don’t remember a ton of the detail, mostly because there was so much. Some of them I’m not even going to label unless Dan remembers more than I do!) Here’s what I really want you to notice about this photo anyway: the top of the angel’s head at the bottom. Next picture please….
 That’s the same angel, as part of the holy water vessel where you dip your hand to make the sign of the cross as you enter. That’s a full grown adult standing there, not a child. He was my height or taller.


 I took this from the main center aisle, just randomly looking up.
One of many domes.
One of many side altars.


 St. Peter. This is just to the right of the main altar.
 The main altar, sitting over Peter’s tomb. Surrounding the altar are four huge pillars which support the very large dome, each adorned with a statue of a different saint. It’s interesting to see who got picked to surround St. Peter.
 St. Longinus – holding the spear that he pierced the side of Jesus with.
 St. Helena, holding the cross and nails. Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great. She was a Christian and had a major influence on her son, who as Emperor legalized Christianity in 313AD.
 St. Veronica, holding the veil she used to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross up Calvary.
 St. Andrew the Apostle, older brother of St. Peter, holding the cross Andrew was martyred on.
 The dome above the altar.
Having my picture taken here felt weird somehow but when in Rome and all that…
 The Christ showing his Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary.


 Funerary art for Pope Pius VII.
 This was in a choir chapel. The Assumption of Mary as I recall. (Looks like it anyway!)
 And I so thought I was going to remember who this was! All I remember now is it is the oldest piece of art in the Basilica, dating back to Constantine.
 The kind of detail was on every pillar. There’s very little space that’s unadorned.
St. Peter’s Square from the steps of the Basilica.
 Swiss guards.
 I thought the history behind the obelisk was interesting. Originally commissioned by an unknown pharaoh and sat in ancient Egypt. Emperor Augustus moved it to Alexandria sometime during this reign (63BC – 14AD). In 37AD, Caligula had it placed in the center of the Circus of Nero in Rome. It was moved here in 1586.


We left the square and went in search of a quick and easy lunch because we needed to be back here by 1pm.

 We found this a few blocks away. It was perfect.
 Only three 2-seaters inside. Dan had a kabob wrap, I had a slice of spicy salami pizza. Both were excellent. With a bottle of water for each, grand total for lunch was €9. Score.
We had a 1pm appointment to be taken to the Vatican Museum, which also contains the Sistine Chapel. We were not really prepared for what we were about to experience. This place is huge, rivaling the Louvre in size. We decided early on the focus was the Sistine Chapel and we’d see what else we could fit in depending on time and energy. Just off the main entrance there was a “short itinerary” sign for the Chapel, indicating a shortcut. Made for us. However, that was when we got the first real sense of size. All things being relative, shortcuts in this place still took you across quite a bit of real estate.
 This hallway was probably 5-6x what you see here, maybe more. The shortcut. We literally trotted through it, dodging all the slow pokes stopping along every painting and tapestry to take photos.
 Pretty ceiling at the end of all that.
Just past this were stairs that led you down to the Sistine Chapel. They were militant about “no photos” so we didn’t even try. Every time someone did they got yelled at. I’ll go to sleep hearing “NO PHOTOS” in a thick Italian accent tonight I bet.
Given that we have nothing to show for it, it’s difficult to explain the experience. Again, you’re not really prepared for what you’re about to see. What you hear about is the ceiling by Michelangelo, and perhaps the Last Judgment by him as well. But that’s just a part of the story. It’s big to begin with, and every square inch is covered. The first layer rises probably 12-14 feet and is painted to look like curtains, changing color, texture and style every 10-12 feet or so. Then a layer of popes. Then a layer of saints. All of this so far has been done by other artists. By this point you’ve reached the curve of the ceiling, and Michelangelo kicks in again with scenes covering the spaces between faux arches and columns. Dan and I had this whole discussion identifying what was real and what was painted. (The molding bordering the first two layers is real, the rest is painted. Even some of the curtains looked real.) Then the famous ceiling, with the Creation of Adam dead center. The wall behind the altar (it is a chapel after all, and in the middle of everything was a little prayer service to underscore that point) is the Last Judgment. The opposite wall is lots of things again, none by Michelangelo. It’s exhausting trying to take it all in. Plus your neck hurts after awhile 🙂 Still, we spent at least 20-30 minutes in that room. This is not something you gaze at for 30 seconds and move on.
But eventually we did. We went to the lower level that was the same length back as we’d just walked. Lots and lots of stuff to see.


 A close-up of the one above.


 A view of St. Peter’s from one of the windows. It’s all the same complex.
 The oldest piece of art in the place, of a wedding from about 500BC. It’s in remarkably good condition.
 Those are essentially armoires lining each side of this hallway.
 A map from 1529. Not quite right again. Not surprising considering Jamestown was 1607 I believe.
 The point of this picture was the long succession of rooms through increasingly smaller doorways from this point. But again, doesn’t do it justice.
 Opposite view of the courtyard. And if you look carefully you’ll see Dan sitting on the first bench.
Middle of the courtyard. The point of the above 3 pictures is an attempt to show size. This one probably does it the best. I’m not standing all the way back but you can see this is wider than the other two; but in reality it’s a square, so all four sides are longer than this. Look how small the people in the top left of the photo are and you’ll get an idea.
We left about 3pm, having spent almost 2 hours there. It wasn’t near enough time, but we were sort of full and ready to move on. We knew when we planned this trip it would be tough to get everything scrunched into what was really just 2.5 days, so we decided early on we’d just skim the surface on some things.
Our next stop was Capitoline Museum. It was 30 minutes away by bus and Dan was able to sleep most of the way, and that helped a lot. We were saying yesterday we’re getting ready to move on from museums – everything is starting to look alike. Today’s stuff blew our socks off so it’s going to be hard to top that. But, if that’s the plan, it’s fitting that we at least get this one in. Capitoline is considered to be one of if not the oldest museum in the world. The initial collection was donated by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. It has a wide range of things from antiquity through about the Renaissance, with a nice mix of paintings, sculptures, etc. And well written descriptions in English. In many ways more history than art (and no modern art, thankfully), we really liked this museum.
 Steps leading up to.
 Three buildings surrounding a square; all of it courtesy of our friend Michelangelo again. This is a Michelangelo kinda town.


 It had a nice terrace that gave us some great views of the city. That’s the National Museum – had a photo of the front in yesterday’s blog but didn’t know what it was. We are going to try to get to it tomorrow. We want to be on that rooftop! (See the tiny people up there on the right?)
 I have never seen a city with so many churches in my life. Just standing from this spot we counted 12. (Not all in this photo.)
 We stopped for a little pick-me-up in the café. Dan had a pistachio cake with latte. I had an almond cake with “Café Capitolino” which was on the board as just “special coffee.” When I asked what it was he said “espresso with chocolate and cream.” I’m like – oh great, a mocha, I’ll have that.
 Then he starts to make it and we were pretty wowed. Thick chocolate fudge swirled around a martini glass until it’s covered. Add espresso. Add whipped cream. Add a sprinkle of powdered chocolate, a few coffee beans and a cookie. (Yes, it was great.)
 This museum was wild for the Romulus and Remus story – mythology that says these two brothers were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus eventually kills Remus and founds Rome, naming it for himself, circa 800BC. We saw it depicted many times in many forms. If you don’t know it, here’s the short version. And it just so happens to show the same (or close to it) statue!
This was Dan’s favorite room. A pope on each end (holy cow do the Romans love their popes) and six paintings circling the room, each telling a significant story in Roman history. He really liked the stories in the paintings.
Closer up:  Look, it’s Romulus and Remus again.
 The opposite wall featured another pope and another popular story in these parts: The Rape of the Sabines. We saw it several times in Florence, too.


 Rape of the Sabines again.
 This was about the death of St. Peter’s “daughter” – morally at least, it qualified. Mostly I liked the size so asked Dan to stand in front of it to give it scope.
 The Walking Dead?
 Marcus Aurelius.


 Marcus Aurelius again, although this was done in 179AD. It’s been in a few places throughout the city, including on a pedestal made by Michelangelo in the square of this museum until 1976. It was moved here because it was decaying too badly being constantly exposed to the weather. It’s been replaced by a replica.
I honestly do not remember what this was; Dan liked the lighting and lines of the hallway!
 This was in a sort of courtyard we stumbled across as we were exiting. We were like – this is huge and out in the open, how did we miss this? Same with some Roman ruins that we came across, viewable from a walkway overlooking the side yard. Again, how did we miss that? It looked really cool, we were disappointed it was too dark to get pictures.
The replica of Marcus Aurelius on a horse – still sitting on the pedestal by Michelangelo.
We left about 6:30pm and caught a bus back to the hotel. We had dinner at a restaurant across the street, Zero. It was an interesting Italian-Asian fusion place. Excellent food, and Dan was excited it was all rice based and not pasta! We attempted gelato afterwards 3 blocks away, but got there 1 minute after closing. Story of our lives this trip.
Rome is definitely some place we’ll come back to. We like the vibe of big cities, we like history, and you get lots of both here. We’ll squeeze in a bunch tomorrow and, weather permitting, most of it will be outside. So we’re really looking forward to that.


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