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Dec 3, 2021 - St Peters and the Vatican Museum

Today I walked about 5.5 miles on a tour of St Peters and the Vatican Museum. This included climbing up 330 steps to the top of the Dome and also spending about 40 minutes just sitting in the Sistine Chapel.

overcast 55 °F

...Sort of a place holder until I can get my pictures uploaded...

Our tour guide said that before Covid hit, on a normal summer day the Vatican Museum can have as many as 38,000 tourists, second only to the Lourve in Paris. Sometimes pandemic's can have hidden blessings as there weren't nearly that many people visiting today.

I had purchased a commercial tour package for the Vatican before leaving home, wanting to make sure I got maximum value for my limited time in Rome. The tour started at 8 AM so I took a taxi from the hotel to make sure I got there in time (and also save some energy for the tour). I got there a little before the tour started, so took a few minutes to walk around Vatican Square. It is hugh - this photo only shows the left side!


I also had a good view of the facade and statues around the square, this one of St. John.


Then once the tour started, we walked by several famous doors on the inside of the facade and a swiss guard to a side entrance.


We then started our climb up the dome at St.Peters. It was actually built as two domes, one inside the other for strength, an elevator took us up to the roof if St. Peters, then we were able to walk around the inside of the base of the dome for a bit, way above the inside of the church. The stairs themselves are in between the two domes.


The climb involves several different types of stairs, no handrails, 330 steps in all. This was just the last section, the other sections weren't quite as bad (but none particularly good I'd say).


Overall the climb wasn't too bad but I wish I was I better shape! The views from the top are quite good, but maybe a bit limited today with some low fog/clouds.


After a steep climb down, our tour group spent at least an hour inside St Peters Basilica. It's impossible to convey how huge this is, not just huge, but absolutely covered in beautiful marble, statues, floor marbles, etc., just a feast for the eyes. First, a look at the dome area where we had walked around earlier during our climb. Can you see the walkway way up where the wall meets the dome? (Hint, it's a thin black line just below the windows)


You can also see the top of the Baldachin here, which is a giant (29 meters tall) brass structure over the alter area where the Pope presides. Here's a better picture of the Baldachin itself.


There are too may famous and/or beautiful art works within the church to discuss here, and even though I took many, many pictures, I probably only captured a small fraction of the total. However a couple of shots may convey some of the grandeur of those. First is perhaps the most famous, Michelangelo's Pieta, carved between 1498 and 1499. In the second statue, the material that looks like draped cloth is all stone!


Here are a couple more views of the interior of St. Peter's Basilica, but these can't possibly convey how large this church actually is.


Finally at the far end of the church is the sun window, or "The Gloria and the Holy Spirit". While this does allow light to shine through it, it isn't made of glass or stained glass, but rather very thin slices of marble and alabaster. It really is rather inspiring!


We also toured one of the basements where you are not allowed to take pictures because it's a cemetery with some small worship areas and a few pieces from the original church Constantine built that was later replaced by St. Peters. The first part of the tour ended and gave us a hour break before moving on to the Vatican Museum. I spent my hour revisiting St. Peters, just to take it in and then visiting a couple of souvenir shops for books. One thing you can't help but notice is a very large, brick medieval wall coming out from the Vatican. This was built so the Pope could escape if St. Peter's was attacked, using the wall to get to Hadrian's tomb, which was more secure as it was then a fortress.


Inside the Vatican Museum is a double spiral staircase, apparently the one that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Guggenheim in NY. There are miles of long halls, or galleries, and one of the most expansive collections of art and artifacts in the world. A two hour tour is barely a short overview! We started in a room of giant tapestries by Rafael, not always included on this tour.


We also passed one painting by DiVinci (the only one in the museum by him),


There are too many other paintings by many artists that we passed by so quickly that I could scarecly snap a picture, rarely had time to view the placard and make a note of the artist. There were galleries of antiquities, many statues from Rome (many Roman copies of ancient Greek statues).

Here is an example of just one of the Galleries, this one of ancient Roman statues. I found the busts of heads with different hairstyles interesting, our guide said that was one way they could date Roman statues and portraits based on when certain styles were in fashion.


One gallery I found especially interesting was of Maps. In the 1600's one of the popes commissioned artists to paint maps of many of the European areas from history, including maybe a large map of the region with a small insert of the medivel town.


Finally we got to the end of the organized tour and the guide gave us a choice, go to the right to go through the Sistine Chapel (again, no pictures allowed), or go to the left to go through the rooms painted for a pope by Rafael, then go through the Sistine Chapel. By this time both my feet and back were in pain, so of course I went left. There are books with wonderful photo's of all this artwork (of which I've purchased a few), but the books can't convey what it's like in the rooms. The art fills the walls and ceilings and just surrounds and envelopes you.


And then I did finally make it to the Sistine Chapel, which is what most of tourists visit the Vatican Museum to see. While there were a lot of people touring the Vatican Museum by then, there were occasional open spaces on the benches around the Sistine, so Itook advantage of them to just sit and admire the art (as well as rest my back and feet, which were still in pain). They restored the whole chapel a few years back, and the colors really jump out at you now - quite impressive of course. While photography is not allowed in the chapel, there was a photo outside of the college of cardinel's electing a pope in it, which shows a bit of the chapel and I also found interesting in it's own right (as that's someting none of us can normally see).


Once I got back outside, I enjoyed a Panini and cola in the lawn area, then headed back towards the hotel.


I had decided to walk back and try to take in a few more sights. I did make it as far as Hadrians tomb and crossed the Tiber river,


... but a few blocks further I walked by a tourist exhibit called 'Discover Rome', a few exhibits and film showing ancient Rome superimposed over modern Rome. It was interesting and informative, but I found myself dozing off during the film and it was dark by the time I got out, and my back and feet were really in pain, so I decided to grab a cab the rest of the way back to the hotel. I have to say, riding in taxi through traffic in Rome, even with slightly lighter tourist traffic, is quite an experience in itself! At the hotel, I met up with Que and Vivian for dinner and caught up with our various activities. They had taken a 'hop on hop off' bus and were also able to see several high points around the city. They bought 48 hour tickets, so will continue their adventure tomorrow. I have another organized tour tomorrow, this time to the Colosseum and ancient forum.

Posted by jl98584 16:48 Archived in Italy Tagged museum rome vatican sistine

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