Well, what an absolute blast my first day in Rome turned out to be, my parents and I visited The Vatican City, an independent state within Rome which hardly needs any introduction.
After a quick metro ride, we arrived around 9.30 a.m only to be accosted by a ticket tout asking if we wanted to buy entrance tickets. We smugly replied that we didn’t because we already had some and flashed them in front of his face. He looked them over and told us that we could go through all the museums and end up in the Sistine Chapel, but if we wanted to go into St Peter’s Basilica we’d have to retrace our steps and join the queue for the basilica outside. We didn’t really want to do that, especially as my lovely mum was struggling to walk as it was, it would have been torture for her to walk all the way back and stand in the long queue.
As it turned out, we didn’t have to do any of that because we ended up right outside the basilica anyway, but we didn’t know that at the time. Reluctantly, we gave in to the ticket man’s suggestion of upgrading our tickets. An additional €21 each on top of the €17 I’d already paid. This was turning out to be an expensive day out so far, but we were at the Vatican and it’s not something you see every day.
When we met our guide, Eugene, he gave us a brief introduction about what the tour would entail and then we made our way to the entrance. He guided us through the museums and gave us a running commentary as we went. Some of the statues and paintings were worthy of finding out a little more about them and it would have been nice to linger and know who the statue depicted or who the painter was, but there was no time to really take it all in. Having said that, it was good to have a guide if only to learn a little about what we saw.
Let’s begin the tour…
The first place we went was the Cortila della Pinacoteca, a beautiful courtyard with views of the basilica’s silver-blue dome dominating the skyline.
Then onto the Cortile della Pigna named after the 4 metre-high pine cone, moved here in 1608. There’s also a large bust of Caesar Augustus, and Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sphere within a Sphere.”
Next, the Chiaramonti Museum, named after Pope Pius VII Chiaramonti (1800-1823) is a collection of over 1,000 ancient sculptures including Heracles with his son Telephos.
During the 19th century, Napoleon ordered the Papal States to hand over this collection to France. Later, a sculptor called Antonio Canova, with some help, managed to bring them all back. The museum has been arranged to show the 3 sister arts, sculpture, architecture and painting, in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Next, was the Braccio Nuovo or New Wing which is considered to be one of the most important examples of neo-classical architecture in Rome. The hall is lined with statues of emperors and Roman copies of Greek statues, as well as busts depicting famous people from classical times. It is an impressive collection and even the floor is stunning, made from marble slabs with original Roman mosaics.
I loved all of the statues, but my favourite was “The Nile” which was dedicated to the Egyptian goddesses, Isis and Serapis. Egypt is represented by the Sphinx, on the left, and surrounding the man there are 16 children which depict the cubits of water the Nile rises from flooding every year.
The Pio Clementino Museums contain several large halls of Greek and Roman sculptures, including the Hall of Busts and the Round Hall which was built based on the same design as the Pantheon.
In the Round Hall, there are niches all around with huge statues and a red porphyry basin in the middle, which would have been a magnificent centre-piece in one of Rome’s public squares long ago.
Outside, the Octagonal Court was the very first place that the collections of classical statues were placed and some of the statues including the Laocoōn and the Belvedere Apollo have been standing in their original positions since the 16th century.
The Hall of the Muses has statues of the muses, Apollo, Athena and Hermes to name but a few, as well as the Belvedere Torso, a marble sculpture which has delighted artisans for centuries. It’s thought to represent Ajax, a Greek hero who is in the throes of suicide.
Look up and marvel at the frescoed ceiling, by Tommaso Conca, a superbly detailed creation of Apollo and the Muses.
Honestly, whether you look up or down or to each side, it’s almost too much for your eyes and mind to comprehend everything.
Moving on through the Gallery of Tapestries, a long corridor with huge wall-coverings with stories from the life of Jesus.
As we passed The Resurrection of Christ, our guide told us to walk slowly along and not to take our eyes off Jesus’ eyes. They appear to be watching only you and it looks like he is turning his head to follow you! Alas, it is but a clever trick by the artist! 🙂
Another piece of artistic genius is how the ceilings were painted. As we walked along, we thought that they were sculptures, but in actual fact, they were paintings created to look like that, a brilliant use of shadowing and colours.
In the next hall was the Gallery of Geographical Maps, a series of colourfully painted maps of Italy.
The frescoes themselves are beautiful, but don’t forget to look up at the exquisite ceiling with paintings and carvings amidst a sea of golds, greens and reds. It’ll take your breath away a little bit!
The room just prior to the Sistine Chapel was the Room of the Immaculate Conception, covered floor to ceiling with impressive frescoes depicting religious scenes of the dogma of immaculate conception made by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
And one more room, the dome of which is just incredible. Imagine the painstaking work done by the artist to create such a spectacular piece of work.
At last, we reached the Sistine Chapel which nowadays is used for the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. It’s famous for its frescoes on the walls and ceilings which were painted by a number of talented 15th century artists, one of the most famous being Michelangelo who was responsible for The Last Judgement on the altar wall, and the ceiling, on which he painted episodes from the book of Genesis.
And in the words of one man, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.” — Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 23 August 1787. No truer words have ever been spoken! 🙂
The chapel is stunningly beautiful, but unfortunately no photographs are allowed, but I sneakily took one of the ceiling. I apologise for the blurriness, but I had to be quick!
Our guide told us that the security guards would not take kindly to anyone taking photographs, so I was a bit nervous to do it. The security guards dominated the chapel, making sure everyone kept moving, so, again there was no time to enjoy the fabulously detailed and brilliant art work by these painters. You’re not even supposed to speak, but try keeping a lot of people silent at any one time. The chattering would become louder and louder, only to be met with a resounding “ssssSSSHHHHH” from the guards, which shut everyone up for a few seconds.
A screen, or transenna, made from marble, divides the chapel in two and in the middle was a wooden door through which we were shepherded. Here we managed to find a seat and just sit and gaze all around. This was the first part of the tour where we could really take a breath and take in everything we were seeing.
We walked through many halls and saw hundreds of exhibits that day, but there was a lot more that we didn’t see. It really was an astonishing place to visit and a fabulous first day in Rome.
The guide left us outside St Peter’s Basilica, and that’s where we’ll visit next!
Tip: Book tickets beforehand because the queues are crazy long and it will take a long time to get in.
To book tickets and for more information about the Vatican museums visit their website