Vatican City and The Sistine Chapel

Italy, Rome

My family’s trip to the smallest country in the world. Photos, stories, and bucket list successes.


 

Summer 2010

Outside of St. Peter's Basilica

Outside of The Vatican Museums

The Vatican is the world’s smallest country. It’s border is only two miles long and it covers only 100 acres of land. That being said, the country’s contents make it one of the most influential places in the world, both modernly and anciently. Home to the pope, The Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s Basilica (which has been the world’s largest church until very recently) all reside within the country’s walls. I had the amazing opportunity to experience this tiny country in all it’s glory. We had a huge tour of the grounds on a hot, hot day.

Vatican Museums

Gardens surrounding the Basilica

Gardens surrounding the Basilica

The sun beat down and we couldn’t wait to get inside the cool dark building.

Pinecone??

Holy Pinecone??

As we left the immediate sunlight and made it under the shady protection of the building, we were greeted with hundreds of statues and artifacts.

Laocoon and His Sons

Laocoon and His Sons

Busts, life size human statues, lions and serpents, and stone tombs resembling giant macabre bathtubs littered the floors and walls. Each one had a rich history and an ancient past.

Into the Museums

Into the Museums

Roman, Greek, and Egyptian stories were told through painting and sculpture. Remains from a time of opulence could be clearly seen on every wall.

Seen on the ceiling, somewhere in the Vatican

Seen on the ceiling, somewhere in the Vatican

A celining in the Vatican

A celining in the Vatican

Every inch of ceiling and wall was elaborately painted with depictions of important mythology. Many I could guess at, but most left me wondering at the backgrounds. Every way you turned was another fresco, another masterpiece, another story.

Ceilings of the Vatican Museums

Ceilings of the Vatican Museums

I particularly enjoyed the maps that were painted back before it was known that the Earth was round. The perspective was amazing.

One fascinating feat of art that our tour guide pointed out was the use of three-dimensional illusion. Some walls/ceilings were painted to look as if statues (particularly of cherubs) were real, popping out of balustrades instead of just flat art.

Another awesome feat of art, which was far ahead of its time, is the tapestry that utilized the phenomenon of changing perspective. In the museum, we passed by and stopped to see many ancient tapestries hanging on the walls. Perhaps the most famous of these Raphael tapestries is that which features Christ’s resurrection.

In this tapestry, the stone which had previously been blocking the tomb, “follows” the onlooker, so that it faces you no matter how you look at the tapestry. Jesus also follows your line of sight, but I didn’t think it was quite as obvious as the stone.

The Sistine Chapel

Click here to take a virtual 360º tour of the beautiful chapel

No photography is allowed inside the Sistine Chapel. To read more about the interesting story accompanying this rule, you can go here.

This means I don’t have much to show for my visit to one of the most famous religious relics in the world. However, I can assure you that the memory remains strong and vibrant, even five years later.

My favorite painting was the depiction of Jonah and the Whale. In the time of Michelangelo, it was very uncommon to see an actual whale. Photography had obviously not yet existed, and fishermen were not painters. This meant that Michelangelo had to guess at what a whale must have looked like. And what do whales essentially look like? Giant fish. So what did Michelangelo paint? A giant fish.

Our tour guide walked us through what each painting meant, and how each stroke of Michelangelo’s brush was one giant “f-you” to the pope of the time, who was really too stupid to see the obvious insults to the church until long after Michelangelo was paid.

He also pointed out how the depictions of women were obviously just men with breasts, because Michelangelo’s muses were solely male.

The renovation process on the frescos, which took approximately 14 years, made the paintings stand out in their original vibrant colors. Nippon left one small section of painting as it was, however, so that the contrast could be seen between the brown dirty paintings, and the newly refurbished ones. I don’t complain about not being able to take pictures, as I’m immensely grateful that I get to experience the paintings in all their glory. Of course, the 14 years were nothing compared to the 30 years taken for Michelangelo’s work alone.

One part of the ceiling was blank, and I asked the guide what the cause of that was. Apparently, a cannon had fired nearby, and the reverberations had caused a chunk of ceiling to fall and shatter. The pieces were swept up before anyone realised what had happened, and the portion remains lost today.

St. Peter’s Basilica

At this point, we were exhausted. We had run out of water a long time ago, and were practically dying of the heat. Italy has virtually NO air conditioning, something that us westerners had gotten a bit too comfortable with. This means that the museums were stuffy, instead of cool and shady. However, this was the final stretch of our tour, and we had to press forward.

Touring Rome from atop a double decker bus

Touring Rome from atop a double decker bus

We had seen the immense St Peter’s dome on our bus tour a day or so prior, but now we got the opportunity to experience it close up.

St Peter's Basilica, the dome

St Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo’s Dome

The inside of the Basilica was dark and opulent, with high ceilings and ornate designs. Here we got to walk around and explore the cavernous grounds of the church. We also had the option to explore the catacombs beneath the church, but that’s something I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable doing.

Now, when I say “cavernous” I think I may be understating. The basilica is more than two-football fields in length. The Statue of Liberty, the Space Shuttle or The Great Sphinx could all easily fit inside of it (see more here).

The inside of the church was impressive, to give a general review.

Inside the Basilica

Inside the Basilica

We saw the famous bronze altar, The Baldachin, which in itself is a massive 7 stories tall. We also saw famous statues, windows, and paintings as usual.

The most famous of these is Michelangelo’s Pieta (pity) which is viewable behind a daunting layer of bullet proof glass

Pieta

Pieta

Soon we began to climb the 551 steps to the top.

Looking down on the inside of the Basilica

Looking down on the inside of the Basilica

It was so strange being somewhere so full of people, so humongous, so echoing, and yet have to remain reverent and quiet.

Eventually we made it to the top and got to see the gorgeous views of Rome.

From atop the Basilica

From atop the Basilica

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter’s Square

As well as the Vatican courtyards.

From atop the Basilica

From atop the Basilica

We fit in so many amazing, unforgettable sights all in to one day. It was well worth the heat, well worth the exhaustion, to come away with the beautiful memories.

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