We’ve ended the trip, aside from the adventure of getting back home, with the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basillica, and two gelato stops. Some things far exceeded expectations for some of us, other things were a bit disappointing to some, but we all agreed on the gelato!
Once again, a bit of planning ahead proved helpful when it came to the Sistine Chapel. This is part of the Vatican Museum and we had booked tickets in advance online. This allowed us to skip past another queue that was probably in excess of two hours to get in to the museum. What we saw in the Vatican Museum blew us all away. We had read up on the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basillica so knew what to expect but had no idea of all the treasures the Vatican Museum holds. A huge collection of archeological items dating back from BC to the 1800s, much of it not Christian. A lot of it still had to do with different belief systems such as scrolls to take to the afterlife, cat and dog headed gods, mummies and tombs. The Gallery of Maps was another big surprise and something that one can get lost in for an entire week (Daniel says an entire year!) The walls are covered with ancient maps of the different states of Italy and parts of other countries. The ceiling had so many paintings that it was impossible to take in even a small fraction of them.
We eventually reached the Sistine Chapel which Daniel and I found incredible and spent time to study. After the grandeur of the Gallery of Maps, the Sistine Chapel seemed small and dingy. The lights are kept low, probably to avoid damage since the artwork was cleaned in the late 1980s. The crowd that was squeezed in to the room was a bit much for some members of our family to handle. Aside from the rumbling sound of about a thousand people trying not to talk too loudly, we constantly heard “SSSSHHHHHHHHhhhh! No photographs, No pic-tures!” from one of the guards. Laura spotted a guard watching over a visitor until he deleted some pictures he had taken on an iPhone. We followed author Rick Steves’ advice to move off to sit near one of the side benches and just look at the different panels. As many know, the ceiling depicts the entire history of the creation of man and was done entirely by Michelangelo. His assistants only mixed the paint and plaster but he did all the work himself. About 25 years later he was asked by the Pope to add the Final Judgement Day which is a very dark entire back wall. The creation shows hope as the spark of life is passed from God to Adam, and other scenes include the creation of Eve, Jonah and the Whale, Noah and then his drunkeness and more. The Final Judgement shows a Christ that is far larger than Mary, who turns away from her son as he makes pronouncements on mankind on what they have done in their lives. Bodies are pulled down to hell and up to heaven. Michelangelo’s harshest critic is being strangled by a large snake and Michelangelo himself is painted into the mural with a look of uncertainty as to how he himself will be judged for his work. Whereas the creation was done in the hopeful Renaissance period, the Judgement Day was done in the less hopeful Baroque period that followed. Altogether an incredible work of art. It’s a shame that soon after Michelangelo’s death, the naked body parts were painted over with cloths and fig leaves.
After a gelato break near the Vatican, we checkd out the line-up for St. Peter’s Basillica. What had been about 2 hours long when we first saw it before going to the museum, had tripled in length by noon. We headed back toward home and vowed to return later. Dena bought a book about the Gallery of Maps and Daniel bought one on the Sistine Chapel as great reminders and ways to learn more about what we had seen.
On our way back from the Vatican, we stopped by a market to buy things for lunch. We have had the privilege of visiting so many different markets on our trip and somehow this one felt the most familiar. They are all so much like the old Atwater and Jean Talon markets of Montreal and a bit like Granville Island’s market. Everything just seems fresh and tastes better.
After 4 pm we headed back to find no line at St. Peter’s Basillica. Earlier in the day we had explored the outside, spotted the Pope’s residence and stood in the central spot to make the multiple rows of columns appear as one. This afternoon, we not only got to explore but we also were able to hear and see some of the afternoon Mass that was in session. Walking into the Basillica, we were greated by the ‘light of Ahhhhh!’ as Daniel calls the light we sometimes breakout into when going up Whistler on Saturday mornings and get above the dark clouds. I was able to capture the light in photos but not the enormity of it all. Much is written about the architecture of the Basillica so I leave you to explore sources online for more information. Some highights are that it was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified upside down—by his choice—feeling himself not an equal of Christ, and then buried. It was also built around the prior chapel which was then removed after the basillica was built. It took 150 years to complete construction and some materials were taken from other historical sites like the Pantheon and Colosseum. The obelisk outside was taken from the Egyptians by Caligula and this courtyard area was the same site that Nero enjoyed crucifying Christians. Suffice it to say that every religion seems to have its dark and dirty past and none of us can really get away scott free! Although huge inside, tricks of design were used to make it seem less huge. For example, the statues on the bottom of the columns are significantly shorter than those higher up on the column. This prevents the higher statues from looking smaller and even further away. Despite this, the Basillica is bigger than every church in the world (except perhaps one in Ivory Coast?) Also, aside from what is believed to be the remains of St. Peter in the crypts, below are many other popes. There are also some crypts on the chapel level itself.
After an extended stroll, and me finally deciding to buy the Vatican Museum book after resisting so many times during the day, we grabbed some food within a block of our B & B. The stroll included passing by the Castel d’Angelo and one last walk through Piazza Navona. There was a great pizza & kebab shop that Dena, Daniel and I got kebabs at (what we call shawarma) and Laura got a pannini of chicory and cheese next door. We topped it off with a second gelato in honour of our last day, at a place just 3 doors down from us, the Gelateria dei Grachhi, at via dei Gracchi 272. They make the gelati on site and it was probably the best of our trip though there were a lot of close seconds.
Tomorrow we have an early wake up for the long flight home. We’ll reflect more during our flight home on the highs and less highs of the past two weeks on the road together.