Day 3 in Italy we learned that ancient Rome is only part of the spectacle. The Vatican has had a tremendous influence on making the city a tourism city. We arrived early so that our tour group would be one of the first in line at St. Peter's Basilica.
Our group wore "whispers" which is what you see hanging on Jim's necks. It's a small radio on a lanyard with one ear piece. Our local tour guide wore a similar whisper but hers had a microphone. If you can imagine the thousands of people around us, speaking different languages and touring the SAME Basilica, you can understand the need to hear what our tour guide was explaining. No matter if you were in the front, or the back, we could always hear her speak. It was a GREAT technique!
The only entrance to the Vatican for the casual visitor is through St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro.) As we stood in the huge piazza, we were surrounded by the arms of an ellipse partly enclosed by a majestic Doric-pillared colonnade. Atop it stands 140 saints.
This is looking straight ahead, the facade of St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter and St. Paul are represented by statues in front, with Peter carrying the keys to the kingdom. We soon learned in the art galleries we visited, Peter was always represented by the key. Mary always wore blue, John the Baptist depicted with a staff/cross. I found this symbolism fascinating.
This is the view from the front steps of the church. Peter was allegedly buried here near the site of his execution. The original structure stood for more than 1000 years, until it verged on collapse. The present basilica, mostly completed in the 1500-1600's is predominantly High Renaissance and baroquee.
Just inside the basilica on the right stands one of the Vatican's greatest treasures: Michelangelo's exquisite Pieta, created while the master was still in his 20's but clearly showing his genius for capturing the human form. It is now behind glass because a madman tried to vandalize the sculpture back in the 70's. This depicts the moments after Jesus' crucifixion, when he was taken down from the cross and placed in his mothers arms one last time. Our tour guide spoke of how young Mary looks in this sculpture and how it was Michelangelo's way of conveying Mary's purity. Not even 10 minutes into the church, and I'm so blurry eyed from crying I can hardly take this picture.
Here... I am not crying. I'm actually really grossed out that this is a glass casket for a dead saint. They put wax on the face...I don't know, to make it less creepy? Jim thinks this is REALLY cool. There were several saints in the church who were preserved and put on display like this.
Inside, the massive scale is almost too much to absorb, showcasing some of Italy's greatest artists. It's meant to be overpowering, a church of such grandeur, overwhelming in its detail of gilt, marble and mosaic. This is a picture taken underneath Michelangelo's dome, the celebrated twisty-columned baldacchino by Bernini. The 90+ foot ultra fancy canopy sits over the papal altar.
THIS is a mosaic! Not a fresco or painting...this incredible art piece, and probably a dozen more like it were all made with tiny tiles. It is seriously too much to take in.
Now a shell, the Colosseum remains the greatest architectural legacy from ancient Rome. If you knew Jim and his love of architecture, history and engineering then you can easily come to the conclusion this was the highlight of his trip.
I was getting into character here. Jim doesn't look amused, probably just wants to get on with the tour and get inside the Colosseum.
You have probably seen the movie Gladiator or maybe even Spartacus, so you pretty much know the story of the Colosseum. Our tour guide said that although Gladiator was a very entertaining movie, Spartacus was actually more realistic and on point with history. It was built in A.D. 72 and inaugurated by Titus in A.D. 80 with a bloody combat, lasting many weeks between gladiators and wild beasts. This amazing structure at one time could seat 50,000 sadistic Romans. It was hard for me to hear on the tour how slaves would train to be gladiators in the hopes of winning their freedom back. Exotic animals were shipped from all over the empire to satisfy the jaded taste of the Romans - pitting lion vs bear, two humans vs hippopotamus. Although its been said Christians were once fed to lions in the Colosseum, historians have since proved this to be inaccurate. The structure was struck by an earthquake and it was used as a quarry when the Romans stripped away the marble to build palaces and churches. On one side, part of the original four tiers remains - and you better believe that Jim and I climbed all the levels and it was a HOT day in Italy.
I wish I had more photos to share of our after hours tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. There were very few places that cameras were allowed. To be honest, I'm not even sure my photos would do the artwork justice. The Vatican boast one of the world's greatest art collections. It's a gigantic gathering of lavish palaces, apartments and galleries all leading to the real gem: the Sistine Chapel. I will tell you that being one of thirty people standing inside the hollow Sistine Chapel will be an experience I will always hold on to. There are not words to explain the adoration and respect I have for Michelangelo, who didn't even consider himself a painter, but a sculptor.
Jim very much enjoyed a gallery of hand painted maps. Not all of them correct, I might add. These were early on when explorations were still going on, these artist simply painted what they knew.
We ended our after hours tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and headed back to the Westin Excelsior for dinner.