When visiting Rome, inevitable to visit is the Vatican city. Having in mind my grandfather who visited Rome and Vatican in 1970’s, he was always telling me stories about this place. I was walking down the Via Leone IV thinking of him, reminding myself about the way he was telling his stories – I was giggling . He never managed to re-visit with me although we had this planned. Yet we did visited some other italian cities like Venice and Verona.
I started my sightseeing with Vatican Museum, full of gold and other presents from the countries that were giving these diplomatic presents to popes through centuries. The Vatican Museums is a maze of painted halls where all these gifts are placed for tourists to explore.
These Christian and art museums display works from the immense collection amassed by Popes (Pontifex Maximus – lat. the great bridge) throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display.
Like these tapistries… also mentioned as a key in the Imprimatur book about pope and political games of the times.
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. So I started from the beginning whcih is the gallery with gifts in animal shapes:
Or the room with atlases and globes, especially important and significant gifts of the times since the church was not accepting the scientific proofs of gravitation or Earth being round globe – these were the times of inquisition too, when church was spreading its ideology through the world literally holding the Bible in one hand and the sward in another. Just remeber the witch hunts and how many women were burned in the name of some witchcrafting….
One of the most important works of art is the statue of Laocoön and His Sons ancient sculpture ever since, excavated in Rome in 1506 and placed on public display in the Vatican. The work of art is showing the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus being attacked by sea serpents (biblical allegory).
It is kind of the prototypical icon of human agony in Western art, and unlike the agony often depicted in Christian art like the Passion of Jesus, this suffering has no redemptive power or reward. For example, the faces shown are actually not in agony at all: Charles Darwin pointed out that Laocoön’s bulging eyebrows are physiologically impossible because they are not matched with the struggling body.
Of course, it is possible to leave the gallerie and sit outside for a coffee on the terraces or beautiful gardens.
Wandering the maze of Vatican chambers I had on my mind one controversial pope that I read about in so many historical novel books: Pope Aleksander VI and his illegitimate son Cesare Borgia (15th century) – politician, and cardinal, whose fight for power was a major inspiration for The Prince by Machiavelli. He was the brother of beautiful Lucrezia Borgia; who has been used by their father for many political marriages in order to expand the Papal states.
So I bumped into this and my jar fell off:
In case you are interested more about the story of this controversial and power hungry family, there is a TV show called Borghia:
Moving to the reality, fun fact discovered is this antene which is actually a very strong radio transmitter from the Vatican, so the other radio stations are complaining about disturbances in transmissions.
After the galleris, my tour continued towards the Sistine Chapel famous by ceiling decorated by Michelangelo. The chapel is the location for papal conclaves and many other important services.
The ceiling’s various painted elements form part of a larger scheme of Bible and it’s scenes from Old and New Testament building the story of Christianity, which includes the large fresco The Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall, also by Michelangelo, wall paintings by several leading painters of the late 15th century including Sandro Botticelli and Pietro Perugino, the whole illustrating much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which The Creation of Adam is the best known, having an iconic standing the hand of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations.
When being in Vatican, one symbol gets repetative at the entrances, walls, ceilings… crossed keys that represent the metaphorical keys of the office of Saint Peter, the keys of heaven, or the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, that, according to Roman Catholic teaching, Jesus promised to Saint Peter, empowering him to take binding actions. It is said that the pope is actually the predecessor of Saint Peter who is the first pope – the predecessor of Jesus Christ.
From the birds perspective, even the shape of Vatican Building has the form of the key:
It is said that Vatican hides some of the darkest secrets one can imagine.
Hence the inspiration for the book of Dan Brown: Inferno.
In continuation of symbolism and myths, the Pontifical Swiss Guard or also Papal Swiss Guard is offcial security force maintained by the Holy See that is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (15th century) had already made an alliance with the Swiss Confederacy and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries.
The best I kept for the end: Basilica of St. Peter. It is an Italian Renaissance church (designed partially by Michelangelo as well), the largest church in the world and the papal enclave.
The construction of basilica started in 4th century. Looking at the building you can spot 12 statues of apostoles on top. The statues of Saint Peter (left) and Saint Paul (right) are flanking the entrance stairs.
Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’s Apostles and also the first Pope (as mentioned above). Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica.
I was actually very lucky visiting Vatican during the Jubilee of Mercy – which means every piglrim entering basilica’s Holy Door washed its sins.
It is actually a a Roman Catholic period of prayer seen by the Church as a period for remission of sins and universal pardon focusing particularly on God’s forgiveness and mercy.
The entrance and interior are the most stunning thing I have seen. Covered in marble and combined with the day lights makes an extremely atmosphere of holiness.
The remarkable work of art is Pieta – a work of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo (16th century). It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion – an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism.
I also liked this reenactment of Saint Peter holding the keys of heaven – the bronze statue, attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio.