Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ten Days of Travel: Vatican

On Wednesday, we spent most of the day at the Vatican. Not really. You can go to the Vatican museum (including the Sistine Chapel) and Saint Peter's Basilica without issue even though they are within the Vatican border. But we can't go beyond that without permission.
The museum is really vast and it's recommended to take a guided tour. The only one that was available was at 8.30 in the morning. We took it anyway, assuming we can also do the basilica before lunch. As it turns out, the basilica is closed on Wednesday mornings. The Pope gives audience and gives sermon at 11 am and it doesn't have a scheduled end time. So we ended up spending a good 4.5 hours in the museum. The guide said Wednesday mornings were the best time to visit the museum because of less crowds with the basilica closed, but we didn't understand that until after an hour after the tour ended.

The guided tour lasted for about two hours. The guide showed us some amazing sculptures of people and gods from the 1st and 2nd centuries. We saw elaborately decorated bath tubs, and a collection of tapestries and paintings. Most of these possessions have either been curated or been gifted to the pope, Pope Julius II, who had the likes of Raphael and Michaelangelo as friends. Interestingly, in this Vatican museum that was curated by the Popes, there were a large amount of pagan references in sculptures and other objects. There was even a vast room modelled on the pantheon! 

The guide then took us to the Raphael rooms which were four rooms with massive paintings by Raphael depicting various ideas in renaissance style. There were two painting facing each other one showing the virtues of religion and one the scholarly virtues. The painting of the scholarly virtues is interesting. Raphael painted Aristotle with Leonardo da Vinci's head, Plato with a famous architect's head, a self portrait as an enthusiastic teacher with kids, and Michaelangelo's gloomy faced head on a writer. Here is it:

The guide finally left us outside the Sistine chapel having described all the eccentricities captured by Michaelangelo. Sistine Chapel is considered as Michaelangelo's masterpiece. He painted marvellously the entire ceiling in his early 30s, including the birth of Adam that I have not been able to photograph due to restrictions on photography (which I followed) but have lifted off wikipedia:

Since he painted the genesis, after Adam, Eve was created as well. However, Michaelangelo is bad with women figures. She looks weird, no wonder it's not famous. Here it is in any case:

He also painted the altar wall with the judgement day at the age of 61. Turns out Michaelangelo had a sense of humour. He painted an annoying clergy as a man in hell getting is private parts bitten by a snake, possibly biblical? More interestingly he painted Jesus at the centre as a strong classical hero! I didn't realise it was Jesus at all, not the lanky man with a beard. And he painted everyone nude (and for all these reasons the clergy man was pretty upset) but Michaelangelo being who he was, no one questioned him. Funnily, as soon as he died, the Pope got another painter in, to lightly paint clothes over these people.

If you are on a guided tour, you can go out of the Sistine chapel taking the door to the right and going into the premises of Saint Peter's Basilica. But since it was not open, we took the door to the left and went back into the museum. We went to the picture gallery that the guide recommended. There are so many amazing renaissance painters that we never heard of and this picture gallery was an adobe to that. After that we had some more time left and we decided to go in search of the Van Gogh paintings which are nearer to the Sistine chapel and we made our way back towards it.
As we began walking we realised we merged into a crowd and became a part of a massive sea of humans, all moving through the museum in a single direction to the Sistine chapel. It didn't matter that some of these people were taking a guided tour because there was no time or space to stop, admire, listen to your guide or ponder. You simply could not go against the current. And then we realised why we were lucky this morning.
After some tired nudging and pushing, we saw a small side alley into an Egyptian section and we slipped in for since fresh air. What a beautiful section it was, putting the British Museum to shame.

But we soon found out it took us all the way back to the main entrance so we retraced our steps instead and joined the section of the sea where we broke off and made it to the Sistine chapel once more (forget the Van Gogh, no time or energy). This time we took the door to the right entering the basilica's area by the back door and cutting through the long queues at the main door.
Saint Peter's Basilica is massive.

In every corner is a masterpiece. In one such corner, cordoned off and glassed up (I have no idea why) was Pieta by Michaelangelo.

In the middle is a papal dias where the Pope had sat an hour ago giving his sermon. Behind St longivis is small door taking you into the crypts below where the popes were buried and one princess and some Roman remains. Pope Julius II is buried here. On our exit we found we were where we started, at the back door. Next to it was a queue, a long one, to go up the dome but we were positively tired by then. So we exited from the main entrance and walked all the way up to the front of the piazza to have a look at the grandeur of the basilica. I have a picture here but unfortunately the chairs put up for the papal audience spoil the view.

And we went back to Rome on foot.

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