After an Italian breakfast of sausage, scrambled eggs, apple pastry and the best coffee (tasted like less sweet coffee ice cream) at our hotel, we were prepared for the four hour tour of the Vatican City in Rome. The bus departed early at 7:30 a.m. (aka 8 a.m. Italian time) on Saturday morning near our hotel.
We were dropped off outside and found our place with the tour group. Our guide David gave us bright green, portable headsets that hung around our necks. He spoke into a mic and we could hear — though I needed to stay close to him at the front since mine kept cutting out if I got too far away, which was very stressful.
We passed a huge line of people that must not have booked with a tour group, and went straight into security. David led us through the inside out on a patio with a view of St. Peter’s Basilica. He explained that The Vatican was originally meant to be shaped like a Greek cross (symmetrical like an X) but was instead elongated like the cross of Jesus.
It was only 9 a.m. and already so hot outside. Someone made a similar comment and he said, “It’s not hot now. Wait until later. We will melt.” Great. He also told us he isn’t a fan of soccer despite being Italian, which got a few laughs.
He took us into the garden and showed us pictures of the Sistine Chapel since we can’t speak inside it, and we can’t take pictures inside. David explained how it took Michelangelo four years to make the ceiling about genesis and the most famous panel is the one of God touching his creation, man. It’s famous because the Pope asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling but he wanted to do sculptures, but he felt compelled to do the ceiling so he transferred his passion for sculpture by showing all the muscles of man in 3D instead of soft. When he was an old man, Michelangelo was asked to do the wall of “The Last Judgment.” His self-portrait is reflected in the skin a man shed. We learned how it was originally more nude and crude but someone else was hired after his death to make it more appropriate. We’ll see the Chapel in person later.
The Vatican felt like a maze of room after room of frescos and artwork. It wasn’t a museum of paintings hanging on the wall, but rather the walls were paintings with gold trim. Always gold. We also went through a room with tapestries hung in the dark to protect them. One long hallway featured giant maps of Italy painted on the walls, before modern instruments were made to make maps.
We saw frescos by Rafael, including the philosopher’s fresco featuring Michelangelo’s portrait, and frescos by Michelangelo, and frescos by Rafael inspired by Michelangelo. Yeah, it’s a lot. The tour felt a lot like the Versailles tour for me since we were continually going into crowded rooms and seeing red and gold fancy decor — of course this is much older.
Getting to the Sistine Chapel felt like a lifetime. We crossed through an outdoor tunnel that was almost like scaffolding, around all these rooms and up a staircase. It was very beautiful and — as I said — no pictures. The guards announced we had to be silent. It was nice to sit and just look up at the famous walls. Other than the name associated with it (wow THE Sistine Chapel), it didn’t necessarily seem any more impressive than other frescos. I did like the meaning of the chronological stories and knowing how Michelangelo was the first painter to revolutionize this style of human body paintings – while hanging from the ceiling I might add. I can’t believe I actually saw it in person. I actually liked “The Last Judgment” better than the ceiling, but as a whole the entire chapel is just overwhelming with every corner decorated, even the marble floors.
Outside, we entered the square and went up the steps to St. Peter’s Basilica, where we spent much of our time in the tour. It’s the biggest church in the world. Period. The floors were marble, the ceilings went on forever – I said that I felt like it was made for giants. We saw the many tombs that rest there, like Popes and St. Peter. The famous domed roof was infinitely high.
My favorite view was from the square, where you can see all the columns align and the fountains splash happily. Took a taxi home since there was no shuttle back.