St Peter's Square, St Peter's Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum at night.
09.01.2008 - 11.01.2008
David, Belinda and I made away to the Vatican with plans to stay no more than half a day, which went out the window about 4pm. Although I'm a religious fence sitter, it's hard not to be moved and dare I say, in awe of this small piece of Rome. Although you can't really see much getting off the train and walking towards the Vatican, that quickly changes as you walk through what seems like hundreds upon hundreds of columns in to St Peter's Square and see the only remaining obelisk of Roman times in Rome. It is here where your breath is almost taken away by the sheer beauty of the Vatican. Atop the columns are statues lined with popes of bygone eras with St Peter's Basilica at the centre of it all.
We made away in to St Peter's Basilica, walking by a few Swiss Guard on the way. Apart from the sheer height of the entrance the ironic thing is that you enter the Basilica through a small wooden door which is very humbling. The main door (called the Holy Door) is only opened for great celebrations. In case you weren't aware, the Bascilica is built atop the burial site of it's namesake with the altar directly above his presumed grave. Hence why a lot of the Pope's are also buried below the church. I was surprised to learn that a lot of lay people are also buried in or around the Basilica, with even a few women buried, the most notable of which was Queen Christina of Sweden who abdicated to convert to Christianity.
As you look directly up the centre of the Basilica you see the main altar with four massive bronze pillars (the bronze was apparently taken from the Pantheon). Directly below the altar is the apparent tomb of St Peter, with stairs (cordoned off) leading down to it. Below is an image of me in front of the altar
Inside the Basilica are numerous tombs of Pope's with two Pope's embalmed and on display, one of which being Pope John XXIII (who was responsible for the Second Vatican Council)
We then went underneath the Basilica and saw the tombs of numerous Pope's, the most notable (for my generation) being Pope John Paul II, who incidentally is buried very close to the supposed tomb of St Peter. Which I assumed was an indication of the work he did during his life.
After this we headed to the Sistine Chapel which one could say is at the back of St Peter's Basilica and is part of the Apostolic Palace, the residence of the Pope. To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to go upstairs and downstairs, through numerous rooms which takes a good 30 minutes to get too. Along the way you pass through numerous rooms with frescoes painted by the likes of Raphael, Botticelli and of course, Michaelangelo. I wasn't actually aware but the Sistine Chapel is where the election of new Pope's is undertaken in a conclave of the College of Cardinals. To say the least, it was an amazing experience. Looking up at what is arguably the greatest piece of art was a moment I will never forget.
By this time it was quite late but we headed to the Coloseum as we thought it might still be open. When we got there it was evident that it was closed but it was great to see it lit up at night. We headed away from the Coloseum towards the Monument of Vitorrio Emanuele II, the first king of a unified Italy. It's a massive structure and quite impressive but it just doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the classical architecture close to it.