Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Honeymooners, Day Four: Vatican City Should, Technically, Be Called Vatican Country

January 7th, our final day in Rome before heading out to sea, was spent walking to and from the next country over.

Vatican City, although landlocked by the city of Rome, is a 110 acre city-state with a population of less than 1,000 and a government all its own, with the Pope as its head.  The smallest country in the world, Vatican City runs a tax-free system in which revenue is generated by museum admission fees, stamp and souvenir sales, and charitable donations.

They don't, despite popular rumor, have their own passport stamp…which is absolutely the lamest things about this place.  Well, that, and the fact that you aren't allowed to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel.

We spent several minutes searching for a coffee shop near the entrance and then, failing that, spent several more minutes ensnared in the grasp of a tour promoter who tried (unsuccessfully) to convince us that the lines would be too long for us to see everything that we wanted to see without his assistance in skipping the lines.  We decided to risk it.  Everything turned out okay.

We've experimented with vacation methodologies over the course of our travels and, generally, what works best for us is to just go somewhere and wander around, perhaps using a brochure as a guide to hit the highlights.  On this particular day, and for whatever reason, we opted for a new approach, which was to pay for the official guided, pre-recorded, audio tour.  Big mistake.  TJ was able to feign diligent listening skills for a considerably longer period than myself, having managed to only make it so far as the third point of interest before turning the device off altogether.

I did manage to glean that my newfound favorite sculptor, Bernini, had played a significant hand in the creation of St. Peter's Square….which I failed to photograph in any meaningful way.  Hah.

The photo to the right is the view looking out from the entrance to St. Peter's Basilica.  The four-thousand-year-old Egyptian obelisk has stood in the center of the square since 1568.  Bernini designed the square around it approximately 100 years later.  The panoramic shot above provides a view of the square and the basilica from Via della
Conciliazione, the street by which we left Rome and entered Vatican City.  Bernini's contribution consisted of two large semicircular colonnades that create the appearance of an oval-shaped, inclusive arena from which a gathered populace could witness the Pope's public appearances.  The design has been likened to two arms reaching out from the church to embrace the crowd.  The Nativity scene and the Christmas tree are, obviously, considerably newer additions, and quite probably seasonal ones at that.

St Peter's Basilica is a late Renaissance church that has been long regarded as one of the holiest
Catholic sites.  Catholic tradition states that this is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.  It is believed that Saint Peter's tomb is located directly below the basilica's altar.  It's a bear of a thing to get a photo of, but I did my best.  You may judge my efforts by glancing to the right.

It is also thought that the first Pope and Bishop of Rome is interred within the basilica.  For these reasons, a church has been located here since the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and numerous Popes have been laid to rest on these grounds.

There are four major holy relics associated with the basilica.  A statue representing each relic is set within one of four pillars that support the dome:

L:  Saint Helena holding the True Cross and the Holy Nails (Andrea Bolgi)
R:  Saint Longinus holding the spear that pierced Jesus's side (Bernini)

The altar, which stands above Saint Peter's tomb, 
rests directly below the basilica's dome

 L:  Saint Andrew with the St. Andrew's Cross (Francois Duquesnoy)
R:  Saint Veronica holding her veil with the image of Jesus's face (Francesco Mochi)

Michaelangelo's Pietà is located within the first chapel on the north side of the basilica.  The marble sculpture is arguably among the most famous in the Vatican's collection, and is the only piece the artist ever signed.  It depicts Jesus cradled in his mother's arms following the crucifixion.  Commissioned for French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères as his own funeral monument, the sculpture was moved to its current location in the 18th century.

The basilica is ripe with gorgeous works of art, both inside and out.  Here are but a sampling of the photos I took, themselves but a sampling of what could have been taken.

Upon exiting the Basilica we were again accosted by a tour guide that assured us we would be unable
to successfully visit our onward destination without his help.  I quickly walked away and propped myself up on this wall, where I casually waited for TJ to make his escape.  He took this picture as he finally made his way over to my hideout.  It's one of very few that I like of me from the entire day, so you have to look at it, too.

We continued on to our next stop, the Vatican Museums.  Along the way we met a third, far more clever tour guide.  Instead of pitching his tour to us, he merely said "If you are going to the museum, you have to buy tickets over there."  We took one step toward the ticket booth, then turned around and asked if these were entry tickets or tour tickets.  They were of course tour tickets, and we made a beeline for the door.

The Vatican Museums display works from an enormous collection built by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries.    The museums were founded in the 16th century by Pope Julius II and include 54 galleries in total.  Fancied as a sort of grand finale, The Sistine Chapel is the final gallery on the circuit.  But you can't take pictures of it.  Sigh.

Anyway, here are some neat things I was able to photograph:

These fresco fragments come from the lost decorations of the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome.  They date back to circa 1480, when the church was rebuilt on orders from Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II.

The original composition showed the Ascension of Christ among angel musicians and praying apostles.  The frescoes were detached in 1711 when Pope Clement XI ordered restoration work to be carried out, but only 10% of the work survived.

Fourteen fragments have ten put on record in the Vatican collections, but the largest parrot of the fresco, the figure of Christ, went to the Quirinal Palace (Staircase of Honor), where it remains to this day.  I don't think I will ever see that piece in person, as it happens to be located in the home of the Italian president.

Next up is Transfiguration, by famed Renaissance painter Raffaello Sanzio.

As is often the case with masterpieces, it steals the show and the adjacent paintings get no love whatsoever.  In solidarity with the lesser-knowns, I'll simply move on…but this next piece is my absolute favorite.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Wenzel Peter is so stunningly beautiful that I simply had to buy a tacky refrigerator magnet to bring home with me.  I've cropped the image so you can better see some of the detail, but surrounding Adam and Eve are approximately 240 different animals representing Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.  There are also birds from both the Old and New Worlds, demonstrating the painter's scientific competency.  Pope Gregory XVI was a great admirer of the artists and in 1831 purchased twenty of his paintings to decorate the Papal State Apartments.

As it turned out, the Sistine Chapel doesn't own a monopoly on painted ceilings.  Here are some of my favorite examples from throughout the galleries, which were literally wallpapered with art.  A special treat was being able to watch the curators carrying out restoration work.

Due to poor planning, the camera battery died soon thereafter…but not before we perused the gift shop and found a marble replica of a bust of Narcissus that we just had to have.  In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter renowned for his beauty.  The story goes that he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a pool one day and fell in love with it.  Unable to bear the thought of leaving the image behind, he stood there until he died.  Not only was it a gorgeous replica, but we also thought it would be an absolute hoot for a gay couple on their honeymoon to buy an idol to narcissism.  The only problem was, we had somehow missed the original during our museum jaunt.  We quickly retraced our steps through the sculpture galleries, taking a few more shots along the way:

And, lo!  There he was!  Isn't it beautiful?  The reproduction is even more stunning, as it is, well, newer. Made from bonded marble directly from a cast of the original, the reproductions at the Vatican are as close to authentic as you are ever going to get, and of a much higher quality than those at your standard street corner gift shop.  Content with now having seen the original, we wandered back to the gift shop where we...

…chickened out and didn't buy it.  Cost was a factor (fairly expensive for a knock-off), as was weight. We were a long way from the hotel and neither of us wanted to carry the heavy thing.  We were also concerned about having to lug it around on a cruise ship, a return trip to Rome, a flight to Tel Aviv, and a cab ride to Jerusalem.  Woo!  I grow tired just thinking about it.  

As we were readying ourselves to leave, I discover that the camera had enough juice in it to snag one more photo, and I'm SO glad it did!

The Martyrdom of Saint Stephen, by José Clemente Orozco, is a striking enough painting on its own.  But the wave of nostalgia that it brought back from Guadalajara was priceless. 

The camera died just as the picture was captured.  I think perhaps this was the afternoon that we went to another museum that featured a temporary Emperor Augustus exhibit, but they didn't allow photography anyway.  And in this "pics or it didn't happen" society, that's all she wrote.

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