Again, I’m sorry it’s taking so long for me to update! As it turns out, working both a job and an internship leaves me with less time and energy for blogging than I would ideally like to have. For now though, let’s go back to a place when I had more free time and jump once more into the Travel Tales. And so I present to you, our second day in Rome.
Monday morning found us making our way to Vatican City, walking a beautiful path along the TiberRiver. We ended up joining an English tour of the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. We were all glad to have done that (despite looking like complete tourists), getting in much faster and getting a lot of good information on what we were seeing that we wouldn’t have otherwise known. The Vatican is the smallest, but richest, country in the world, with it’s own government, coins (which have to be collected and changed with each new pope), and private army in the form of the Swiss Guard. It is also the country with the lowest birth rate in the world – and yes, it does have a birth rate. Can you guess how? Well I’ll tell you anyway – the Swiss guard!
Only 2 of the 8 collections of the Vatican museum are open to the public, due to the shear size and problem of visitors getting lost. Personally, I find that rather contradictory with the message of the church these days being to spread knowledge. Why not loan the rest of the pieces to other museums around the world? Then again, apparently they used to before someone had the bright idea to ruin a statue by breaking off one of Mary’s fingers. Funny how all it ever takes is one person who is selfish enough to ruin something for the rest of the world. Thanks a lot.
The parts of the museum that we did see on the tour were amazing. There were many a Greek statue, including the incredible Belvedere Torso, artifacts, and various ornately painted ceilings done in a way to look three dimensional (I suppose 3-D was a fad way back when, even). One of the statues, Laocoon and his Sons, initiated the collections in the Vatican and was a source of inspiration to Michelangelo when modelling the male figure. Sculpted in 25 BC, most of the original piece is there, the arm has a bit of controversy surrounding it.
The right arm of Laocoon was missing and a contest was held for the replacement, Raphael being the judge. Laocoon was then given an outstretched arm in a heroic pose, rather than Michelangelo’s idea of an arm bent back toward his head. Then, in 1906, an archaeologist and museum director brought some pieces he thought consistent with the statue to the Vatican. It wasn’t until the fifties that they decided that was the original piece, and so toady Laocoon has an arm bent back as Michelangelo suggested. Personally, I have my doubts that that is the original. But who can really know now after two restorations and who knows what kind of tampering before it came to the Vatican? And so the controversy lives on.
Another interesting tidbit I learned was the reason that the male figure was covered with a fig leaf on so many statues so suddenly and crudely. Pope Pius IX decided the nude figure was too vulgar and shameful, so he ordered the statues to be castrated or covered. Also, whenever you run into a statue that is missing, say, an arm or a head, there is a reason for that as well. Back in the day, the wealthiest neighbors had the nicest statues or busts to decorate their homes. So, as an act of petty jealousy to out-fancy the neighbor or in fit of scheming for money, people would sneak in (often in times of disaster and mass confusion) and break off a piece of the statue they could carry. So that might be a hand, a head if it was small and light enough, or some other part that might please the wife back home…or so we were told!
Then there was the hallway with a series of tapestries (the Gallery of Tapestries) based off of drawings by Raphael’s students. The set took 30 years to complete, something like each square foot taking 6 months to weave! (Can you imagine?) One of these, the tapestry of the Resurrection, features an optical illusion. Jesus’s gaze follows you across the room, yet his knees are always pointed straight, as are his hands and the table. In order to do this, the stone to the tomb had to be depicted as a rectangle rather than a circle. There is also an optical illusion woven into the tapestry of Jesus and his Disciples.
The final hallway is extremely impressive with a series of painted geographical maps of all regions and islands of Italy. They take on an aerial view and are extremely precise – which, how did they do that way back when? At the end of the corridor is a map of Venice that is to exact likeness of the city today. They were afraid the city would be destroyed by future building (tearing down one building would create a domino effect and knock over others), so wanted it preserved as it was on map.
Finally we get to the Sistine Chapel. Half of its marvel comes from the unbelievable feat of its ceiling’s creation. Before the ceiling, however, there are the rest of the paintings. The murals all around the sides of the chapel were done by four artists (Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Pinturicchio), including Raphael’s teacher. Their work features stages in the life of Jesus on the left half of the ceiling and the life of Moses on the right. Pope Sixtus IV forbade them from signing their names on their works in the chapel. So, naturally, they painted themselves in the frescoes! You can pick them out as the only people in each mural that look at the viewer. Classic. The Pope had to live with it and was more annoyed than anything with the fact that they outdid his own signature in the chapel.
Now originally the ceiling was painted blue with gold stars on it. When Pope Julius II came along, however, he felt it was far too simple. That and it was showing signs of deterioration. So he asked (demanded) a then 30 year old Michelangelo to repaint the ceiling. What choice did Michelangelo have? Here’s the thing though, which is something I had forgotten about; Michaelangelo had really never painted anything in his life up to this point. He was a sculptor, not a painter. So the next four years of his life was spent uncomfortably slaving away at this ceiling. He supposedly had permission to do as he liked with what he painted, and so painted the creation of the world and man. When he asked the Pope how to paint God, the Pope told him to read the Bible and he would know how. Well Michelangelo did just that. He figured to create the Earth took strength, but also experience and wisdom. Thus the God we see in the chapel has the body of a fit young man, yet is old with a long white beard.
To make his own point though, one the Pope would not approve of, Michelangelo painted Adam with a belly button. Why is that significant? The Bible says that humans were created in God’s image. A belly button signifies birth from a woman, and more than that, scientific curiosity and knowledge. If Adam has a belly button, it implies that God does as well. Michelangelo wanted to get back at the Pope for making him paint the chapel, but more than that he wanted to tell all future viewers of the chapel not to take things a face value; always pursue knowledge, from all different kinds of sources.
After the tour ended the three of us took a look inside St. Peter’s Basilica. It is enormous. And one can tell that no expense was spared when gazing at the grandeur of the inside. The choir was practicing inside; it was the week before Easter after all. Something I kept an eye out for that I remembered a history teacher of mine telling us about were the markers on the floor. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world, and they don’t want you to forget it. The markers represent where other large churches around the world would fall if measured against St. Peter’s.
The Basilica is also home to the only piece of work that Michelangelo signed his name to – The Pieta. Another astounding work that makes you wonder how someone can sculpt stone in such a way to give it emotions and life. After wandering around the inside and viewing the centerpiece of the cathedral, the main altar, we descended a set of stairs to the catacombs below. Saint Peter himself is, or whatever was left of him, is buried there, as are many other popes. Their were a ton of people touring the Vatican, but it was worth it to fight the crowds to see and walk around off the art of history of the place.
After crossing the Ponte Sant’Angelo and viewing the outside of the Castel Sant’Angelo (it was closed that day), we did another walking tour after the Vatican, though we stopped for a late lunch first. Passing by the Castel Sant’Angelo was the only time we truly felt in danger of being pickpocketed. My mom and I both had a delicious artichoke lasagna while my dad had his pasta and bean soup. With this next walking tour, we were taken to the Spanish Steps, the Piazzale Napoleone where we got a beautiful view of the city and walked around the many busts of well known Italians, Piazza del Popolo with it’s neat statues and centerpiece, and then made our way back to the hotel.
Dinner that night ended up being at a wine bar near the hotel. None of us were that hungry so we had a bottle of wine and an appetizer or two to share. Something we noticed was that this one table in the corner must have been having a “guys night” out. A little boy, the quintessential Italian with his dark hair, brown eyes, neck scarf, and jacket, was out with his father and grandfather! I’m not going to lie…it was pretty cute to see.
So ended our second day in Rome and we have one more full day to go. But I had better go get some sleep now before going back to work in the morning. More updates coming soon (I am trying my best!), including more on Rome, the Diamond Jubilee, and summer in general. Thanks for your continued interest and patience. And as always, thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…