The following is, I assure you, a true story. It harks back to that oft-mentioned trip when I was four years old to Italy, which was a lot of fun but frankly there are only so many things in Italy a four year old can appreciate. The Vatican Museum was one such place- after what seemed like forever of going and standing and going again we finally got to stand for a long time in a big room, which I realized later was the Sistine Chapel. Assuming that the grown-ups were just doing one of those boring grown-up things again, I sat and stared at the floor (the floor of the Sistine Chapel has a lot of beautiful geometric designs on it actually).
I remember my mom finally coaxing me to look at the ceiling, pointing out the panel with Adam and Eve and explaining to me how Eve was bad because she ate the apple but she wasn’t supposed to. I don’t remember the part right after, but according to my dad I then asked the standard four year old question of “did that really happen?”
My dad responded “not really.” There’s really nothing I can say that can add to that succinct response, so let’s go on.
Anyway, Vatican City. Here is the infamous line into the Vatican Museum- you hear a lot of horror stories of several hour waits, which might be true in the summer but just plain isn’t this time of year. I got inside in about ten minutes, thus leaving me to conclude that the line hype is mainly something strummed up by the tourist companies trying to get you to sign up with them (the evidence being that they hawk like mad on the walk to the museum line, but are nowhere near once you actually see the museum line).
Vatican City also gets bonus points for being its own country, and thus being the first place within the past few weeks where I can get a student discount. I always loved the concept of student discounts in Europe- you are young and uncultured, so we’ll give you incentive to visit so you at least won’t be quite as uncultured and perhaps able to join the rest of society some day- but Italy has a rule that this only applies to E.U. citizens. Despite my best Italian and attempts to pretend to be Hungarian I have never secured a discount in this country, and apparently only will by literally going to another one. Sigh…
So what’s so cool about this Museum? Well to start off the collections- the Popes over the centuries collected various artistic and archaeological pieces usually for no better reason than the fun of it, meaning there are aisles of Greek and Roman statues alone to get through. This particular collection contains Etruscan artifacts, ie the civilization on the Italian peninsula before the Romans showed up (and who we don’t know much about due to a language barrier).
A sphinx outside the Egyptian collection. Oh, I forgot, there’s an Egyptian collection too, which any museum would kill for due to all the papyrus scrolls and the mummies but here is just ho-hum.
Once you get past those you get into the various rooms decorated for various Popes of yore. This here is my favorite called the Map Room, with maps of Italy on the sides and the most detailed ceiling you can imagine-
A hall running a few hundred meters just covered like this! Gorgeous.
Then there are a few indescribably lovely rooms decorated by Raphael. I have concluded Raphael is my favorite Renaissance painter by the way, because in Italian galleries whenever I particularly like a painting and get closer to see who did it it’s always Raphael. I am also insanely jealous of the Pope who commissioned these rooms as he used them for mundane things like his office and his sitting room, though I have no idea how you would get work done in a room with decor like this!
After this there are a few rooms of bad modern art that everyone breezes through quickly on their way to the Sistine Chapel. You can’t take pictures in there but you’ve all seen it and know what I’m talking about- even if you’ve seen a million pictures of it though you still need to sit for a really long time just drinking it in. It’s beyond lovely.
After the Sistine Chapel most people breeze through the Vatican Library part, which is a shame because they miss out on a lot of cool things. This was my favorite- a map of the New World dated to 1530! I love how they just don’t know what’s there yet, as this is about forty years after Columbus…
The lovely double staircase to leave the Vatican Museum, at the top of which I stopped to write my sister a postcard. We have this thing where I am supposed to send her a card from every country I visit, except I’m behind because some countries I have yet to send the card. Vatican City is country #10 so far on this trip though counting the USA, so I hope I get some slack on this.
Postcard mailed, it was time to set off for St. Peter’s-
St. Peter’s is, obviously, very very big. Here’s what it looks like inside-
Getting people for scale is a bit hard here, but if you look close you see a small line of them toward the front…
I won’t post any other pictures of the inside because there frankly isn’t enough lighting in there. However, you must believe me that it is big enough to drive a truck in St. Peter’s and I know this because they were in fact driving one in there, carting chairs and barriers from point A to B. I also went down into the crypt to see the various papal tombs, Pope John Paul II’s being the most noteworthy as it has a near-perpetual crowd around his and you can hardly see it over the flowers and other offerings.And finally probably the two most-photographed people in Vatican City, the only two Swiss guard visible to tourists. I know this is not an original observation, but has Vatican City ever considered changing the uniform? I know Michelangelo designed them but I always assume defense is one of those areas where you need to modernize, and frankly it’s hard to take a guy in pajamas seriously. Or perhaps that’s part of their nefarious scheme, what would I know.
As a final note, it really is hard to get over how opulent two thousand years of accumulated history can be. I imagine you could go countless times to the Vatican Museum and still see something you have never seen before, though frankly it makes me wonder what the current papal digs are like if this is what they let the tourists see!