I really want to share everything that we’ve seen in Rome, but for now, I have to give an appetizer of all that we saw on Friday and Saturday. And I will post subsequent follow ups.
Friday was all about St. Peter’s Basilica, the Borghese Galleries and we ended the day at the Vatican Museum (which included the Sistine Chapel!).
First up was a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, which included a climb up to the dome. We arrived at St. Peter’s very early, and surprisingly there was no line. Typically, we are “hardcore” and never take an elevator if there is an option to climb stairs, but given the heat and the fact that we were pretty withered at this point in the trip, we gladly accepted an elevator ride up the dome (but at Lena’s insistence we climbed back down via the steps). The views of the Piazza and of Rome were amazing.
We walked down from the dome (the stairs were MUCH more modern and “code compliant” than any other tower we’ve climbed in Europe) which dumps you right out inside St. Peter’s. There was a beautiful light streaming in that gave it a very ethereal ambiance.
Later in the afternoon, we visited the Villa Borghese, a former country house (Palazzo) for a very wealthy art-collecting Cardinal. It houses some of the most famous Bernini sculptures in the world, as well as a first-class collection of other 14th, 15th and 16th century paintings. One of best things about visiting the Villa was their ticketing system, which is similar to The Last Supper tickets in Milan. They are sold in increments of 2 hours. So you show up at your appointment time slot and there are never more than a certain number of people in the galleries at any given time. It makes viewing the art so much more pleasurable (see my older posts about the Louvre–ugh).
I still can’t get over how life-like Bernini sculpted. Look at how his hands grab into the flesh of her body. It is hard to appreciate it in a photograph.
After a very long day, we visited St. Peter’s/The Vatican for a look at the museum. We had tickets for an evening tour, which theoretically, was supposed to be less crowded. It was still quite crowded, but the museum was very efficient in moving the lines along and we were soon inside. And once inside, the museum is so vast that the crowds thinned out and allowed for enjoyable viewing.
Th Vatican Museum is huge and there was no way we could see it all, so we prioritized and focused on what we really wanted to see. The Raphael Room was incredible, and the Sistine Chapel did NOT disappoint. No photography was allowed…but I snapped a few undercover shots on the way out. It was a truly amazing experience to see the ceiling first hand…it was much grander and more beautiful in person than I could have imagined.
The Raphael Room…the artwork was massive and the colors were so vibrant and rich.
Right before you go into the Sistine Chapel, they Vatican throws some large scale Henri Matisse in your face…amazing.
Final climb into the Sistine Chapel…which is quite a large room. The ceiling was easily 65 feet tall…much more impressive in person that you can imagine. The colors are ultra vibrant and the artwork is jaw-dropping. Please remember that these images are contraband…the guards were ultra strict about “NO FOTO”…and I didn’t want to end up in the Vatican prison.
The rest of the Vatican Museum is vast…super vast…filled with art work and artifacts and relics beyond belief. And the views of the surrounding Vatican property were beautiful, lush and amazing. Lena said it looked like Hawaii.
Friday was even more intense. We took two different 3 hour tours (actually the second tour was 4 hours)…the first of the Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Forum and secondly, a “Catacombs & Bones” tour. By day’s end, we were crawling home. I have to commend Lena for being the most well-behaved 7 year old ever. At least 3 women in our tour came up to me and said that they were beyond impressed at her patience and composure for such long, intense, art/history/architecture themed tours.
And the day ended with my least-photographed, but most fascinating tour that we took on the entire trip. It was all about Roman catacombs and crypts and the layers found under Rome. All of the sights were owned by monasteries and convents and did NOT allow photography (so the few pictures that I took are contraband). And what we saw would require an entire blog. Lots of VERY early (200 A.D.) secret Christian worship spots and burial crypts..remember this was Rome…not a safe place for the early Christians. The tour was eerie and inspiring at the same time. I will make a blog post with photos and more info at a later time.
The first stop on the tour was this creepy monastery crypt from the 18th where the monks took the bones of their brothers to create elaborate displays. They were either celebratory or morbid…whichever you decide.
And then we went to two other 2nd Century A.D. catacombs where some of the very first Christians were buried, and where they might have worshiped in secret. The bones of bodies were plundered by Barbarians from Germany in the 5th century…so the bones have been long gone….but this is a very important milestone in the history of Christianity.
This catacomb might possibly contain the first ever depiction of Mary with the baby Jesus…this is 2nd Century A.D.
Interestingly, there is graffitti in the catacombs from World War II American soldiers who were in Italy at the time of liberation from Nazi forces…apparently they had time to sight see like us. The one below if from June 1944.