I have been to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica several times. Amethyst had never been inside. Our Roman friends encouraged us to take the early morning opening guided tour. Especially since Pope Francis was elected, visitors at the Vatican are on the level of Disneyland. There are multi-hour waiting lines. In the 95 degree weather we definitely did not want to do that. When we visited Rome in 2013, we casually went to the Vatican expecting to wait a short time and discovered that Pope Francis was giving an important blessing and at 10 am there were already 50,000 folks in the square. So this time we were very, very happy to get up at 6 am to meet our tour guide.
We began the tour in the Sistine Chapel. No photography is allowed so I have borrowed this fabulous image of the ceiling from Wikipedia. I saw the ceiling in 1982 before its restoration from centuries of smoke and candles. The restoration was quite controversial, as I remember, with some art historians and members of the Church feeling it was inappropriate. However I personally think they did an outstanding job of restoring it to Michelangelo’s vision. A couple areas were damaged in earthquakes but they are barely visible from the floor.
You could spend hours looking at one of the greatest masterpieces of European art if you were allowed! Our tour was only allowed to stay for 30 minutes. At 8am there were only 100 or so visitors so we were able to have a pleasant visit.
Several statues in the Pius-Clementine Museum, Round Room. The statue of Hercules is impressive. “Round Room, built by Michelangelo Simonetti in the late 18th century in a pure Neo-classical style. The dome is actually modelled on the Pantheon and has a diameter of 21.60 metres. A huge round monolithic porphyry basin stands in the middle of the room: it measures almost five metres across, comes from the Domus Aurea and was brought here in the late 18th century. A 2nd century Hercules in gilded bronze found near the Theatre of Pompey and a 3rd century mosaic from the Baths of Otricoli (region Umbria) are also fascinating.” Source
Here are some beautiful tapestries from the Gallery of Tapestries.. As you walk past, it looks as if the eyes of Jesus are following you. This is considered a supreme example of “changing perspective” artwork. “Flemish tapestries, realized in Brussels by Pieter van Aelst’s School from drawings by Raphael’s pupils, during the pontificate of Clement VII (1523-1534), hang on the walls. They were first shown in the Sistine Chapel in 1531, and arranged for the exhibition in this Gallery in 1838.” Source
St. Peter’s Basilica
No words can adequately express the grandeur of the interior of the Basilica. “The visitor usually needs to pause for a moment before he can take in its vast size. Simply comparing the height of the holy-water fonts and their supporting puttos with that of the people around them can give an idea of the church’s proportions. The basilica is 187 metres long, 58 metres wide across the aisles and 140 metres wide at the transept: the maximum height of the vault in the nave is 46 metres (as high as a 15 storey building!).” Source
Exiting St. Peter’s and Vatican Square
Here are a few photos which show a little of the vast space as we moved towards Vatican Square.