Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 22: Rome #3 (Vatican City)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Today's highlights:

-Climbing the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
-St. Peter's Basilica (inside)
-Vatican Museum
-Sistene Chapel!

One short day in the Vatican City! 
One short day, full of so much to do!

Yes, we were really singing this on our way to the Vatican City at 7:30 in the am, right up until Robbie shouted, "The Pope will see you now!" Then we were laughing too hard to keep going. 

Today we went to the Vatican and it was AWESOME! As in "made us feel awe." It blew our minds. We saw St. Peter's, and the Vatican Museum, and the Sistene Chapel, and just, Wow. 

We heard it's best to go super early, so even though Robbie was resistant at first, I promised him that if he'd wake up early with me, I would give him a nap-break later (we often disagree about the validity of nap-times, since I can't ever fall asleep during the day, and Robbie can be asleep in within .7 seconds of laying down). But, we compromised, made the deal, and I am SO glad we got there early. When we showed up to St. Peter's Square (the open public area right in front of the church where people gather to see and hear the pope), it was almost completely empty. It was awesome! (By the time we came down from the dome, the line spanned St. Peter's square and was still growing by the second). We kept walking around and finding things from the "Angels and Demons" book, getting as excited as if they were stories from real, actual history. We then headed up to the church to climb the dome. 

There are 554 stairs to climb to get to the top of St. Peter's dome. FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR. I don't care who you are, that is a lot of stairs. This is #1. I didn't know yet... I couldn't have known...

And the further you walk, the more narrow and slanted the way becomes (slanted because it gets more dome-like the higher you go). It was a claustrophobic's worst nightmare. I started getting a little anxiety and I am not claustrophobic! But we kept going and going and did not even stop once before making it to the top! My face was dripping like you would not believe, but we made it!

The view from the top of the dome is incredible! You can see the entire Vatican, and all the surrounding area. There is a law that no building can be built taller than St. Peter's Basilica, so you can see everything around, with nothing blocking your view. It's incredible!

We finally climbed back down the dome (and I started sweating again! Going down! I swear sweat shows up when I peel an orange here). Then we explored the inside of St. Peter's Basilica. And WOW! Just.....WOW!

You walk in, and two words hit you right away: BIG and GOLD. St. Peter's is HUGE!!! Two football fields long. As far as I know, the biggest church in the world. They even have markers in the ground to show you where other famous churches would end if you put them inside of St. Peter's (even the Duomo in Florence, which we thought was gargantuan). The dome was originally designed by Michelangelo, but then the church was made even bigger than he had imagined. And it is GOLD everywhere! The entire thing just glows. Which would be awesome if it weren't for the fact that the funding of all that gold came from the selling of indulgences (or buying forgiveness with money, the very thing that caused Martin Luther to start the reformation). Regardless, no one can argue that it is beautiful. Here are some cool things we learned:

- This is believed to be THE spot where Peter was killed. Apparently, long before there was a church here, it was Emperor Nero's racetrack for chariot races. In fact, the obelisk (looks like the Washington Monument) that now stands in the middle of St. Peter's Square used to be the centerpiece of that racetrack. At halftime or breaks in the races, the entertainment for the crowd would be public executions of Christians or Jews, either by gladiator fights or crucifixions. Peter was one of those executions, sentenced to be crucified, (but asked to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy of dying the way Christ did). He was buried there and that's where the church stands today. 

-Peter's remains are believed to be in the crypt 20 feet below the church, but when asked if those are really Peter's bones, the papacy has only said, "Definitely maybe." So I guess it can be a powerful place just for the idea of what it represents even if its not 100% accurate (like us and the Garden Tomb I suppose).

-One of the most famous works in all of the Renaissance is there: Michelangelo's "Pieta" which is a sculpture of Mary holding the limp body of her son after he is taken down from the cross. "Pieta" means "pity" or more specifically, "I suffer with you." The sculpture has so much feeling and emotion in it. You can feel Mary's grief and sadness. I think in this more than any other work of art I've ever seen, I see and feel Mary as a mother. It's beautiful. It's also behind bullet-proof glass because I guess in 1972, some wacko broke in with a hammer and went to town trying to smash it. Luckily, the damage was repaired.

-There is a central canopy over the altar, and on the bases of the pillars of the canopy, you see the face of a woman going through the various stages of childbirth. What?! Crazy, right? But it's real! You have to walk all the way around it to see the final piece: a bubbly baby boy. 

There were so many other amazing things we saw in the church, and thanks to our Rick Steve's Audioguide app (cue the infomercial), we got to learn cool facts as we walked around. Again, cheesy, but informative. (When am I gonna start getting kickbacks from all this publicity?)

Wow! This is so long already and this was all before 10:30 in the morning! So sorry, hopefully you don't get bored. If you do, skip what you like. 

So THEN we finally got to go to the Vatican Museum. (PS, they tell you that you need a reservation beforehand, but it did not make it any faster for us and it cost 8 euro. Could have just been a fluke, but just sayin). This museum is full of history from Ancient Egypt (with some artifacts from 2,000 BC!), Ancient Greece, the Renaissance, Mama! It's a lot of stuff. We got to walk down the hall showing "The Great Castration," when one of the popes (I think) decided it was too suggestive and inappropriate for statues to show the male genitalia. So he had all the ancient statues castrated, and then had their manhood covered up with marble fig leaves, Adam and Eve style. Very sad from a historian's perspective. 

We also got to see some really famous works of art by Raphael (red ninja turtle). 
-The "School of Athens" is a painting showing all the great minds of Ancient Greece gathered together teaching and learning from each other. 
-"The Immaculate Conception" is a work illustrating the moment when the pope made this idea part of Catholic doctrine, and Mary smiling down from above. 
-There was a bunch honoring Constantine, the Christian emperor who changed the tide of Christianity in Rome. Because of him, in just a century Christians went from being executed in gladiator arenas to being part of the official religion of all of Rome. What a guy. 

It was all cool, and was all leading us to the Grand Finale: 

The Sistene Chapel. 

I say "Wow" a lot because I don't know very many ways of expressing awe and wonder. But if you can think of a better way to describe being speechless in awe and wonder, please insert that word or phrase here. This was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I know I have said that a lot too, but it's really true! If it weren't for the neck pain from staring up at that ceiling, I would have been content to stay there for the rest of the day and study it and figure it all out. And I'm not even art-smart! I can't imagine what art historians feel in that room. It is AMAZING. 

Looking up, you see a lot of stuff going on, but thanks to Ricky (that's what we call Rick Steves' these days, we feel like we know him so well), we were able to break it down a little. 

Down the middle are 9 major scenes from Christian theology, starting with the creation of the world and ending with Noah. The most famous of these is the centerpiece of the entire ceiling. God, surrounded by his concourses of angels, reaching out to touch the finger of Adam, breathing life into him. I don't even know how to describe this. It made me feel things. Lots of things. I felt this overpowering realization that God is reaching for Adam. Not idly waiting. Not busy doing other things. Not angry at Adam for just sitting there. He is actively reaching for him, his face clearly yearning to touch him. That is the God I know. That is the God that created us. Reaching for us, constantly. Never angry. Never busy. Just wanting more than anything to touch us, so that we will feel something. Something  different and strangely familiar. Something that will infuse us with love and understanding and life. Real life. 
I just stared at that part alone for a long time. And then moved down and studied each of the others, each so moving in its own way. I will spare you another one of those novels, by suffice it to say, seeing this was more an experience than a viewing. Wow. 

Besides the ceiling, Michelangelo also painted the altar wall, in a painting known as, "The Last Judgment." He actually painted this 20-something years after the ceiling was done. It has a VERY different feel from the ceiling. As happy and hopeful and light the ceiling is, the wall is just as strongly the other direction. There is a lot of damnation, and terror and fear. It's powerful in a completely different way. There are just hundreds of people, all experiencing something different on that final day. That's a lesson in a painting if ever I saw one. 

Lastly, here are some fun facts we learned about the chapel: 

-Michelangelo never even wanted the job of painting this place. He considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. But a persistent pope finally talked him into it.

-Michelangelo did actually paint standing up, reaching above him (not lying down like some think). That would seriously be the worst. I hate changing light bulbs. 

-He had to paint on wet plaster, which means he had to work quickly, before the plaster dried. So he's uncomfortable and stressed. 

Wow. Are you still here? Did you make it through all that? If so, I am very impressed. Sometimes when I start going, I forget to stop. 

So the rest of the day included a nap (my debt is repaid), some wandering around on our last night in Rome aaaaaaaaand..........McDonald's. I know, I know! How could we?! We are in Italy! But sometimes when all you have eaten for two weeks is pizza and pasta, you just want some French fries. We fought it, we did. Out of sheer guilt, we almost turned away and found something else. But we were so hungry and it was right in front of us. And then we realized, who are we afraid of? We are grown-ups! If we both want McDonald's, we can eat McDonald's! That's what we told ourselves to justify it anyway, but we still felt a little guilty. But let's be real, McDonald's fries are worth it sometimes.

1 comment:

  1. I do not eat McDonalds in the US if I can help it. But overseas? Anything goes! Sometimes you just NEED a Big Mac (I don't even like Big Macs!)! I have very fond memories of all the places we have had McDonalds on trips. On our backpacking trip in the Ex-Yu I was pregnant and SUFFERING, and there was no McDonalds between Serbia and Croatia, and when I finally saw one again I went straight to it and ate all the chicken nuggets I could!