When in Rome make sure you visit this absolute wonder of a country – that’s right! The Vatican City is the worlds smallest country!
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The first time I visited the Vatican was 2012. I was so amazed at how incredible it was, and I’m sure you will be too. Think lavish, over the top, extravagant, and you’re halfway there!
I stayed at a cheap resort called Camping Village Roma on the other side of town, who ran a shuttle bus into the city, which drops you off near the Vatican for like €2 each way! Perfect! After departing the bus, I asked the driver, “Where is the Vatican?” He pointed to some enormous city walls in the distance and, in broken English, told me to follow it around to the entrance, so that’s what I did.
The actual entrance to the Vatican is quite simple. Large double doors surrounded by stone tiles and statues invite you in. When I stepped inside and saw the queue’s size, I thought I’d be stuck there for hours, but luckily, I only had to line-up for around 20 minutes. I will tell you that no matter how long you have to queue, it doesn’t matter, it’s well worth it. It costs around €20 ($33 AUD / $24 USD) to enter, and it is well worth the money. It would be very easy to spend the whole day just looking around the museums, let alone the Vatican Gardens, St. Peters Basilica and Piazza San Pietro which need to be explored. If you are only in Rome for one day, I would recommend limiting your time here to 2-3 hours and go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Your first stop will be the enormous Pinecone Courtyard, which gets its name from a large bronze statue shaped like a pinecone. Everything on display out here is a bit of a mishmash, with different modern and historical sculptures from many different eras that have been acquired over time. In the centre is a contemporary art piece called ‘The Sphere Within a Spear.’ Usually, I don’t give too much credit to modern art, but I quite liked this, and I was surprised to learn that it was created back in 1926 even though it looks like it was made much more recently. My favourite piece within the courtyard was the large sculpture of Caesar Augustus. Comprising of an enormous bust of his head, it was pretty impressive.
I next headed inside my first museum, the Museo Chiaramonte, which comprised of a lavish corridor displaying hundreds of statues against both walls. The layout was simple, but very well done, leaving ample space to walk up and down the middle. This room itself was decorated in shades of cream with a beautiful coffered ceiling. There is a magnificent statue of ‘Athena’ on display, which is perfectly intact even though it is well over 2000 years old. It was rediscovered in 1774 during some excavations near Trivoli. Don’t miss the Cupid statue in this section, too – he is the God of love after all!
As I made my way to the next area, I saw everyone clambering to take photos of a rather plain-looking statue, or should I say torso, as its head, legs, and arms had broken away. I snapped a picture of it, but to be honest, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. I just figured it was important. After I returned home from my vacation, I did some research and found out that it was called the ‘Belvidere Torso.’ See what you think, but a broken statue doesn’t do much for me inside a stunning place like the Vatican, surrounded by beauty and grandeur.
Continuing on I reached the Rotunda Room and Basin. This is a circular hall, painted in red, with a coffered ceiling and a glorious basin in the middle. It’s believed the basin may have once stood in a public square in the ancient capital. Don’t forget to check out the ornate mosaic floor, with its fantastic design of warriors and dragons in combat. The room is significant because it was built in 1779 to imitate the Pantheon in the centre of Rome.
My next stop was The Gallery of Tapestries, definitely another noteworthy spot. Covering the walls are these enormous, elaborate pieces, which must have taken years to make! Back in the day, tapestries screamed, ‘Hey, look at me and all my wealth!’, and many large and prominent families throughout Europe would have them displayed in their homes for this reason. Henry VIII of England, one of our most-infamous Kings, was a huge fan of showing off his wealth through extra-large showy tapestries so, obviously, the Vatican must have heaps of them too, and they really don’t disappoint! There are some extraordinary ones of Jesus which were designed by Raphael. Six of them are from Christ’s childhood, with the most famous piece, ‘The Massacre of Innocents,’
showing babies being ripped from their mother’s arms on King Herod’s orders, as he found out that the Messiah had been born. However, I found the most significant one to be ‘The Resurrection of Christ’ which was so impressive that I wouldn’t take my eyes off it for several minutes. The tapestry depicts Christ coming out of the cave in red robes after his rebirth – very cool! It also happens to be my favourite piece. Adding to the rooms atmosphere are ornate ceilings painted in shades of pink, grey and yellow It is done in such a way that at a glance, they appear almost three-dimensional, yet they are in fact, entirely flat. So clever!
Although this tour up until now was impressive, it’s the next area that blew me away! In fact, it might actually be my favourite spot in the whole of the Vatican. Welcome to the Map Room.
It’s one of those places you may have heard people talk about, but you won’t be able to appreciate it until you can see it with your own eyes. I appreciate that for most, it might be difficult to get excited about maps! Unless you’re me… So as you can imagine, I had high expectations before I entered. The maps sure are beautiful in vivid shades of blue and green, but the ceiling! Honestly, it took my breath away! The Map Room is a long and narrow hall space, and I was swept along with the sea of people, as it was so crowded.
There was so much to take in that I didn’t know where to look first. It was decorated by Danti in 1580 and took three years to complete. There are sculptures of cherubs and muscular-looking men, as well as women with angel wings and flowing hair, which is typical of a maid (virgin) back then, all very pure and innocent. Women… we are either the devil’s temptresses or pure angel, aren’t we? Nothing in between! Sigh! Though I can forgive the ignorance in this artwork as it was created over 400 years ago. The patterns around the sculptures range from Greek to Italian and even Asian. You’re going to be looking up a lot so prepare for neck cramps!
Now it’s time to talk about the Sistine Chapel. Although not my favourite room (controversial, I know!), is truly wonderful. It’s not just the ceiling or the walls which are fabulous, but the room as a whole! It was painted by Michelangelo himself (the very guy who sculpted the David statue in Florence), and this was Michael’s first real attempt at painting a fresco! No pressure then! One of the most significant pieces in here is, ‘When God Created Adam.’ You will have seen this image before in books and on TV. It shows God reaching out to Adam while
he is lying on a cloud, and their fingers touch. It’s extraordinary. The main wall is also noteworthy. It shows ‘The Last Judgement,’ which spans across the entire wall. It is painted in blue for the most part, with Jesus in the centre surrounded by a glow so well painted, that it just looks incredible. Upon looking at the famous ceiling, you realise that no one other than Michelangelo would have been able to do the Sistine Chapel justice. The most well-known scene shows demons dragging the damned to hell, with Jesus taking center stage as the figures at the top are being transported to heaven. You are not permitted to take pictures in here, so don’t bother trying, as the guards will stop you and throw you out.
One of the last areas I saw was the Raphael Rooms. They were spectacular, filled with a cacophony of painted pictures made up of people and patterns. They adorned every wall and ceiling. I still find it mind-blowing how anything this beautiful can be painted upsidedown. The only drawback was how packed these rooms were. As I tried to stand and admire the rooms, I got swept along with the rest of the crowds, so I only had a short amount of time in each room to take it all in, as turning around and wading my way back through the crowd was not an option.
At the end of the museums, you will come across the famous Helican Spiral Staircase by the exit. With its wrought-iron balustrade and curved shape, it is beautiful. Well, you can’t exactly exit the Vatican without one last bit of grandeur, can you?
I hope you found this blog post helpful from my own experiences here. Are you planning a trip to Rome? Where are you planning on visiting? Let me know in the comments below.
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