In Which Geek Magnolia Visits the Pope

Hello Geeks!

Still playing catch-up on the blog.  Today we have pictures from my visit to The Vatican.  And no, I didn’t meet the Pope.  Apparently that’s on Wednesdays, and frankly, I was on a schedule.

My apartment in Rome was just south of the Vatican, and I could hear the church bells when I sat out on the balcony, even though I didn’t have an astonishing view as in Florence.  But the train station that was merely steps from my building was the closest to it, so any time I ended up in the station, there were nuns, priests, and monks thick on the ground.

First off, here’s a look at St. Peter’s Square, one of the most famous views of The Vatican.

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It’s hard to really grasp the size of it from a picture.  It is enormous, and to see it filled with people would be overwhelming.

We started our tour in one of the private gardens of The Vatican.

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See the signs down in the lower left?  Those are boards that contain information on the Sistine Chapel, which allows the guides to talk about it in advance of visiting, as you are not supposed to talk in the room itself.  There are multiple copies in the garden.

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The building to the right houses some of the museums and galleries.

Pinacoteca Vaticana
Pinacoteca Vaticana

The Pinacoteca Vaticana has elaborate decoration, and honors some of the great artists whose works are housed inside.

Not the Ninja Turtle
Not the Ninja Turtle

Also, from this garden you get your first glimpse of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The dome of St. Peter's
The dome of St. Peter’s

We moved on from there to a second outdoor space, the Cortile della Pigna, or Courtyard of the Pinecone.

Cortile della Pigna
Cortile della Pigna

The Pinecone is on the other end of the space, and is originally from a Roman fountain.

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We moved on from there to a series of galleries that included all sorts of art, and led to the Papal apartments (or at least, where the popes of a different era resided).

You first passed through the statuary gallery.

I just loved the light on this little guy.
I just loved the light on this little guy.
And this one as well
And this one as well

After that, you moved into the Gallery of Tapestries, full of (for the most part) Flemish tapestries based on the drawings of Raphael’s students.  Here is a part of ‘The Assumption of Jesus’

From the tapestry gallery
From the tapestry gallery

My favorite of these galleries is the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, or the Map Gallery.  The walls of the gallery are lined with detailed maps of Italy’s many regions.

Gallery of Maps.  The depictions on the ceiling are correlated to the maps below them.
Gallery of Maps. The depictions on the ceiling are correlated to the maps below them.

This one was a particular favorite.  The colors and the details are simply stunning.  The colors are deep and rich, and in particular the little vignettes inset into the map are lovely.

Liguria, in NW Italy, home of Genoa
Liguria, in NW Italy, home of Genoa
Map detail
Map detail

We moved on from there to the Papal apartments, full of frescoes and carvings that were almost overwhelming.  My favorite of the Raphael rooms is Stanza della Segnatura, where the frescoes depicted the concepts of theology, philosophy, the law, and the poetic arts.  They contain figures from both the Christian religion and Ancient Greece.  My favorite was the section dedicated to poetry.  On the ceiling above the main fresco, each concept was represented by an angelic figure:

Angel of Poetry.  Note the lyre.
Angel of Poetry. Note the lyre.

Below the angel was a fresco depicting a scene that correlated with the concept.  For poetry, you have Apollo, surrounded by figures of famous  poets.

The Parnassus, by Raphael.  Depicts Apollo and famous Renaissance poets
The Parnassus, by Raphael. Depicts Apollo and famous Renaissance poets

The Papal apartments are extensive.  This is just a tiny taste of the art contained inside.

Once we were done here, we moved on to what is probably the most famous piece of art in The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel.  They discourage photographs, flash or not, but I managed to sneak a selfie while contemplating what has to be one of the most impressive works by a single artist in history.

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Michelangelo painted this while standing on top of scaffolds that he built himself, working in small patches without the benefit of seeing his progress from the vantage point from which people would view the final work.  I remember watching ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ years back, but looking at the ceiling, I can’t help but think they sugar-coated the absolute misery of the experience.

The other great piece by Michelangelo is ‘The Last Judgement’, which I didn’t get a picture of.  Apparently there was a lot of pearl-clutching going on when he finished, as there were all sorts of nekkid people in his painting (the horror!)!  The actually hired someone to go in after him and paint modesty drapes over the nude figures, so that their delicate sensibilities remained intact.

The final stop was St. Peter’s Basilica itself.  The first thing you see is The Pieta, by (you guessed it!) Michelangelo.  It has seen damage over the years, but the most recent damage was done in 1972 by a mentally disturbed geologist, who smashed Mary’s fingers with a rock hammer and claimed that he was Jesus Christ reborn.  Watch out for those geologists, I’m just sayin’.

The Pieta, by Michelangelo
The Pieta, by Michelangelo

The Basilica is ringed by a series of small chapels, where you will find people praying at all times.  Below is St. Sebastian’s Chapel, which houses the remains of Pope John Paul II.  The image above the altar looks, at first glance, like a painting.  However, it is actually a mosaic of tiny glass tiles, which is just mind-blowing.

St. Sebastian Chapel, housing the remains of Pope John Paul II
St. Sebastian Chapel, housing the remains of Pope John Paul II

The last piece of Michelangelo’s work housed inside is the interior of the main dome.  While Michelangelo conceptualized and began the work, it was completed by Giacomo della Porta, years later.

Inside the dome of St. Peters, created by Michelangelo
Inside the dome of St. Peters, created by Michelangelo

It’s hard to describe what you actually see in the Basilica.  The size itself defies belief, and the dichotomy of the gaping tourist and the praying faithful gives it an almost surreal feeling.  It is intended to make you feel small, a tiny thing in the face of the works of the Creator, and it certainly does that.  It is by far one of the most humbling places that I have visited, and I highly encourage you to take some time and do the same, should you ever find yourself in Rome.

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