Home of the Pope and two of the most important churches in Christianity, Vatican City will never fail to astonish. We spent no less then 7 hours admiring the paintings lining the walls of the Sistine Chapel, the Hall of Maps, St. Peter’s Basilica and many other wondrous Christian museums.
Our day in Vatican City started at 8:00 am. After checking our pre-bought tickets, we hurriedly speed-walked through the museum, completely bypassing many amazing paintings and sculptures in our rush to arrive at the Sistine Chapel before the thousands of group tours could. As we walked through the doors to the Sistine Chapel, we were completely unprepared for just how amazing this site would be.
The Sistine Chapel contained 343 magnificent frescos painted by Michelangelo on the hockey rink-sized ceiling and walls, depicting the story of Christianity. From Adam and Eve to Noah’s Arc, these wonderful works of art were beyond any paintings I had seen before. Astonishingly, these awe-inspiring paintings on the ceiling took Michelangelo just over 4 years to complete – from 1508 to 1512. My favourite piece though was not his amazing ceiling, but instead his interpretation of The Last Judgment. Painted on the altar wall 15 years after the ceiling, this floor to ceiling masterpiece portrays hundreds of corpses being removed from their graves and taken by angels to either heaven or hell. The most unusual part of this painting was the flayed, barely recognizable carcass of a supposed Michelangelo on his way to eternal damnation.
After soaking up the beauty of the chapel for over two hours we found ourselves exiting the Sistine Chapel still amazed by how incredible the room was. As we continued through rooms painted and designed by Botticelli, Raphael and more, I couldn’t help but compare them to the great masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo created 500 years ago.
We continued our exploration in the Vatican museums. Dating from even before the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican museums contain the greatest collection of Christian art in the world. With paintings from the 9th through to the 20th century, the museums beautifully display the evolution of perspective and colour in painting throughout time. One of my favourite museums inside the Vatican was the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche or the Gallery of Maps. Commissioned in 1580, it took artist Ignazio Danzi 3 years to complete the 40 beautiful panels that line the 120-meter gallery walls. Showcasing highly accurate maps of the regions in Italy, the Gallery of Maps is one of the most visited rooms in the Vatican museums after the Sistine Chapel.
Once we had finished our visit of the museums, we decided to grab some lunch, and have a bit of a break before visiting our next stop, St. Peter’s Basilica – the biggest church in the world.
Dodging hawkers and hordes of tourists, we made our way through the masses and towards St. Peter’s Basilica. The original St. Peter’s Basilica was built in the 4th century, and rebuilt on orders of the Pope in 1506. This church also supposedly holds the remains of St. Peter, one of Jesus’ Apostles, and the first Pope. For this reason many Popes have been, and want to be, interred in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Once we had finally reached St. Peter’s Square, we found multiple security check lineups that twisted and turned for what seemed to be forever! Through the crowds, my mom spotted a much shorter queue, which we quickly jumped into before anyone else could. After an extensive security check – it was similar to that of an airport – we continued up the marble staircase and on to the threshold.
Quite a few photos later we were stepping though the massive metal doors and into the Basilica itself. Awe was probably my first emotion as my gaze swept over the breathtaking room. As we walked further in, I still couldn’t find any words as I glanced at the many elaborate grave statues of some of the most important people in the Roman Catholic Church. Next, I glanced to the right, I saw the famous “Pietà”, Michelangelo’s only statue with his signature on it. It depicts in marble the beautiful Madonna, clutching a dead Jesus on her lap, with a heartbroken expression on her young face. This piece was particularly controversial in Michelangelo’s time, as Mary appears to be the same age, if not younger then Jesus himself.
After admiring the “Pietà”, we continued down the right aisle, towards the grand altar, under which St. Peter supposedly rests and a famous metal statue of him. It has been so worshiped that one of his feet is much shorter then it used to be because many people have touched it over time to pay their respects.
Soon, we noticed that many people were moving through a set of gates and towards the seating for mass. We then realized that it was 5:00 pm, and mass was probably starting soon. My mother instantly decided that we must also go to mass. As I am not Roman Catholic or religious at all, as well as the fact that I have never been to a Catholic mass before, I was hesitant. A few minutes later we were traipsing though the gate, completely unquestioned by the numerous guards that were denying most people entrance. After easily finding seating, the mass quickly started. The two organs impressed me immensely because they were the best I had ever heard.
Two priests and a bishop soon entered, and the mass was started. As it was in Latin, I couldn’t understand a word of it, but all of the worshipers around me seemed to know exactly what to do. I happily followed along, copying the motions of the nuns in front of me. The 60-minute mass ended all too fast, and in a swirl of music the bishop and priests grandly exited the hall, leaving many weeping devout in their wake.
The end of the mass meant our visit to St. Peter’s Basilica was nearing its end. As we continued back up the left aisle and then through the giant front doors into the square, I reflected on the amazing architecture, painting, statues and mosaic art we had just seen.
The Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are the some of most important places of Roman Catholicism in the world, and I am extremely grateful to have had the chance to visit these amazing structures, and see such amazing artwork, at only 13 years of age. Many religious adults have never visited the home of the Roman Catholic Pope, and I feel privileged to have been able to admire these great monuments.