Monday, April 25, 2016

Europe Trip - A Well Spent Afternoon in Vatican City

Vatican City is a city state in the middle of Rome and it is the smallest country in the world, only one eight of the size of New York's Central Park. It is a monarch with the pope at its head. The revenues of this country come from museum admission fee, stamps and souvenir sales.

In the year of 64 AD, there was a great fire in Rome. Emperor Nero, who was a pagan, shifted the blame to the Christians and accused them as the culprits. He then executed the Christians brutally. One of them was St. Peter, the first disciple of Jesus Christ. He then was buried in Vatican Hill. During the reign of Constantine, the construction of St. Peter Basilica commenced atop the suspected tomb of St. Peter.

Before 14th century, the pope did not live in Vatican as the papal residence was moved to Avignon, France. Only in 1377, the papal residence was moved back to Rome and Vatican was started to be used.

There was a dispute between the church and the government of Italy between the year of1800 to 1900 as the government seized the land of the papal. Only in 1929, Musollini signed the Lateran Pact which allowed Vatican City to be its own sovereign state and compensate a lot of money to the papal state.

Nowadays, Vatican City stood there, still tiny but very proudly.

Location of Vatican City within Rome (Source:

Before we went to Vatican City, we took a bus to Castel Sant Angelo. Castel Sant Angelo was built during the time of King Hadrian to serve as a mausoleum for him and his family. This cylindrical building is located at the banks of Tiber. Only in 1277, a passageway was built to link St. Peter Basilica and the fortress. It was then used as the secret passageway for the pope to flee from the papal residence in case of emergency. The passageway was known to save Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome.

Castel Sant Angelo from Ponte Sant Angelo
The view of Tiber and the dome of St. Peter Basilica
The view from the other side
Take a closer look

Castel Sant Angelo is now functioning as a museum and it is open until 2:00 pm everyday. We did not go in as we wanted to rush to Vatican Museum for our 01:00 pm admission.

Supposedly, we just needed to walk straight along the river bank from Castel Sant Angelo to reach St. Peter's Square and then walk towards the back to enter Vatican Museum. Silly me, I though it would be far so we went back to the other side of the river to find a bus stop that would bring us there. Unfortunately, we could not find what we wanted. In the end, we just took a longer route to reach St. Peter's Square.

Almost there!!!

When we were reaching St. Peter's Square, we were supposed to turn towards the back to reach the entrance of Vatican Museum. We already booked our tickets online for admission of 01:00 pm for EUR 15 (~SGD 23) per person so we tried to rush for that.

Then a guy (handsome one), initially standing behind information booth, approached us and asked us whether we already had tickets. When I showed him ours, he started to talk about how we should top up our tickets with guided tours for another EUR 15 (~SGD 23) per person. He told us that the tour would include the museum and the express entrance to the basilica. After confirming that he was from a legit tour agency, we agreed to get the package.

Signed up for the tour package

At 01:30 pm, the guide met us at the agency office and brought us to the entrance of the museum and started to explain about the wall of Vatican City and who was the one designing it. We then passed through express line with no queue and straight to the security check. After that, the guide changed our tickets and brought us in.

The wall and the entrance to Vatican Museum
The entrance ticket!

We then walked into a roof terrace whereby we could see the garden and the top of the dome. We took photo for about 5 minutes before going down towards the garden.

The dome and the garden
The garden is Belvedere Courtyard and there are many information boards pasted there. However, I realized only tour guides had the rights to use the boards to explain the content of Vatican Museum and the highlights. Of course, the top highlight of Vatican Museum is the works of Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel.

The courtyard, designed by Claudio Bramante
One contemporary art piece here: the big sphere is the world, the small sphere is the church

We passed by Belvedere Villa where the pope lived before moving the residency to St. Peter. From this terrace, the pope could see the city and be present in the church events.

Rome from Belvedere Villa

We then moved into the museum. The tour guide actively briefed us about the statues and paintings which we passed by. He loaded us with so much information!

The bath of King Nero
One of the mosaic inside the museum 
Who are these three? I forgot. lol.
Atalanta, the pretty young maid
In the Gallery of Tapestry, the tour guide highlighted two tapestries of Jesus Christ that had similar effects to Mona Lisa in the Louvre. You focus on one point, you walk while looking at that point, the object moves with you.

His eye will move with you
He will move with you

We moved on to the Gallery of Maps whereby most people cared about the ceiling more than the maps. The ceiling is actually two-dimensional. The artist painted in such a way that the frames of the panels looked three-dimensional.

The ceiling in the Gallery of Maps

There are many many things that we enjoyed and admired before we were brought into The Sistine Chapel. Sistine Chapel is a chapel in Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope. Only 2/3 of the chapel is open to the public since it is still in use nowadays.

The highlight of this chapel is the walls and the ceilings. We were not allowed to take picture inside Sistine Chapel, so only summary in words. The paintings along the two walls are about old testament and new testament, created by a few Italian artists. The best features of the chapel are the ceiling and the altar.

The ceiling is 40m long and 13m wide, divided into segments by Michelangelo who built his own scaffold. The ceiling is completely two-dimensional with three-dimensional effect. He initially refused the job because he felt he was a sculptor and not a painter. Luckily, he changed his mind and we are able to see such a creation now.

The scheme of the painting (Source: wikipedia)
The finished work (Source: wikipedia)
The famous 'Creation of Adam' (Source: wikipedia)

He also painted the altar with a magnificent art work of 'The Last Judgement'. He started the painting 25 years after completing the ceiling and took 6 years to complete the work, including the preparation. The tour guide told us that we could stand there whole day and not find any identical faces in the painting!

The Last Judgement (Source: wikipedia)

We looked up until our neck got sore simply because we just could not stop looking at the ceiling. After about 15 minutes inside, we were led to a staircase that lead us to an open area and we could access St. Peter's Basilica from there. We could go both ways, either to St. Peter's Basilica or to the dome (for extra fee).

We proceeded to the basilica through the tombs of the popes.

Right when we climbed up the tomb
The interior of St. Peter's Basilica
Some of the tombs are at the basilica instead of down below
Tribute to the popes?
Tomb of Pope Benedict XIII

Another thing that made us believe that we were lucky was that the Holy Door was opened this year even though it was not scheduled to open until 2025. Holy Door, or Porta Sancta, is usually opened only during Jubilee year, starting from year 1300, assigned by the pope. Whoever passes the door will gain plenary indulgences attached with the Jubilee year celebration.

However, Pope Francis broke that tradition by having this year as extraordinary Jubilee Year of mercy.

So, we had the chance to pass through the Porta Sancta.

It's our luck!
Porta Sancta, usually sealed with cement and mortar from the inside
Back to the Basilica

It was almost sunset when we walked out of the basilica. It was almost the closing time. I meant to send a post card before going off from Vatican City because this is the only country that still stamps the post card. But, the post office has already closed when I walked out. We then just spent our time taking many pictures until it was dark.

Hello, Mr. Swiss Guards! 
The Basilica and the obelisk
Front view

We went to the metro station to go to Spanish Steps or Piazza di Spagna. This 135 steps of stairways were built in 1723 to 1725 to link Bourbon Spanish Embassy and Trinita dei Monti Church. Nowadays, Piazza di Spagna became a famous tourist attraction in Rome with many cafes and luxury boutiques nearby. In Piazza di Spagna, we were hoping to see the famous steps and do some shopping. But we were too late. All the shops were closed when we were there and the Spanish Steps were undergoing restoration. We only had our dinner there.

This was closed
These were also closed
At least we had decent dinner

So we went back to the hotel and took our deserved good night sleep.

Grazie, Vatican CIty. Grazie, for the lesson.

Next - To The Heart of Roman Empire

Love is in the air,
Little Feet

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