Europe, Italy

My Roman Holiday

The only disappointing thing about Vatican City is that, despite being its own country, they do not stamp your passport upon entry. And I really wanted a stamp from Vatican City. Besides that though, it’s basically the most amazing thing you can imagine.

We arrived around 10:30 and waited in line to enter for about two hours. Although this seems pretty long, it’s just as long as some rides at Disney World, and those only last for about 5 minutes once you are in. So it was worth it, and being college students, we were not about paying 60 euros to get in immediately with a tour group. Basically, Saturday was all about the Vatican because we were planning on those wait times and did not mind at all if it meant seeing the Sistine Chapel.

When you first pass through the stone walls, you don’t enter the Renaissance. Actually, it’s a lot more like entering an airport. You put your bags on the conveyor belt, and they go through an X-ray machine as you wait to step through the human one and pick up your bags on the other side. From there, we hit up the bathrooms and food court. (Side note: I bought water at the Vatican cafeteria, so was that holy water?)

The Vatican Museums are huge and extensive and the map is not entirely helpful. But it was still fine. I’m not actually sure what route we took to see everything because we were basically just pushed along through a crowd of tour groups. It was pretty amazing though to pass through these rooms that are all filled floor to ceiling with artifacts that are probably priceless. There are Egyptian sculptures, pieces of art brought back by missionaries around the world, and room after room of frescoes and tapestries. One long hallway has tapestries twice my height that show in detail each province of Italy and at the end a map of Italy itself. They’re a far cry from the tourist map our Airbnb host gave us.

At some point, we entered the Stanza della Segnatura, AKA the Raphael Rooms. Back in the days of Julius II, this was the papal library. He’d hired several well-known painters of the day to decorate the rooms, but when Raphael came to Rome, a few painters lost their jobs. Although the multitude of art that surrounds you in the Vatican is all splendid, there’s something really special about stepping into a room and seeing, in perfect Renaissance style, Raphael’s depiction Disputation of the Holy Sacrament and then turning around to see, larger than life, the actual School of Athens.  It’s a picture I’ve seen I don’t know how many times in various history classes, but seeing it not five feet away was indescribable. We spent several minutes there, studying the painting and trying to pick out all the figures we could. I, of course, posed in front of the depiction of Michelangelo.

Not much later, we entered that pinnacle of the Renaissance, the Sistine Chapel. The actual Sistine Chapel!  Above us, in vibrant colors, spread Michelangelo’s paintings, all so far away and yet so big as to be seen in clear detail. On the walls, Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter stood big as day. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the chapel, but for magnificent art like that, sometimes it’s almost better to just experience it and try not to cry.

Past the chapel is St. Peter’s Basilica, and since we had to read an entire book about its construction for one of my classes, passing that up wasn’t really an option. From Michelangelo’s Pietà to Bernini’s Baldacchino and his work on St. Peter’s chair, the whole room is just incredible. It’s not surprising that it took 120 years to build. We were definitely in there a long time to gape at the art and wander between the altars. Seeing so much marble and gold, it’s really fascinating to have the dual realization that 1) this entire building is a masterpiece and 2) this building is a big part of the Protestant Reformation. Because all this beauty came from a lot of corruption and a lot of ordinary people starving. Both for art and for history, St. Peter’s is a really fascinating building to study. For art history, it basically sums up the Renaissance from beginning to end – big ideas, fantastic art and wealth, and the eventual realization that such a period can only ever be temporary.

And so, jumping forward in time:  Roman Holiday is my favorite movie, so naturally I had to visit all the places Audrey Hepburn did.  It was a lot of walking, but I guess they did have a Vespa in the movie to take care of that.  This was basically the entire plan for Sunday – a 6.5 mile walk around Rome to hit up all the Roman Holiday sites plus the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon.  So basically, here’s my Roman Holiday, all in black-and-white for the sake of authenticity, and the bonus sites in color.

Until next time ~

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