August 22 - A Memorable Visit to Vatican City

No trip to Rome is complete without a trip to Vatican City where you can visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. With the sun shining brightly in the sky and our internet voucher for the museums in hand, we set off for a day that will forever be memorable.

The Vatican Museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century. It is the largest museum in the world and houses a staggering collection of art including Egyptian mummies, Greek and Roman statues, and paintings by the masters of the art world. Many of these pieces of art are housed in rooms that are almost as stunning as the masterpiece itself and everything is beautifully displayed. We always knew if we were entering a room with a valuable masterpiece because people would stand before it like the paparazzi shooting photos. Some memorable rooms for me included a hallway which extends for a quarter mile with Roman busts, and a gallery that housed enough animal statues to stand by itself as a museum. Following our self-guided Rick Steves’ tour I found one room that was a highlight for me because I am interested in geography. It was a hallway of beautifully painted maps in intricate detail that showed all of Italy and it’s churches. Large globes from the 15th and 16th century stood proudly beneath glass. 

The grand finale of the museum is the Sistine Chapel. Being a chapel, I thought it would be a place of silence and contemplation, but instead the atmosphere inside was a free for all. We were fortunate enough to be able to sit on a marble bench on the side to take in all the intricate details of each painting, but others simply stood in the middle flashing their cameras left and right even though the guards repeatedly clapped their hands ordering silence and no photos. Looking frustrated they would target one visitor wearing a hat and taking pictures, but as soon as they were preoccupied speaking to them, cameras would go off somewhere else.

Our visit to St. Peter’s Basilica was after 5:00 when the church was less crowded with no lines. Passing through the security check, our clothing was examined to make sure no one was wearing shorts above the knee or bare shoulders. It seemed somewhat disrespectful to me to see someone wearing a t-shirt that said “Joe’s Steak House-It’s Mouthwatering Good” but this all seemed unimportant as soon as we entered the door. Walking inside literally takes your breath away. Everywhere you look is art of staggering purport ions. Markers on the floor show the relationship of size of some of the largest cathedrals in the world compared to St Peters. In the center is the tomb of St. Peter with tiny candles lit all around its perimeter. Evening mass took place while we were there at the main altar and we were delighted to be able to hear the magnificent organ. Michelangelo’s Pieta is housed behind glass to protect it due to an attack by a madman with a hammer in the 1970s, but is truly a magnificent sight to see.

Feeling energized we decided to visit the dome. Fortunately there is an elevator which will whisk you most of the way, but once there after a quick peek way down into the sanctuary, you must climb over 300 stairs to the top. It’s a little claustrophobic because it winds almost leaning against the dome itself, but once at the top, the views are breathtaking. All of Rome lies before you surrounded by hazy mountains in the distance. Vatican City looks like an oasis with palm trees, elegant buildings with stucco roofs, lush green grass, and tiny waterfalls. A group of students felt so inspired by it all that they broke into song. 

Knowing that if we could make it to the top of St. Peters that we could survive a 20 minute walk back to our hotel, we strolled back feeling very pleased with all we had seen during the day. Dinner was at Ristorante Maccheroni which is right down the street from our accommodation. The waiter told us that Michelle Obama and her daughters had dined there this summer. This was surprising to us because it’s a modest inexpensive restaurant with an outdoor café. Later on, I learned that the waiter was indeed right as there was a news story with photos in an Italian newspaper. 

Hoping to keep cool and enjoy the ambiance of the city, we revisited Piazza Navona with, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a masterpiece built by Bernini in 1651. In the evening it looks spectacular all lit up. We arrived back at our hotel after midnight feeling tired, but knowing this would be a day we would long remember.


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