The Vatican: Pope Benedict and the Vatican Museum

On our second full day in Rome, we got up bright and early to go see the Pope... yes, the POPE. Cara was smart enough to reserve us tickets ahead of time, so we got to see him (along with a couple thousand of our closest friends). He said prayers in about a million different languages.... by the time he got to the good ole US of A, even English sounded foreign to me. It was a long morning, but at least I'll get to say I saw him! And it gave me time to read up in Rick Steve's.... (am I going to hell for saying that?)
The walls surrounding Vatican City are massive. They remind me of the flood walls down by the Arch... (again, is it blasphemous to compare the Vatican to the flood walls along the Mississippi?) We also lucked out in that the day we decided to spend all day indoors was the ickiest of all three we were there! Perhaps a higher power was one our side? Eh, eh?

A tip on the Vatican Museum: get Rick Steve's book. Or some kind of book pointing out the highlights. This place is massive and you will get overwhelmed fast. We browsed through all the rooms, but only stopped in detail at the ones Rick pointed out specifically. It kept us on our toes so we weren't tired by the time we made it to the Sistine Chapel.

And now, for the museum:

This statue of the god of sun and music was thought to be perfect - his anatomy, his smooth, youthful features, his lightness on his feet. It was hailed as the greatest work of art in the world during the Renaissance. That is, until...

This is supposed to be the high priest of Troy, who planned to warn his fellow Trojans about the 'gift' the Greeks would bring to destroy them. But the Gods wanted the Greeks to win, so they sent these snakes to kill Laocoon and his sons. The figures are powerful, strong, you can see the terror in their eyes, the strain in their muscles as they fight for their lives. When it was unearthed in 1506, they paraded it through the streets - having grown up seeing the 'pretty boy' Apollo. Michelangelo was one of those who saw it, just two years before he begin work on the Sistine Chapel.

Belvedere Torso
This statue was once Hercules... and now it is just a tummy. Sad face. But an incredibly awesome tummy! Another inspiration for Michelangelo, this one is echoed on the belly of Jesus on the Sistine Chapel (which you won't be able to see because you can't take pictures. But check out this 3D rendering!). Like Laocoon, it is gritty, raw, real.

Roman Basin & Mosaic
This Roman basin and the floor around it are from Ancient Rome. The basin,  from Nero's palace, is made from a single block of purple marble imported from Egypt. A single block! All the way from Egypt! Can you imagine. And all this tone is gone now! All used up by emperors and early popes. Talk about exclusive. The floor is mosaic and once decorated an Ancient Roman bath. Pretty neat.

The ceiling of the Constantine Room
This whole room, painted by Raphael, is amazing. It is the story of Constantine legalizing Christianity and ends with this pretty epic ceiling. The cross towering over the crumbled marble statue is supposed to represent Christianity's triumph over Rome. Pretty powerful stuff.

The School of Athens
This is an awesome one. These pictures are tiny, but these paintings are entire walls. Huge. Raphael painted this to pay respect for the great minds of Ancient Greece. Plato and Aristotle in the middle, Socrates to the left in green, a bald Euclid in the right foreground. And in this painting, the ancient thinkers were portrayed by Renaissance royalty. da Vinci as Plato, the guy who designed St. Peter's as Euclid. Raphael himself is in the black beret on the far right. And the 'school' is set in the under-construction-at-the-time St. Peter's. The best thing about this painting though, is Michelangelo - the man in purple in the front. When Raphael was painting this, he got a sneak peek at Mike's Sistine Chapel down the hall and knew right then it would blow everyone away. So he added him here.

(Note: This is where we lost Socorro. Yep, lost her. She went to the bathroom.... and we didn't see her for at least another hour.  Turns out she took the wrong turn and went ahead into the Sistine Chapel without us and then circled the entire Vatican Museum again.)

After this, you head through the modern art museum (which we pretty much ran though since we were frantically looking for Socorro) and then into the Sistine Chapel. A couple of notes on the Sistine Chapel...

  • It is smaller than I imagined. I'm glad we saw it before we saw St. Peter's, because that, to me, was just magnificent and nothing can compare (blog post coming soon!)
  • God reaching out to touch Adam with his finger is the most famous panel from the Chapel, and I always thought it was probably the biggest, most important.... but it is not. In fact, it kind of gets lost in everything else. You see, the Chapel depicts the history of Christianity before Christ. There are panels all around you on the walls, depicting prophets. And the ceiling starts at creation and ends with Noah's sons seeing him drunk (not sure I even remember hearing that story). There are about a million different scenes painted around you. 
  • The real focal point, though, is the Last Judgement wall. Painted 23 years after the rest, it covers one entire side of the Chapel. Jesus is in the center (in form inspired by the Belvedere Torso) with his arm raised to smite the wicked. Hell is below him and Heaven above him, though no one really looks happy. No one is smiling. There is a sense of terror. When this wall was unveiled in 1541, nothing like it had been seen before. The pope dropped to his knees and cried out, asking God for forgiveness come Judgement Day. 
Another, perhaps most important note about the Vatican - That's where Old Bridge Gelato is! Go there. If you're ever in Rome, of course.

Click here for links to all my Rome and Morocco travels!

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