A Visit to the Vatican
With a population of a thousand people and a land area of only 110 acres, the Vatican is the world’s smallest state. A country located within Rome city in Italy, it attracts almost five million visitors a year and finds itself on many more bucket lists around the world. When it came to my own bucket list, the city had always held the prestigious position of number two — owing, in absolution, to my love for the art work of Italian renaissance master, Michelangelo. The number one position on the list, is in fact Florence — home of Michelangelo’s statue of David which is quite simply the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen. I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed in my hotel room near the Pantheon in Rome, swigged a cup of espresso from the cafe downstairs, grabbed a pastry, waved at the barista with a ‘grazie mille!’ and started my walk to the Vatican City. Within 40 minutes of leisurely strolling and stopping for a pistacchio gelato on the way, I arrived at the key-hole shaped St Peter’s Square. I had been advised by my friend Neha to start my day there early to avoid queues, but even with a 8am arrival, there were already hundreds of people lining up to enter the Vatican Museums. The brick walls encasing the city were magnificent and with my prepurchased online ticket, costing only 4 euro more, I traced them with my hands while whizzing through a much smaller queue. The Vatican Museum is often called the world’s greatest art collection. These elements of greatness begin with the impressive spiralling staircase that forms a double helix and is one of the most photographed stairs in the world. As I walked through the Gallery of Maps, the tapestry of handpainted topographical maps spans more than 100 meters across 40 panels of work by Ignazio Danzi, who impressively completed the entire piece of work in just three years. I found myself reflecting on what I had achieved in the past three years and made a note to wallow in my shortcomings with an extra serving of gelato in the evening. The Raphael Rooms are another highlight of the museum, celebrating the work of another renaissance master. Past the famous Belvederes Courtyard lies the four famous halls, or “stanze” of Rafael — Sala di Costantino, Stanza di Eliodoro, Stanza della Segnatura and Stanza dell’Incendio del Borgo. I could have spent the entire day marvelling at the 1520 alfresco paintings in Sala di Constantino if it wasn’t for the upcoming jewel of the museums — Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. As I entered with a mob of visitors, we were asked to pay our respects and appreciate the work of Michelangelo in silence and without photography. The adherence to these rules created a magical serenity in the chapel where hordes of people craned their necks upward to view the mastery of the painted ceiling panels. The panels depict stories from the Bible, starting in the middle with the famous “Creation of Adam” painting and working its way outwards to the “Last Judgement” above the alter. It is said that Michelangelo refused to paint the chapel until the Pope himself asked him to. Reluctantly leaving his true passion for sculpture, he agreed with the
accepted condition of freedom to paint what he wanted to. Michelangelo painted the fresco ceilings of Sistine Chapel by himself between 1508 and 1512 while lying on a wooden panel suspended from the ceiling, with a candle for light. I sat on a wooden bench in the corner of the room for a full view of the ceiling and thought about what Michelango had chosen to depict on the ceiling - God’s creation of the world, God’s relationship with humankind, and humankind’s gall from grace. When I walked out into the open brightness of St Peter’s Square again, the mass of visitors had quadrupled. With the colourful brushstrokes of the Sistine Chapel still swirling in my mind, I lined up the finale of my visit to the Vatican — St Peter’s Basilica. The security checks required to enter the Basilica make the wait much longer than the museum entrance, but it is well worth the wait. Once inside, I looked at my watch and realised I only had a couple of hours before I had to meet Neha for a sunset dinner back in Rome so I quickly found the statue I was on edge to see — Pietà by Michelangelo. The sculpture depicts a solemn Mother Mary holding the body of Jesus on her lap after the crucifixion. Michelango manages to bring out beautifully subtle notes of renaissance ideals with a mix of naturalism in the piece and staying true to his bold nature, made the sculpture at a time when this depiction of the holy figures was unseen in Italy. Although Pietà is a masterpiece inside the Basilica, the real highlight is actually the dome of the Basilica itself, designed by Michelangelo. The hollowness of the dome from the inside, covered by paintings, transposed itself in and out of a square as my eyes adjusted to its beauty. After I polished off my bowl of pasta that evening and watched the sun set over Rome, I took a folded piece of paper out of my purse and with a smile crossed the Vatican off my bucket list.