11/24/07After a much needed night of solid sleep we ate an awesome free breakfast at the hotel and took the bus to St Peters and the Vatican. There was already a long line to get into St Peters and we soon found out that Cardinals were getting Ordained and we needed invitations. Since it would be open to the public in the afternoon, we got in the long line for the Vatican Museums containing some of the worlds greatest collections of Classical and Renaissance art. Talking to a Penn State student (small world!) right behind us, she said to check out the Sistine Chapel first before it gets too crowded. Once the doors opened we went through the Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of Tapestries, and the Gallery of Maps. This place is HUGE! Gigantic fresco's everywhere, even the ceilings! Just amazing and a must-see, it's really hard to describe and we just walked around with our jaws hanging open. The maps depict renditions of the world many many years ago. Finally at the far end of the museum we got to the Sistine Chapel. I was completely blown away and it was like nothing I've ever seen before. No pictures are allowed and the guards keep it relatively quiet. The Last Judgment is Michelangelo's masterpiece and contains so much detail it looks real. It tells the story of the souls of the dead rising up to face the wrath of God. The frescos on the walls tell the stories of Moses and Christ from the painters Perugino, Botticello, Ghirlandaio, Rossello, Signorelli, and Michelangelo. Considered some of the finest work of the 15th century. The figures and stories seem to jump out at you and they all contain lots of hidden meanings. Jean knew most of the stories and helped to explain them to me. They really spark your interest to find out more of the history behind these great stories and painters.
After nearly an hour in the Sistine Chapel, our necks were sore from looking up, and we wanted to get to the Raphael rooms. They keep traffic going in one direction so we had to go all the way back through the other sections of the museum again. Not an issue, but it is so gigantic it takes about 20mins to walk end to end. We went outside for some air in the courtyard for some fun pictures of headless sculptures and to see the famous giant pine cone, Cirtile della Pigna, from an old Roman fountain. From there we did the long walk back through the gallery's, through the Egyptian section, room of busts, and room of animals, to get to the Raphael rooms. One of the coolest sculptures was the 1st Century marble Lacoon. The hallways were shoulder to shoulder with people now and we took some time to check out Raphael's fresco's and great works of art. These are broken into four rooms, all painted in the early 1500's and explained the religious and philosophical ideals of the Renaissance. Some of my favorites were the Liberation of St Peter, The School of Athens, and The Fire in the Borgo. Once again, so much amazing detail that the paintings looked real.
By this time we were exhausted and over-cultured so we headed out barely stopping in the modern religious art section. We grabbed some real Italian pizza just in time to miss a thunderstorm then headed to St Peters piazzo, laid out by Bernini in the 1650's. ENORMOUS!!! Giant columns surround the place all capped with statues, a few fountains, an obelisk, and more statues that lead you to the unbelievably ornate and humbling St Peters church that took over a century to build. Once inside, this church is sooooo gigantic and detailed that "humbling" is the best way to describe it. Its over 600ft long! It would take weeks to thoroughly look at everything and take it all in. Michelangelo's Pieta was the first sculpture that we saw, he finished it when he was just 25yrs old. Michelangelo also designed the Dome and Bernini created the extravagant Baroque canopy in the nave with 66ft columns covering the Papal alter. Another highlight is the Monument to Pope Alexander VII. It shows the Pope sitting among the figure of Truth, Justice, Charity, and Prudence. At the far end in the domed apse, is another highlight.... Bernini's Throne of St Peter in Glory. The stained glass lights the image of the Holy Spirit. Monuments, sculptures, and tombs throughout the entire basilica. Even the ceilings over 100ft high were covered in frescos and had marble sculptures on all of the arches.
Back outside and completely overwhelmed, we had some beer and cappuccino at a small cafe before grabbing a bottle of wine and some panini sandwiches from a small cafe to take back to the hotel with us. Completely exhausted and over-cultured, we planned our last day in Rome.