The One with the Vatican

Sunday, December 7, 2014

This will be my last big travel report of the year! Can I get an amen?! PHEW! What a year!

Our second day in Rome we headed to the smallest country in the world: Vatican City.
 Lots of different modes of transportation to get from place to place in this city - by foot, taxi, trams, buses, metro, bikes, and strollers :)

This tiny independent country of little more than 100 acres, contained entirely within Rome, has its own postal system, armed guards, helipad, mini-train station, and radio station (KPOP). Vatican City contains St. Peter's Basilica (with Michelangelo's exquisite Pietà) and the Vatican Museum (with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel).
 Every few yards we were stopped by someone trying to sell us Vatican Museum tickets or wanting to be our tour guide. We already have tickets thank you very much though!

Lots of pink and orange on our walk to get to the entrance.

We saw a plethora of nuns :)

We purchased our tickets online a few weeks ago after reading that lines can be hours and hours long. There was a lot of rigamarole and security and various lines and stairs and levels to get in, but we made it!
 A little about the Vatican Museum - there are four MILES of displays in this immense museum - from ancient statues to Christian frescoes to modern paintings - culminating in the Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo's glorious Sistine Chapel. This is one of Europe's top three houses of art. Seems rather daunting so we chose to only focus on a few areas of interest.
 Cortile della Pigna.
 Inside the museum.
 Immaculate ceilings and floors.

Looking out into Rome.
  Octagonal Courtyard.
Apollo Belvedere
Laocoön and His Sons
 I overheard a tour guide saying this was the Zoo Room or something along the lines of a place with a lot of animals.
 The Belvedere Torso - "just" a 2000-year-old torso that had a great impact on the art of Michelangelo.
 Mosying on through, trying to take everything in, but also trying to keep the kids from touching anything and getting kicked out.
 This ceiling. I fell in love with it and took dozens of photos.
 Totally inspired to make a layout from it :)

Room after room of amazing things.
 Even the parking lot looks cool wrapped in marvelous architecture!
 After long halls of tapestries, old maps, broken genitals, and fig leaves, we arrived at the Raphael Rooms.
 In the room with the School of Athens there was a big tourist group. The leader took a picture of his ticket in front of the School of Athens so they all followed suit. It was pretty funny.
Anyway! Here is the School of Athens! This is remarkable for its blatant pre-Christian classical orientation, especially since it originally wallpapered the apartments of Pope Julius II. Raphael honors the great pre-Chrsitian thickers - Aristotle, Plato, and company - who are portrayed as the leading artists of Raphael's day. There's Leonardo da Vinici, whom Raphael worshipped, in the role of Plato. Michelangelo broods in the foreground, added later. When Raphael snuck a peek at the Sistine Chapel he decided that his arch-competitor was so good that he had to put their personal differences aside and include him in this tribute to the artists of his generation.
 Into the Sistine Chapel we went!
 Photos aren't allowed, but how could we not take a photo? We set our Nikon on top of the stroller so it blended in and we both took turns snapping away. This is straight out of the camera - no editing.
 And this is the picture I instagrammed after photoshopping to make it lighter and more true to how it looks in real life.

You guys. I don't think I've ever been more moved by a piece of art than by the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I have seen dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling - specifically the Creation of Adam - throughout my 29 years of life. I've seen it printed on t-shirts, postcards, calendars, mugs, pencils, anything and everything that can have an image on it has had the Creation of Adam printed on it. But here, in the Sistine Chapel, I saw it with mine own two eyes, in the flesh. Not a reproduction, not a print, not a copy, THE REAL DEAL. It was surreal. I'll never forget it.

The Sistine Chapel is the pope's personal chapel and also the place where, upon the death of the ruling pope, a new pope is elected. The Sistine Chapel is famous for Michelangelo's pictorial culmination of the Renaissnace, showing the story of creation with a powerful God weaving in and out of each scene through that busy first week. This is an optimistic and positive expression of the High Renaissance and a stirring example of the artistic and theological maturity of the 33-year-old Michelangelo, who spent four years on this work. The ceiling shows the history of the world before the birth of Jesus. We see God creating the world, creating man and woman, destroying the earth by flood, and so on. When the ceiling was finished and revealed to the public it simply blew them away. It was unlike anything seen before. It both caps the Renaissance and turns it in a new direction. In perfect Renaissance spirit, it mixes Old Testament prophets with classical figures. But the style is more dramatic, shocking, and emotional than the balanced Renaissance works before it. This is a very personal work - the Gospel according to Michelangelo - but its themes and subject matter are universal. Many art scholars contend that the Sistine Chapel ceiling is the single greatest work of art by any one human being. I would have to concur.
As part of Counter-Reformation, a much older Michelangelo was commissioned to paint The Last Judgment (behind the altar). It's Judgment Day, and Christ - the powerful figure in the center, raising his arm to smite the wicked - has come to see who's been righteous and evil. The wicked are hurled down to hell where demons wait to torture them. When The Last Judgment was unveiled to the public in 1541 it caused a sensation. The pope is said to have dropped to his knees and cried, "Lord, charge me not with my sins when though shalt come on Judgment Day." And it changed the course of art. The complex composition with more than 300 figures swirling around the figure of Christ went far beyond traditional Renaissance balance. The twisted figures shown from every imaginable angle challenged other painters to try and top this master of 3D illusion. And the sheer terror and drama of the scene was a striking contrast to the placid optimism of Raphael's School of Athens.
 So happy to be here. Chris majored in Art History and I in Art Education, so we kinda like art :)
 We took a shortcut out the back corner of the Sistine Chapel which lead us right to St. Peter's Basilica.

Although somehow I didn't realize I was going into THE church when Chris told me to go inside the church. I thought it was just another one of the hundreds of churches in Rome. Mommy brain, seriously.

Now, I've seen some amazing churches here in Europe. But when I walked in this church I knew it wasn't just a regular church. It was St. Peter's. There is no doubt. This is the richest and grandest church on earth.
 To call it vast is like calling Einstein smart. Plaques on the floor show where other smaller churches would end if they were placed inside. The ornamental cherubs would dwarf a small man. Birds roost inside, and thousands of people wander about, heads craned heavenward, hardly noticing each other.

 I felt like a tiny ant inside this huge church.
 The dome.
The entrance.

 Outside | Inside

In awe.

Michelangelo's Pietà is gaurded behind bulletproof glass to the right of the entrance. 
The Pietà is the first of a number of works of the same theme by Michelangelo. The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unprecedented in Italian sculpture. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism.

Back outside, looking left.
 St. Peter's Square.
Swiss guards in their funny uniforms.
Chris knows I love a good view so he agreed to watch the kids while I was gone for almost an hour and climbed over 500 steps to reach the tippy top of the dome - Michelangelo's last work and it's the biggest dome anywhere in true Roman style.
Inside the Basilica looking down into the church and looking up into the dome.

Taller than a football field is long, it was well worth the sweaty-hot-mess climb up the dome to get this view. The curved colonnade in St. Peter's Square was designed by Bernini and is supposed to look like the arms of Christ encircling and welcoming humanity.

The Vatican.
Back down as fast as I could to reunite with the Chris and Fox and Jane. This was on the roof of St. Peter's.
Our family in front of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, November 29th 2014.

Bernini's curved colonnade.
St. Peter's Square.
We were famished so we went to McDonald's. Again I stress that we try to keep the kids happy and get them food we know they will eat rather than spend a lot on something they might not like. Jane was harrassing the people sitting next to us pretending she was a dinosaur and "roaring" at them. You can definitely tell she has a big brother. PS - we told Jane that as soon as we got back from Thanksgiving break we'd take her pacifier away. And we have! She only has it during naps and night so this should be the last photo of her with a pacifier, hooray! So much cuter without it :)
After the Vatican we walked and walked and walked.
Looking back down to St. Peter's Basilica.
Details from our walk.

Final destination: the Castel Sant'Angelo. Built as a tomb for the emperor, used through the Middle Ages as a castle, prison, and place of last refuge for popes under attack, and today a museum, this giant pile of ancient bricks is packed with history.
Ancient Rome allowed no tombs - not even the emperor's - within its walls. So Emperor Hadrian grabbed the most commanding position just outside the walls and across the river and built a towering tomb (AD 139) well within view of the city. His mausoleum was a huge cylinder (210 by 70 feet) topped by a cypress grove and crowned by a huge statue of Hadrian himself riding a chariot.

Looking up at the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II.
The Ponte Sant'Angelo (bridge) leading to Castel Sant'Angelo was built by Hadrian for quick and regal access from downtown to his tomb. The three middle arches are actually Roman originals and a fine example of the empire's engineering expertise. The statues of angels, each bearing a symbol of the passion of Christ, are Bernini-designed and textbook Baroque. In the Middle Ages this was the only bridge in the area that connected St. Peter's and the Vatican with downtown Rome.
Looking down the Tiber River to the Ponte Umberto. Beautiful fall weather.
Then we walked back to the metro station, rode back to the train station and took a tram back to our apartment where we rested the rest of the day. 

That concludes our traveling for 2014!!! Next trip: Naples, Pompeii, and the Amalfi coast. But we're looking forward to sticking around for Christmas :)


  1. This was my favorite day of our trip. Getting to see the Sistine Chapel, Raphael's frescoes, and St. Peter's in person was a dream come true.

  2. How exciting!!! I loveeeee all the photos of the Sistine Chapel!! WOW!!!!

  3. I just love your wonderful travel reports �� Keep travelling and explore all those beautiful places! Love Julia from Mainz, Germany

  4. Man, oh man! I'm so glad you got to go to Rome. It's amazing in every single way. Now you know why I majored in Art History!

    And I love the family pics.

  5. WOW! I would have snapped a photo of the Sistine Chapel, too!! So amazing!

  6. Cant' wait to see your Sistine Chapel-inspired layout. thank you for the travelogue!

  7. The Sistine Chapel is absolutely beautiful! Wow!

  8. I am always astounded by the amount of detail the masters of the Renaissance were able to work in. It really is unbelievable and honestly I have no other words to describe it than, WOW.

    Enjoy your Christmas at home! I can only imagine how crazy traveling with little kids in a foreign country must be. Give them all the Mcdonald's they want! ;)

  9. I love reading about your travels and seeing all the photos. I can't wait to see your trip to Naples. We have orders to move there in June. It's a little overwhelming just thinking about the move, but when I see what's in's makes it all better!

  10. I'm just getting around to reading this... But I SO SO SO SO want to see that in person! It is amazing! I remember learning about a few of the stuff you mentioned in my Humanities class a few years ago. I definitely wanted to see it then, and definitely want to see it more now! :)

  11. Hello, I so love your blog, your amazing creativity and beautiful style. Especially love the absolutely gorgeous pictures though one small comment. I am struck that you broke the rules at the Sistine Chapel. As a Catholic, who has visited LDS temples during public week I followed the no pictures rule and wonder why you decided to not follow the rule at a Catholic church? Please don't take it the wrong way, I do appreciate the beautiful pictures from there. I have never been there and am glad to see them though a little saddened to "hear" you chose not to follow the rules.

  12. Your recount of the Vatican is wonderful! I appreciate all the details you go into. I'm looking forward to taking my kids there this June , I've been before and I too took a picture of the Sistine Chapel and I will try again. To Anonymous, the rules about photographing the Sistine Chapel are not catholic religious based. I believe their intent is to protect the fragile art, but honestly if no flash is used I can't see the damage it would cause.


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