Vatican City -The World’s Smallest Country
We were on a much anticipated tour of Italy last year, and carving out a full day to visit this smallest independent sovereign state of the world, we took the Metro from Roma Termini to the holy city of Vatican (the most convenient way to reach the Vatican). From the Metro Station, it is a 10 to 15 minutes walk to the beautiful St. Peter’s Square and the adjoining museum. We had read quite a bit about being swamped by the numerous tourists and the long lines at the ticket windows, so we pre-booked our tickets to the museum online. We wore comfortable walking shoes and clothes covering our knees and shoulders (as a sign on respect to the Holy place).
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Booking our tickets online proved to be an incredibly good idea, as it helped us beat the never-ending queues. We had also read about the pitfalls of visiting the Vatican Museums on weekends because the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are closed on Sundays, which makes Saturdays even busier than a popular destination on a given weekend!
We had started early and wandered through the St. Peter’s Square, admiring its beauty and grace, to the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Museum Complex is unimaginably massive, and boasts of the world’s greatest private art collections amassed by the Roman Catholic Church. We were surprised to know that most of the art that they own is not even displayed!
There is so much art to see in these kilometres long galleries (54 rooms) that it’s quite difficult to take it all in. From the renaissance art to Etruscan bronzes to the classical sculptures and Egyptian mummies, we got a taste of the ancient culture and how! This place is a heaven for history and art enthusiasts. It is easy to immerse in the impossibly beautiful works of art, and spends months here, lingering on each painting with the time every piece truly deserves.. Even if one rushes it, it will take a minimum of two hours to hurriedly see the galleries before reaching the Sistine Chapel, so we had to brace ourselves and pace ourselves! 😉
K and I had a quick lunch at one of the cafes at the Vatican Museums. We had had a fairly large breakfast in the hotel, so we just had a pizza slice each, with some lemonade to wash it down. Energized again and completely soaked in history, we walked towards the Sistine Chapel. And, boy! Oh, boy! What an astounding work of art the place is. Completely smitten, with the help of our audio guide, we understood the detailing of the works of legendary Michelangelo. The ceiling frescos and the last Judgment are the most famous works of art by him. There are 343 figures that were painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel in four years. This star attraction definitely deserves all the hype, and we felt moved just by standing under the paintings.
There is a secret passage (well, not so secret if WE knew about it!) through the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica which we took – a much needed shortcut after hours of walking! So, St Peter’s Basilica is world’s largest Renaissance-era church and one of the most sublime Basilica I have seen (umm, maybe second only to the Basilica San Domenico in Siena – my most favourite). Amazed in wonderment, we haltingly proceeded inside this wondrous structure. We stared for hours at the magnificent floors, walls and ceilings and yet there were SO many details that we would have easily missed.
Michelangelo’s Pietà, a Renaissance sculpture, shows a crucified Jesus on Mother Mary’s lap. There was something extremely pulling about the scene, and we just couldn’t look away. Standing there transfixed, we witnessed some truly overwhelming and moving scenes. There was this lady who couldn’t stop gazing at it with an almost superhuman intensity, an elderly couple who was moved to tears and stood in front of the Pietà for as long as we were in the Basilica, tears flowing openly and unnoticed. It felt like we witnessed something with immense significance for these people.
Such moving scenes, amidst the tourists who were excitedly snapping away with the extraordinary backdrops at St. Peter’s Basilica, drew such stark contrasts that it made us realise how important it is to be in the moment rather than accumulating series of pictures that we might not even browse through in the future. But this was an age old discussion that we kept having – to absorb as much as we can and let it be, or to click photographs to make the moment immortal, even if a little less intense.
After marvelling at this stupendous work of art for hours and literally being pulled out of the basilica by K, we took the elevator and stairs ride to the copula of St. Peter’s to see the entire country of Vatican. As we took the flight of stairs to reach the copula, we realized that the stairs started becoming extremely narrow and precarious. It felt a little claustrophobic with several people queued up above and below us, but the rewarding views were completely worth the effort. The show stealer would definitely be the panoramic views of St. Peter’s Square – drop-dead gorgeous! With the wind ruffling our hair, and carrying a hint of a promise of chill in the evening, we took one last glance at the magnificent view and finally climbed down.
We were lucky to see the change of Swiss Guards (protectors of the holy land, Vatican) which happens at the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica – Arco Delle Campane. This was a simple ceremony which involved a bit of marching, clicking heels and one guard relieving the other from the duty.
Weary, we relaxed for sometime at the Square, gazing in wonderment at the majestic architecture with some heavenly hot chocolate and sandwiches from a nearby Starbucks. The warmth from the swirling cocoa was exactly what we needed to relax and let the whole marvellous and moving day seep in. We weren’t Christians, but there was something very humbling to see the glorious symbol of hope and faith for millions across the globe. We had seen many emotions in people through the day, and felt lucky to have been able to experience it all, that too with the ones we loved the most.
Bidding goodbye to the Holy city, we walked to the lovely cobblestoned neighbourhood of Trastevere (back in Rome, just about a 40 minute walk from the Vatican)for a much anticipated dinner!