We took Monday off for work and chores and then got up at 6 am for a tour of the Vatican, where we were able to get a head start before it opened to the public. And was it worth it – the Vatican can be mobbed with crowds and with huge lines wrapping around St. Peter’s Square. But with a tour, we got to walk right in before it opened so saw some highlights, like the Sistine Chapel, in relative calm.
Did You Know?
I could fill pages and pages with what we saw. Instead, I’ll list what I thought were the most interesting facts that I did not know before yesterday:
– Saint Peter was crucified on this spot, which is why it is Saint Peter’s Basilica. He is buried under the altar.
– As Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s closest assistant was his biggest critic, so he painted him as the Guardian of Hell wrapped in snakes. (Take that!)
– The Sistine Chapel is where the conclave of cardinals meets to cast their votes for a new Pope. You cannot take pictures in the Sistine Chapel because the Vatican sold the copyright to a Japanese company in exchange for them restoring Michelangelo’s works. So you can only buy postcards.
– Each Pope chooses his own apartments. Former apartments that are very fancy now are galleries that house everything from ancient Egyptian mummies to French Impressionists to even a gift from President Nixon of moon rocks. Pope Francis, however, decided to just keep his same little apartment he was assigned as a cardinal.
– The Pope has declared 2016 a holy year, which means that sinners can walk through a golden door and have their sins forgiven – see picture of door below. They are expecting 25 million visitors (normally Rome gets about 9 million).
– The Vatican is a separate country and protected by the Swiss military – the “Swiss Guards.” We got to see the changing of the guard.
– The dome of St. Peter’s (painted by Michelangelo) is the tallest in the world. There is an unwritten rule that no building in Rome can be higher.
You are probably wondering why I titled this page, “Limping Through the Vatican.” Well, during our visit it was pouring down rain. I can personally attest that marble is VERY slick when wet, and I took a tumble. I got right up, red-faced – “I’m ok, I’m ok!” But as the tour wore on, I could feel my knee smarting.
After the tour, Frank and I decided to keep going and set our sights on the Dome. You can ascend to the dome either by elevator or by walking up. We paid to take the elevator – remember how I said the dome is the tallest in the world? We were so excited that we somehow missed the signs and took a wrong turn. We started winding up and up, thinking the elevator must be around the next corner. After awhile, we realized we must be on the path to WALK up instead. At that point, we thought it would probably be just as far to walk down, so kept going around and round, up and up, until we popped out at the base of the dome. (By this time, I definitely was limping!)
But how worth it. We got to see Michelangelo’s dome up close and had a bird’s eye view of the Basilica floor below. Even better, we got to explore the rooftop of the Basilica – they even had an espresso shop up there!
I’ve posted a picture taken from the ground – you can see the statues on the roof – and then a picture of us behind the statues. Very cool.
It is possible to keep climbing to the cupola on top, but we decided not to press our luck, so this time took the elevator down. We hobbled home, where I have been icing my knee off and on, but doing ok.
We will go back later this week for a tour of the Vatican Gardens – this time, hopefully in the sunshine. : )