It was our third day in Rome and finally, it was time to explore St.Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. It’s a wise idea to start early in the morning — before the swarms of tourists throng the gates. Unfortunately, for us, many other visitors and pilgrims had thought of a similar game plan. We tried to wade through the chaos, that ensued, at St.Peter’s Square and successfully managed to reach one of the aisles.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Our guided tour started from the narthex (lobby area) of the Basilica and inched slowly inside. Each entrance door — five in all — to the nave (the central portion of a church) had elaborate detailing on it.The narthex was a stunning sight to see with its gleaming marble floor and golden ceiling. And yet, nothing quite prepares you for the wealth of art inside.
The Holy Door or Porta Santa is opened once — in a period of twenty five years.
Our guide continued her discourse on the history of the Church as we reached the Pieta. At this point, my mind preferred to trail off and admire the marvelous work of art — before me. And if you ever get to see the Pieta, in person, you’d know why. Michelangelo has skillfully given life, through his vivid imagination, to one of the most iconic scenes in the Bible. Mary, the virgin mother, is a picture of calm and peace. The grief of death has since passed. Her youthful appearance and the anguish of pain on Jesus’s face are hard to ignore. And here’s where his genius lies. Michelangelo has managed to make the divine look human. The more I looked — the more I found it difficult — not to be overwhelmed by emotion. This piece of sculpted marble seemed more real to me — than many people I meet in flesh.
The Basilica is pretty impressive with it’s 60,000 seating capacity and high ceiling. Bernini‘s Baldachin stands tall at twenty six metres and covers the papal altar. St. Peter’s Chair, believed to be the chair used by the apostle, is embellished with bronze works and statues of the four fathers — representing the Eastern and Western Church. The Monument to Alexander VII is another Bernini classic. Other notable works include, ‘The Altar of Transfiguration‘, a mosaic replica of Raphael‘s ‘Deathbed‘ painting.
The Vatican Museums
The artists of the earlier centuries seemed, surprisingly, brazen for their time. The human body — with or without clothes — was celebrated; highlighting every muscle, emotion, and strand of hair. Although, the setting couldn’t be more contradictory.
As we made our way deeper into the museum; it became evident how deeply bound the church was to tradition and doctrine. And the wealth, in the form of art or sculptures, could probably feed a million hungry children. Symbolic messages were painted on every visible surface — of any given room. And the danger of developing a stiff neck, whilst trying to understand biblical scenes, was real.
It’s practically impossible to cover every inch of the Vatican Museum in a couple of hours. If you must, make sure you don’t miss Raphael’s rooms. Each room is a spectacular marriage of imagination, artistry, and colour. It doesn’t take much to realize the genius of Raphael and his pupils. Life size frescoes of battle scenes, the struggles of Christianity, and it’s ultimate triumph are plastered all across.
By the time we made it to the Sistine Chapel, we suffered from art fatigue. It was late evening and the chapel was swarming with tourists. The dull buzz of voices was accompanied by blinding flash lights. The strange thing of being here is: you wonder if you should bow your head in prayer or admire Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling?
Bramante Staircase or Vatican Spiral Staircase
We trudged slowly down the spiral staircase — looking at each layer below. It was a piece of art. And it was time to call it a day!