“St Peter’s is a resume of so much that is Roman, from Michelangelo’s Pieta to Bernini’s Baldacchino and Cathedra Petri and Giotto’s mosaic of the Navicella. Its outsized dimensions and grandiose decoration are overwhelming, making the experience of walking through the building a dynamic one.” – Bruce Boucher
Today is my last day in Europe. Our agenda…Vatican City.
We received a tip about going to Vatican after lunch because supposedly the crowds are thinner so we kept ourselves busy in the morning with other things. We did some souvenir shopping (yeah, talk about waiting until the last-minute), prepared tomorrow’s flight stuff, and snagged a tasty pizza lunch. Time to see the smallest country in the world. Off the Metro we follow a large crowd to the Vatican walls. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage. While strolling towards the walls, I was mildly amused at all the vendors hawking Jesus ware in kiosks. There were postcards of the Pope, rosaries, mini Mary statues, Jesus shot glasses… everything. (ok, I don’t think I actually saw a Jesus shot glass, but I bet you it was there).
I was in awe stepping into the square. I’m not religious, but I am very aware of the worldly and historical events that have originated in Vatican City since the dawn of Catholicism…like the Crusades! I am also very aware of the significance and importance this place has to the religious community. I think of the power of the Popes throughout time and the role they have played in world history. It is impossible to ignore as I walk through the walls, into the crowds (after lunch didn’t matter much!). I am strolling along, admiring the colonnades surrounding the square decorated with the statues of 140 saints on top, the fountains, and the obelisk marking the center. At the front of the square is St. Peter’s Basilica, with a large section of folding chairs on a platform before it. I have to assume these chairs are here for an audience with the Pope. To my right is a seemingly endless line of people who I soon discover is the line for the Basilica. Argh. We jump in line, knowing we have no choice and it moves surprisingly fast. Soon after passing through a metal detector and elaborately dressed guards we are inside admiring the grandeur that is St. Peter’s.
It is more magnificent than any cathedral I have ever seen; appropriately. Every surface is detailed with marble statues over every doorway, colorful frescoes, and architectural genius. To my right is the famous Michelangelo sculpture “Pieta.” In the center is the glorious Bernini baldacchino atop the alter, overlooking the entrance to St. Peter’s tomb. This amazing gold and bronze baldacchino is centered directly below the main dome. “Wow” appropriately summarizes my thoughts.
We eventually left the basilica and passed on the option to tour the popes tombs. I don’t want to see dead popes under glass. I was warned. After a bit of consideration, we decide to climb to the top of the basilica to the cupola. 332 stairs AFTER the lift. Here is where my story goes bad. I am mildly claustrophobic, only mildly…and wasn’t prepared at all for this.
The stairs began and I immediately find myself in an extremely narrow walkway. The stairs twisted up into a very tight upward spiral. All I could see was the curving wall directly in front of me. The sporadic windows were tiny and skinny enough to fit only a hand through. After about 10 minutes of constant tight, spirals, upward walking, I start psyching myself out, wondering when the end is. I am suddenly extremely conscious of the fact I can’t see any real sunlight and I’m in a very enclosed space with a horde of people directly in front of and behind me! After about 20 minutes, I pause at a bigger, grated window to get air. We climb and climb and climb… I nearly have a panic attack realizing I couldn’t even turn around if I wanted to because it is a one way staircase. As we get higher, the wall tilts in on us in the shape of the dome, so I’m more enclosed! Finally… we make it to the top.
I am rewarded with a sprawling view of Rome as far as the eye can see. You can completely circle the top, so you can see every corner of the city. I’m catching my breath and realizing this is the only time in my life I will be up here so enjoy it. I will never put myself through that again! I prepare myself for the walk down and nervously begin. Luckily the stairway down is more modern and open. Probably created later when tourism caused the first stairway to only become functional as a one way. This is no longer the age of little popes and priests climbing the tunnels inside the Duomo to the top!
After reaching the bottom, we head to the Sistine Chapel only to discover it closed 40 minutes ago!! WHAT?!?! I’m so sad and pissed off. While I was making the torture climb to the cupola I could’ve been seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece. One of the things I wanted to see most of all. Why didn’t we double-check the time! I had no idea it closed so early. This is our last day so I can’t even come back tomorrow. I finally get over my horrible mood, knowing I will visit the Eternal City again. There were of course other sites I didn’t get to see in Rome…but my favorite!? I still can’t believe it. *Sigh*
Here ends our visit to the Holy See.
- Sistine Chapel… at last! (briefhiatus.wordpress.com)