Rome IV : The Vatican Museums
Monday, June 28
Monday marked our last day in Rome. Our stay in our cozy little rooftop apartment had come to an end; we had to be out by 10am. We weren't feeling rushed out, however: we had been in the city for four days now, and in any case we wanted to spend the remainder of our last week in Europe lesiurely heading back north, culminating with a final bit of Ferrata-ing in the high Dolomites. So, it was a reasonable time to be leaving.
Pu and Jenn, Trevi Fountain
We were out by 10am and walking under another day of bright sun towards the car-park at the Villa Borghese. Now, we weren't actually leaving Rome yet; instead, we were simply dropping off our stuff from the apartment at the car. There was one more famous attraction that we wanted to take in before heading off: the Vatican Museums.
Pu and his Cappucino
The Vatican Museums are a complex of separate collections and museums built up by the Roman Catholic church over the centuries. Collectively, they are considered one of the greatest museums in the world. The subject matter in the museums is immense both in terms of volume and scope. There is an astounding amount of sculpture from the time of Roman, Greek and Etruscan Antiquity, and endless rooms of paintings, sculpture and other art from the centuries since. Needless to say, we wanted to see it!
Unsurprisingly, a lot of other people want to see what these museums have to offer. For this reason, the line that stretched to the entrance was over half a kilometre long by the time we arrived at 11 am (on a Monday morning, no less). There was no other option but to wait in that line, under the hot, hot sun; Unless, of course, we wanted to take the bait being offered by the endless 'tour operator' types who continually hounded us as we waited. Promising a quick and speedy front-of-the-line pass to avoid what they called the '2+ hour wait', all you had to do was pay them 40 or 50 euros -- three times the price of the regular ticket. We didn't think the line would take 2+ hours, and so we passed on these offers. Repeatedly.
Waiting in line, Vatican Museum
Fortunately for us, our decision to stay in the line worked out: The line did move steadily, although slowly. It was a hot day, and the way the line wound about a sunny and wind-less corner underneath the high walls of the Vatican City made it even hotter. We were very pleased when our section of line turned a corner into an area of shade. In about 1 hour and 15 minutes, we were at the entrance and into the Museum's entrance hall.
For all of the history of the museums many buildings and the antiquities within, the entrance hall was very modern. It had the feel of an airport, complete with long parallel lines of security checks.
First up for us in the museums was the broad open outdoor space of the Cortile della pigna. This is a beautiful open grassy area surrounded by the elegant long buildings and Villas of the museum. There's a very neat ancient Roman bronze pinecone at one end of the courtyard (which gives the courtyard its name) and a modern metal globe-y bit of art with gears visible inside.
Following the line of tourists, we entered the first of the exhibits proper. We entered a long, long, long arched hallway, known as the Museo Chiaramonti. There were an innumerable number of Roman and Greek busts in here. We wandered down the hallway, having a cursory look at a bust here or there. Some were remarkably honest in their portrayal of very real, un-idealized faces.
Relief with Theatre Masks
Next up was the Braccio Nuovo, or 'new arm'. A recent (for this place, recent means early 1800s!) addition to the museums, this long arched hallway is very beautiful, done in tasteful light blue, with a beautiful patterned ceiling. The floor periodically had ancient Roman mosaics placed into it (taken from excavations done long ago from nearby sites). Along the walls were regularly-spaced alcoves, each containing some sort of statue from antiquity. These statues were full-size or over-size, and were often depictions of gods and the like. I especially liked the reclining statue of the river god Nile.
Mosaic Floor, Braccio Nuovo
From the Braccio Nuovo we made our way to the small open courtyard of the Cortile Ottagonale (the Octagonal Courtyard). This was the location of the very first kernel of the Vatican Museums, over 500 years ago. The first few statues in the museum were placed here (I believe the very first statue was the one of Laocoon - see pictures). The statues in here are certainly impressive and certainly 'statuesque'. You can see how some of them may have influenced the renaissance artists of the time.
After the open-air Cortile Ottagonale, the path through the museums led first through the Room of the Muse, then through a series of very long hallway-like rooms. All were very impressive: The Hall of Tapestries, containing (you guessed it) tapestries hanging along both walls, many of Flemish origin; and the Gallery of Maps, with huge maps depicting various bits and pieces of Italy.
Towards the Hall of Tapestries