Next, the museum wound through a series of rooms that are part of the Apostolic Palace. Used by Popes in medieval times, these rooms are now part of the Vatican Museum. They contain truly amazing wall and ceiling frescoes, and some examples of the very best of High Renaissance art. I thought (as I'm sure many others did, too) that the rooms painted by the Renaissance painter Raphael were especially good.
Ceiling, Sala di Constantino
It was then time for the piece de resistance, as it were, of the entire museums: the Sistine Chapel. Probably the most famous chapel in the world, and it was super crowded as we arrived; the entire floor of the public area in the chapel was filled with people.
Sistine Chapel Ceiling
There are rules posted outside the door about being respectful, quiet, not taking pictures, and especially not with a flash. Enforcing the mob, though, was a completely futile activity half-heartedly being undertaken by the five or six guards in the Chapel. They would occasionally clap or pipe up, issuing commands or making loud 'sush'ing sounds. The sound level of the hundreds of people in the chapel would briefly lower, then return to full-blown cacaphony in about five seconds. And, there were so many people snapping pictures -- flash or not -- that the guards weren't even trying to stop it.
Crowds in the Sistine Chapel
Not making much of any noise ourselves, we pushed our way through the people to a point roughly center in the room, and looked skyward. There it was -- the Sistine Chapel ceiling -- in all it's restored, brightly-colored glory. To think that one (and only one) man worked on scaffolding way up there for four solid years is pretty amazing. And, it truly was a work of art. I don't have much of a problem with non-flash photography in places such as this (no non-flash photography rules smack to me of revenue generation protection, anyway), so I myself took a few floor-steadied shots of the ceiling.
Perhaps I'll come back some time at a point when it is relatively peaceful and quiet in here. Perhaps the first thing on a rainy Wednesday morning in the middle of November?
The Last Judgement
After the Sistine Chapel, the path enters a section dedicated to modern religious art. While some of it was interesting, our brains were so art-saturated that we really couldn't absorb very much of it. A few more interesting-looking hallways and rooms (of which I can't remember a whole lot), and we were back at the entrance hall. We were a bit hungry and thirsty, so we made a quick stop at one of the in-house snack bars (Cappucino for Pu, some sort of pastry-thing for myself and Jenn). We then headed back up, taking a brief look out over the Vatican city from the Terrazo of the Pinacoteca.
So, all in all, the Vatican Museums are indeed highly impressive. There is so, so much to see. Thousands upon thousands of pieces of sculpture, paintings, mosaics, and frescoes - and from so many eras of history. It really isn't possible to thoroughly examine everything in one day. As it was, we only managed to breeze through the most visited areas, looking at some highlights here and there. And, there were several sections of the museum that we had skipped entirely. Truly a vast and priceless collection of western art.
Heading back out into the afternoon sun, we decided that -- since we were here at the Vatican -- we'd give Pu a peek at St. Peter's Basilica (Jenn and I had already been not too long ago). So, we walked around the outer walls of the Vatican to the Piazza in front of St. Peter's. There weren't too many people lined up to get in to the Basilica, so it wasn't long before we were standing in the largest church in the world.
Interior, St. Peter's Basilica
We wandered around, taking a look at some of the artistic highlights. We visited Michelangelo's famous Pieta sculpture, completed in 1499 when he was only 24 years old. The sculpture is considered one of the pinnacles of Renaissance art. We headed over to towards the apse and the altar with it's huge Bernini-created 100-foot canopy above. A fortunate couple of sun-rays made for a very heavenly-looking scene. That and the tiny-looking figures of people below the altar gave a true sense of scale. The church seems huge when you are in it, looking around. Then you see something that gives you a reference point and you suddenly realize that it's even bigger than you thought!
Ceiling Detail, St. Peter's
With our short visit to St. Peter's over, we headed back outside and away from the Vatican city. We wrote a few postcards, had another snack, then headed back to the car at the Villa Borghese.
Interactive Trackmap, Day 4 of Rome Walks
Our objective for the evening was a hotel in Bagnaia, a small town on the outskirts of Viterbo; something I had booked back in our Rome apartment before we left. I chose this area because of a nearby region, well-known for hot springs. Most of these hot springs have modern, expensive, and highly polished resorts built around them. However, I had stumbled upon an old undeveloped Roman-era hot spring called 'Le Masse di San Sisto', apparently open to the public for a minor fee. I knew that anything spa-like would be something that Pu and Jenn would find delightful, and even more so if it was somehow authentically historic. Hence the reason for staying at a hotel in this area: the next morning, we could check out and spend a little time at these springs.
The hotel that we stayed at, called the Hotel Biscetti, is what I would consider your typical mid-20th century Italian hotel. Consisting of a mid-60s modern-esque and attractive building, the rooms were outfitted in a particular kind of way; Let's call it elegance-on-the-slightly-cheap. High ceilings and generous space but somewhat lacking in amenities. No air conditioning was especially unfortunate this day - it was hot out! Rounding out the somewhat staid Italian-ness of the place was the staff - solidly middle-aged, fairly well-dressed and somehow faintly stern.
We chose to eat dinner at the Hotel's quite decent restaurant (with our server being, once again, that solidly middle-aged-and-faintly-stern Italian man who served as our consierge). He turned out to be friendly enough, though, and gave us an after-dinner aperatif on the house.
After dinner we decided to walk off some calories with a little stroll around the town. We ended up in the historic center of Bagnaia, which turned out to be quite an ancient section of town. Turns out that this citta di dentro section is almost completely untouched and unmodified from medieval times. Walking around in here after dark -- with kids playing to and fro, and elderly family members sitting outside twisted and slanted old buildings -- only added to the effect.