Last I was in Rome as an adult was 20-25 years ago. I have no memories of visiting the Vatican; there are so many other historical buildings and locations to see that the Vatican wasn’t really on my radar. This time however I wanted a Vatican experience.
My friend wished to celebrate her 60th. birthday in Rome and together with her husband and another friend we set out to explore the Eternal City.
Prior to leaving home, I checked the Vatican’s website and discovered that we could obtain passes that included an early buffet breakfast, and audio guide and tour, ahead of the throngs of people who would descend on the Vatican once the doors opened; a major advantage.
The Vatican Museum
We arrived promptly at 6:45 am at the gates, were ushered in shortly after, and guided to the restaurant. Walking the marble-floored hallways and proceeding a couple of flights down, we craned our necks to take in the imposing paintings and frescoes that adorned the vaulted ceilings and high walls.
As soon as we finished breakfast we began exploring the numerous rooms that house furnishing, artistic panels, tapestries, paintings and sculptures; more than the eye can take. The history of the Vatican’s inhabitants that walked this hallowed City over the centuries met us at every step, spilling from the artwork into our subconscious. The sheer size of the hallway connecting the rooms was mind-boggling; each section separated by glass doors and its walls adorned with monumental scenes depicting the historical episodes of popes, cardinals, royals and powerful leaders.
The Borgia Apartment
Pope Alexander VI (born Rodrigo de Borja) had this wing of the Vatican, comprising six immense rooms and the Borgia Tower, renovated and pictorially decorated by Pinturicchio (Bernardino di Betto). These beautifully adorned rooms now house part of the Vatican’s Modern Religious Art collection.
The Sistine Chapel
When we reached the Sistine Chapel, we shared the grand room with maybe about 30 to 40 people. We leisurely admired the superb details of Biblical scenes by Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and others on the left and right walls. Looking up we stood in awe at Michelangelo’s epic work, commissioned by pope Julius II. It took Michelangelo four years to complete. The Creation of Adam and other accounts from the book of Genesis fill the central part of the vault, surrounded by sibyls and prophets. The corner pendentives represent David and Goliath, Judith and Holofernes, the Brazen Serpent and the punishment of Haman. It seemed as if the tableaux were alive, so masterfully had he made use of colour and light thus creating the illusion of movement. Turning our attention to the front wall of the Chapel, we were overwhelmed by Michelangelo’s imposing composition of the Last Judgement, commissioned twenty years after the vault and commissioned by Pope Clement VII . Christ’s commanding presence; all anxiously awaiting their judgement; those entering eternity with Christ and the tragedy of those entering eternal doom, both evoking a spectacle of awe and terror; hope and wretchedness.
To view the paintings and masterpieces of the Sistine Chapel click the link below:
We had skipped some rooms in our desire to see the Sistine Chapel, and now backtracked to immerse ourselves in the history of the rooms we had left for last. When we were ready to head out, we didn’t realise that the tour was designed to move in one direction, and were forced to join the new arrivals. The previously empty hallway was teeming with people. The queue moved like molasses and with great pains we finally made it back to the Sistine Chapel that we needed to cross in order to reach the Vatican grounds. We could barely move as the majestic room was at present filled with wall-to-wall people. We felt smothered. How could anyone enjoy the magnitude of the Chapel and its scenes in this congested condition?! With a sigh of relief we reached the exit and surged onto the grounds, ambling around to enjoy the surroundings.
The breakfast pass package with early access is definitely the way to go if you wish to explore the Vatican Museum and surrounding area. You will have approximately a couple of hours of quiet, uninterrupted viewing before the doors open to the public. There are various entry packages and one I had at first set my sights on was already fully booked. I was told to plan securing the package of choice at least six months ahead of travel. Make sure to do and you will have more options available to you.
St. Peter’s Basilica
We discovered that the Vatican Museum’s website doesn’t manage entry passes to St. Peter’s Basilica. Another organisation handles these. The afternoon had already advanced by the time we reached St. Peter’s Square. Our eyes popped when we saw the snaking line-up of people waiting to enter the Basilica.
We proceeded to the end of the line, which barely moved after we had been waiting for fifteen minutes. No way! At this pace we were never going to make it. We made an about-face and looking around, I spotted an agency advertising tickets to the Basilica. A handsome Italian man used his flashing smile to try to sell us tickets, which we bought without delay after hearing that we could still gain access. It had nothing to do with his charm of course. . . He then told us to follow him. He took us right to the front of the line and as if by magic, all the gates opened to the great annoyance of the waiting crowd. Well I guess money does pay the way in. Once inside though, it was quite packed but not so, that we were unable to enjoy the grandeur of the Basilica.
When planning your own visit in order to take advantage of these fascinating places, you’ll find the different venues and passes available here: