Vatican

Vatican City is a place you have to see to believe, filled to the brim with artefacts, breathtaking sculptures, paintings, papal vehicles, works by Michelangelo & filled tourists…a lot of tourists!

We took a guided walking tour of Vatican (through Topdeck for 39 Euro pp) which is essential if you wish to skip the line that can be many hours time. The tour guide also will help you see the essential points of interest, as the collection is pretty overwhelming. We’re told it would take literally years if you looked at every item for 30 seconds. Here was some of our highlights:

Dome

We decide to take a closer look at Michelangelo’s dome to give us a better perspective on the city. This cost 5Euro each to walk up (around 500 steps)

or 7Euro to catch a lift half way and take the steps for the second half. There were no lines when we visited. Its quite a physical trip & many of the steps are in quite confined areas or the corridors are angled to fit within the dome shape – so definitely not recommended for those with knee conditions or those who get claustrophobic. If you are up for it though, you wont be disappointed, the views are stunning and give you some unique views of inside/outside the dome & the iconic buildings/gardens that surround St. Peter’s Basilica.

Just before we conquered the second part of the dome

Just before we conquered the second part of the dome

Leaning stairs in the dome

Leaning stairs in the dome

The view from the roof of St Peters

The view from the roof of St Peters

Café on the roof St. Peter’s Basilica.

Hands down the most surprising thing about our trip to the Vatican was the discovery that St. Peter’s actually has a café upon its roof. You reach the café once you have come down from the dome, where you are allowed to walk the expansive roof area (that also includes bathrooms, a souvenir shop run by nuns & a post box). A souvenir shop is one thing, but a café is a whole another level of surprise. The Café served, ice creams, water, juice, coca-cola (coca-cola seems to have found its way into every crevice of society) & coffee. To make matters funnier, it’s coffee was the cheapest we’d seen (80euro cents for an espresso & 1.20 euros for a cappuccino) and it wasn’t bad! It’s definitely worth a visit!

You may think that this is the pantheon, but no, vatican!

You may think that this is the pantheon, but no, vatican!

Michelangelo

I mentioned above that the dome is Michelangelo’s, I must say that our trip to the Vatican has given us a new found appreciation of Michelangelo. I knew he was famous but I didn’t know he was multi-talented (just thought he was a really good sculptor). Turns out that he started off as both an Architect (being the architect of St. Peter’s dome) and a sculptor & only painted under the duress of the pope at the time. The pope was looking for a painter to repaint the roof of the Sistine chapel that had been damaged & it was a rival architect that suggested Michelangelo to the pope hoping that he would disappoint, be executed and leave the achetecture field open for rival to have a monopoly. Michelangelo initially refused but the pope threatened to not pay him for Michelangelo’s work on the sculptures if he refused so Michelangelo relented & painted the roof and end scene of the room. Turns out he was pretty good at painting too! The Sistine chapel however spelt the start and end of Michelangelo’s painting career, I don’t really think it was ‘his thing’, so the Sistine chapel is the only place you’ll find any of his paintings.

Sistine Chapel

A couple more notes about the Sistine chapel

  • The painters had never been to Israel & therefore found it hard to picture – you’ll notice the paintings of biblical stories along the length of the room are all in Italian settings.
  • While Michelangelo painted under duress, he was really a sculptor at heart, most the people he paints has a strong focus on the physical body, he was fascinated. It was because of this that he initially painted everyone nude, which was pretty controversial at the time. It wasn’t until he died however that the Vatican commissioned another artist to paint fig leafs over everyone’s bits!
  • Look out for a man over the door in the end scene descending to hell who is wrapped in a snake that is biting off his genitals – this is actually a portrait of a bishop at the time who gave Michelangelo grief about painting everyone nude. The pope at the time found the portrait hilarious and allowed it to stay.
  • Photos are strictly forbidden so don’t follow my example by getting a secret selfie…
Sistine Chapel Selfie

Sistine Chapel Selfie

The statue thought to have inspired Jesus' form in the Sistine Chapel end scene

The statue thought to have inspired Jesus’ form in the Sistine Chapel end scene

St Peter’s Basilica

We could have spent all day in here, so gorgeous, so ornate, so expansive, so many breathtaking statures and mosaics! I find it hard to put into words other than I am a fan. A fun little game is to spot how many times you can see the keys & beehive esque crown (the pope’s symbol) in the building, its like the Vatican equivalent of Disneyland’s hidden mickeys.

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St Peter's Mosaics close up

St Peter’s Mosaics close up

Carriage & Car Museum

Finally, if you have time & can find it, I recommend checking out the Vatican vehicle museum, its quite an interesting little stop and doesn’t seem very crowded if you need time away from crowds!.

Pope's carriage (although I think Pope Francis would have something to say about this)

Pope’s carriage (although I think Pope Francis would have something to say about this)