Vatican City

Posted August 13th, 2004 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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Vatican city is a vast repository for untold and immeasurable riches hoarded by the Popes over the centuries. Not just in terms of valuable jewels or gold but in terms of the creativity and artistic endeavors of some of the best Renaissance sculptors and painters. For the smallest country in the world, Vatican packs a lot of “must-see” things in its 0.44 sq km total area. We spent a day in admiring the exhibits in the Vatican Museum, being awestruck by the sheer size and grandeur of St. Peters Basilica and appreciating the beauty and symmetry of Vatican Square .

It is going to be a long winded description if I attempt to describe all of the treasures of the Vatican. So for now I am going to note down the 10 most memorable sights in Vatican City, according to me. This is what I remember when I think back about Vatican City , about 2 months after my visit.

1. The Egyptian section on the Vatican Museum housed a Mummy of a woman that lived around 1000 BC. She was so well preserved that we could even see the orange tinge on her head, which we were told was henna.

2. The Vatican Museum has a collection of ancent Roman sculptures culled from the Roman ruins and other places. Years ago some prudish pope decided that certain human organs needed to be hidden from public view. Thus he ordered that all sculptures be decked with an additional “fig leaf”. That was one of the most amusing sights in the museum.

3. In 1508 Raphael painted the frescoes for the private apartments of Pope Julius. The 4 apartments are now known as Raphaels rooms. Even a completely artistically challenged person like me could instantly observe that these frescoes were somehow different from the frescoes in the other rooms, there was so much brightness emanating from the frescoes. The above picture, The School of the Athens, was instatnly my favourite. I kept looking at it till Seejo dragged me away. The picture depicts various ancient philosophers, artists, scientists and thinkers like, Aristotle, Scorates, Leonardo, Galielo, Pythagoras in one grand fresco.

4. Each room , even every corridoor had very impressive ceilings culminating in the marvelous work in the Sistine Chapel. The ceilings were gilded with real gold and the artistic work was a sight to behold. The above is a ceiling in the hall of tapestries.

5. Michelangelo was commisioned by Pope Julius II to complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Primarily a sculptor, Michelangelo took this oppurtunity to learn the art of painting frescoes. Later Pope Clement asked him to paint the alatar piece in the Chapel. The Last Judgement is a large fresco painted by him between 1536 and 1541, showing the power and wrath of Christ on Judgement day.

6. These cherubs are the one thing I remeber most inside St. Peters Basilica. The cherubs were present at the base of a column in the Basilica. The column rose high and there were sculptures of saints positioned on the tower. From the other end this looked magnificnet, but I realised the enormity of the tower only when I came to its base. Those tiny cherubs were more than 6ft tall. I could only imagine the height of the sculptures and then the total height of the dome of the Basilica.

7. Michelangelo’s Pieta. There was some sort of serenity to this sculpture. May be it was the look of resignation of Mary’s young face as she holds her dead son. Another thing I remember clearly is the very realistic folds of Mary’s robe.

8. The statue of St. Peter. There is a huge crown of people that kiss the right toe of St. Peters foot. It has been touched several million times such that the toe has totally been rubbed off.

9. The Swiss Guards that guard the entrance to the Vatican. The requirements for this job are that they should be of Swiss nationality, unmarried males between 18 and 25 and have to undergo rigorous training. The costumes for these guards are supposed to be designed by Michelangelo himself. Well, with this sartorial sense its no wonder that he painted a lot of nudes!!!

10. The magnificent St. Peters Square. The Square and the colonnade were deisgned by Bernini. The colonnade had 284 columns arranged to give an impression of the arms embracing all the people. On the tip of the collonade are Bernini’s favourie characters from the bible, with each statue being 6 ft tall. At the center is St. Peters Basilica. To the right of the Basilica are the apartments of the Pope.

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