Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Church Day

St. Peter's Basilica

Globe in foreground is same size as the globe at the very top of St. Peter's basilica.

Facade of San Giovanni dei Florentini

Entrance to San Giovanni

Bronze replica of Mary Magdalene's foot - the first person to enter Christ's tomb after the ascension (in San Giovanni)

Cathy in our tiny lift - maximum capacity: 2 people (or 1 person and 1 suitcase!)

We hit the street (Vittorio  Emanuele) by 7:55 this morning to be at the Vatican Museum by 8:40 for our guided tour. Assuming that the earliest booking of the day would result in reduced crowds proved to be faulty thinking. I think the place is packed with tourists at virtually any time of the day. We had online reservations and, therefore, went in without delay by a special entrance. There was a line up at least 300 metres long of people without tickets. By 9:00 am the temperature in Rome is blistering, and the people had at least a two hour wait ahead of them.
The Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica are the main tourist draws in Rome (our guide told us the 28,000 people go through the Vatican Museum every day).
The guided tour proved to be a good choice--as opposed to exploring the museum on our own. The guide was very knowledgeable--a bit too much information overload for the children in the group. It's interesting to observe the people who visit museums. It's clear to me that most visit out of a sense of obligation--if you're in Rome, you visit the Vatican. The teenagers can barely suppress yawns and their younger siblings have no such inhibitions. Mom and Dad are trying, without apparent success, to instill a little culture and art appreciation in their bored offspring whose unspoken attitude seems to be, "but Mom, you told me Rome was going to be fun!"
It has to be said, however, that even the most dedicated art lover has a hard time of it with the noise, the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, and the unspoken but very real imperative to keep moving. In fact, in the Sistine Chapel, the guards tell people to keep moving--that is, when they aren't shouting at them to be quiet. It all detracts from the awe-inspiring magnificence of Michelangelo's ceiling. Nonetheless, if you can mentally block out the noise, it is impossible to miss the religious splendour if the chapel. Deeply versed in the Bible, and aware of the sometimes prissy standards of the pope and cardinals, Michelangelo extended the bounds of art in a creation that is almost impossible to fully appreciate--certainly not in the few minutes you are allowed to be in the chapel. Still, it is satisfying to be in the presence of pure genius--even for a few moments.
The galleries in the Vatican Museum have some wonderful art work: sculptures, tapestries, oil paintings.
St. Peter's is also inspiring--its sheer size and grandeur are astonishing.
The Vatican has a lot to learn about dealing with crowds--especially the ratio of toilets to visitors.
A visit to the Vatican tells a lot about the Catholic Church. No expense was spared by the popes as they competed to outdo each other in commissioning chapels, private rooms, and other monuments that were intended to celebrate their greatness and perpetuate their memory. One gets the impression that a good number of them were egomaniacs. Appearance seemed to be the most important criterion.
To cope with the intense heat as we stepped out of St. Peter's, we promptly left Vatican City and sought the air-conditioned comfort of the Abbey Theatre Bar (another Irish pub we discovered in Rome).
After a brief siesta (not in the bar!-- at our apartment), we strolled the Via Giulia (commissioned by Pope Julius--if he had a number, I don't know what it is). It is a quiet kilometre long street that runs parallel to the Tiber River. The home of wealthy Romans and foreigners, Via Giulia is very different from other neighbourhoods we've walked through. It's quiet, a bit aloof with its expensive homes and high end art galleries. It terminated at a wonderful church: San Giovanni dei Florentini which opened in 1508. The architect Jacopo Sansovino beat out the great Raphael to design it, but ran into trouble when the foundation began to sink (it's near the Tiber) and he was sacked. Michelangelo contributed to the design of the floor plan. It is a treasure house of Baroque art, with several chapels on either side of the nave being sponsored by wealthy families who hired artists and sculptors to complete the tiny chapels which are not more than five or six metres square. Theses chapels are richly decorated by some of the top artists of the day, including Filippino Lippi and Michelangelo. In many ways, because the church was almost deserted and very cool, the experience was superior to St.Peter's earlier in the day.

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