Catch up on our day exploring the Roman Forum and Castel Sant’Angelo!
After weeks of getting up early, you’d think I’d have adjusted to waking up early. Sadly, the morning we visited the Vatican, that wasn’t the case. With a sharp 7:30 am departure time, I raced downstairs and grabbed all the food I could possibly eat in ten minutes from the morning buffet. Shoving a biscuit roll into my mouth, I met up with the group oh so fortunately on time. The rush wasn’t needed, however, as somebody else was running late. I felt a little upset about rushing through my breakfast and not enjoying the breakfast beans or eggs on display, but cosí é la vita.
When we got there, a tour guide gave us a once over. She was checking to make sure that nobody was wearing shorts or shirts with exposed shoulders. It felt like middle school all over again, but I was ready to forgive it to finally see The Creation of Adam in person. Standing in the courtyard, she told us about the history of the Vatican (both hilarious and grim), and I could barely contain my excitement.
The guide led us towards the Pope’s Chambers (spoiler alert: the pope doesn’t live there anymore), and we passed by ornate hallway after ornate hallway. One was lined on either side with marble statues, another with luxurious tapestries, and yet another hung brilliant Italian maps. The guide told us that Michelangelo completed The Creation of Adam in just four years, returning to the Vatican later on to finish The Last Judgement. Apparently, Michelangelo painted a cardinal that he didn’t get along with with donkey ears sitting in Hell. Luckily, the pope had a sense of humor at the time. He told everyone to leave the painting alone, and now, we can enjoy it centuries later. I bought a puzzle of The Last Judgement just because of this story.
Photography is strictly forbidden in the Sistine Chapel, where The Creation of Adam rests on a simple panel on the ceiling. I saw other tourists try to sneak some photos, but I didn’t want to risk it. Besides, as I said before, it’s better to respect the no picture policy than ignore it.
As a lapsed Catholic, I appreciate the importance of the Sistine Chapel and wanted to at least show my respect by not taking photos. Any photos I would have taken of it probably wouldn’t have come out well out anyway. The panel is actually remarkably small, and the room was very dark. All the light pointed directly at the ceiling, which was incredibly tall. The pictures online or at the gift shop were much better than anything I could ever dream of capturing, even if the room hadn’t been filled to the brim with other tourists.
The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica
That being said, the Sistine Chapel is absolutely stunning to take in. Covered from wall to ceiling in Michelangelo’s works, there is nothing like it in the world. At one point, I had to find a wall to lean on because I was getting dizzy from craning my neck up and staring at the ceiling for so long. It’s truly something you could stare at for hours and still find new things you hadn’t seen before.
After leaving the Sistine Chapel, we explored the Vatican even further. The tour guide led us across an enormous courtyard to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, which was the most ornate building I had been in yet. I saw marble everywhere. Golden mosaics littered the ceilings. This was another place I could have spent hours sitting in, just looking around. The guide took us to the side to see Michelangelo’s Pietà, one of his earliest works. It’s astounding to think not only about how much talent Michelangelo had, but also the sheer volume of celebrated art pieces he produced during his lifetime: The Creation of Adam, the Pietà, David, the Tomb of Pope Julius II, The Last Judgement, and a slew of other statues, paintings, and architecture.
The Holy Door
The guide took us to see the coffin at the church’s end that represents St. Peter’s resting place. In reality, the Basilica was constructed on the remains of the old church, which was built on top of the cemetery where many believe St. Peter was buried. She also told us about the Holy Door, which the pope only opens every twenty-five years. In 2016, when I visited, Pope Francis had opened the door to begin a “Year of Mercy” due to the Syrian Refugee Crisis. It is one of seven doors that must be crossed during a pilgrimage to be forgiven for your sins. After a year, the pope sealed the door off with concrete for another quarter of a century.
After the tour, we wandered around Rome with the group until we grabbed a public bus back to the hotel. We feasted on lasagna and hung out with Nikos for the rest of the night. Tomorrow, we would be headed for Florence.