Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vatican...Vat he can't!

Today is Michael's turn to blog
Well, today is the day to set forth in search of Europe's largest church, St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. However, before we can proceed any further there is the urgent matter of attending to laundry...hoo-ray - NOT! Michael obtains details of the closest laundromat in our vicinity from the ever helpful staff of the Domidea Hotel where we are staying. Armed with two large bags of washing, Michael and Helen set out to find the 'OndoBlu' laundromat located 7 kms away while Maria tries to get some sleep after a sleepless night spent in the bathroom. Obviously something she ate last night did not agree with her usually cast iron stomach!

Traffic in Italy never ceases to amaze me...and no less than this Saturday morning! The 'give-way' rule is virtually ignored as are pedestrians. As street parking comes at a premium, the locals have improved upon the concept of 'double-parking' - that is 'double-double parking'. The streets have virtually become rally circuits with chicanes materialising at an instant! We finally arrive at our destination; however, it is now our turn to source out parking...and 'double-double parking' isn't an option. A parking area is found and a spot is located after a circuit, however, this stroke of luck incurs a kilometer walk to the laundromat?

On arriving at OndoBlu, we discover that it isn't a self-service establishment. Hence, we part with our laundry and €16 (A$27) to the attendant who states we should return at midday - so, that's two hours to kill. Helen and I go for a walk around the town and find a cafe where we can have a coffee or two.

As we enjoy the ambience which the cafe's situation provides, it is amazing to observe how the locals greet each other. It is with enthusiasm and joy, and one could be excused by assuming these are renewed greetings after long absences. They embrace, shake hands vigorously or kiss and stand where they are and converse with great animation; or sit and talk over coffee. Finally it's time to collect our laundry and re-enter the frenetic traffic for our return to the hotel. The laundry attended to and distributed, we out for Rome and the Vatican City. On the advice of some travellers on the bus to the Isle of Capri who had just come from Rome, we have booked online the tickets for the Museo Vatican and the hotel staff have kindly printed our voucher. The American ladies suggested that we need to go to the Museum during the day and go to the Basilica later in the day when we won't need to queue.

We caught the #447 bus from near the hotel to Rabbibia Metro Station for the 'B' Blue Line necessitating a change of trains at Termini Underground for the 'A' Red Line to the Vaticican City stop. However, alighting at Termini we were faced with a snag (no...not the edible type), the gates leading into the Line A platforms had been shut! Commuters a wandering around as perplexed as ourselves, as there are no information boards or announcements hailing the situation. A transit policeman tells Maria that Line A is closed today and that we need to get a bus - "up, up the stairs" he calls behind him as he hurries off.

Hurrying towards the the Railway Station's main foyer, we confront a railway employee asking them whether the line was indeed closed or opened. In his best English (after my worst Italian) this cove says, "Si, it is open!" Michael makes a mad dash for the stairs leading to the underground; whereby he reappears minutes later confirming that Line A is indeed closed? It's a regular madfest down there with commuters cursing and running around like headless chooks!

We come across the same railway employee and affirm the line is indeed closed. Then this bloke says, "Si, it is closed." (....go figure?). We ask him which bus we need to catch to get to the Vatican, the employee says we should catch the #30 bus to the Vatican. Flying out the doors, we rush towards the bus ranks and aim for the first #30 we see....it's chockers, you couldn't see daylight amongst the passengers! However, we catch the next bus which gradually fills to near capacity en route.

Finally, we arrive at the required stop and only to wonder which way to go? Michael goes and asks a fellow manning a news stand, who in turn advises we should walk in the opposite direction and turn left before the bridge. (Groucho: "Go by the viaduct." Chicko: "The viaduct?" Groucho: "Yes. The viaduct." Chicko: "Vie notta the chicken?" ["Marx Brothers: Duck Soup"])

Following these directions we finally venture onto hallowed ground - St Peter's Square. Ah, who said Ancient Rome was dead? It was like entering the forum at Pompei; albeit, St Peter's is far more complete and larger! Now, the next question is: "Where do we collect our on-line tickets from?" After much wandering around, Michael is told by the Vatican Information Centre - "Go through the arch on the left and follow the yellow signs." These directions are confirmed by Maria by the information she was given by a member of the Constabulary! So, we fall in line and make like the 'Wizard Of Oz' and follow the yellow signs.

Following the signs was a lesson in navigation, as we virtually circumnavigated the perimeter walls of the Vatican City to gain access to the Museo Vatican where we had to retrieve our tickets! Entering this labyrinth via security and scanning, we secured our tickets and entered the Vatican vaults.

We started our 'tour' in the Museo Pio-Clementino, via the Cortille Octagono, which displays an array of sculptured masterpieces; eg. the
Laoco├Ân Group and Apollo Belvedere. I must add, after a while one does develop the impression the Vatican must possess one of the largest private collections of art and artifacts on the globe?

Leaving the Octagono we entered a courtyard (the size of two football fields) called Cortille Della Pigna, which has on display a colossal bronze pine cone, which forms part of a fountain - Fontana della Pigna, dating from 1AD Rome. It's here we discover the Papal collections were amassed between the 16th and 18th centuries. Later, additional rooms were added to accommodate the works of art commissioned by various Popes.

From here we made our way to the first and second floors which comprise the Museo Gregoriano, established by Pope Gregory XVI during the 19th century. This museum comprises an enormous collection of of archaeological, Pre and Post-Christian artifacts and sculptures. Apologies for this post seeming a mite rushed, but we were pushed for time and we had to make the Sistine Chapel before 17:30!

After much jaw-dropping, oohs and ahhs we entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Vatican's .... Pinaconteca. "What?" may you well ask? These halls and rooms have to be seen to be believed and appreciated (I guess..) Here is displayed a myriad of paintings, frescoes and tapestries collected and applied between the 11th and 19th centuries. This museum, (yes, they are all seperate museums,) was eventually inaugurated by Pope Pius XI in 1932! We negotiated sixteen rooms in total, all in chronological order, which displays some priceless masterpieces. The collection includes Giotto di Bondone's,
'Stephaneschi' triptych.

We leave Giotto and friends then move onto the next set of rooms. Ah, well these rooms are actually the reception rooms within the Vatican Palace, the public part of the Papal Apartments. The rooms in question are referred to as Stanze di Raffaello ('Raffael's Rooms') as they were planned, designed and mostly painted by him, and similar to the Pinaconteca these too can leave one speechless! The four rooms: Sala di Costantino (Hall of Constantine), Stanza di Eliodoro (Room of Heliodorus), Stanza della Segnatura (Room of the Signatura) and Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo (The Room of the Fire in the Borgo), are covered in frescoes - walls and ceilings. The rooms were originally commissioned by Pope Julius II around 1508-9, whilst Raphael was a young man. The enormity of the commission was such that Raphael died in 1520 (he was 37) before he could finish the work. However, this legacy was continued by Raphael's assistants, Gianfrancesco Penni, Giulio Romano and Raffaellino del Colle
finished the project with the frescoes in the Sala di Costantino.

It's now a frantic dash to visit the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) as 17:30 is looming! When we finally arrive at the Chapel's doors we are abitrarilly made aware - No Photography; No Video...what-so-ever...and nothing other than SILENCE.... The Sistine Chapel's architecture is as awesome as the works of the artists. The Chapel is evocative of the Temple of Solomon as depicted in the Old Testament, and I loathe to admit the structure does command ... silence. Albeit, no matter what one reads or views pictures in any reference book, nothing...and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the vastness and beauty of the work by Michelangelo (ceiling and alter wall); and other famous Renaissance artists
, Raphael, Bernini, and Sandro Botticelli (panelled frescoes).

The painting of the
Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo was resentful of the commission as he felt the Pope was just satisfying his thirst for grandeur. However, Michelangelo painted 1100 sq m of the ceiling and alter wall creating his masterpiece. The ceiling frescoes depict the time of Creation whereas the altar wall represents The Last Judgement.

Any attempt to describe the paintings would do the Chapel an injustice - one has to personally view the surfaces to appreciate the work of these Renaissance artists. Personally, my experience was somewhat surreal, just by being there and having to pinch myself several times to remind myself of this fact! I suppose the most poignant facet of this journey, apart from the enormity of the Papal project, is the blue in the sky of both the Creation and the Last Judgement. However, there is one reality - there are people, tribes and nations starving on this planet. Missionaries are in the field working virtually unresourced. Yet, there is wealth within these Papal walls beyond the level of loathing....

A bell rings, a voice resounds stating: "The Sistine Chapel is CLOSED - please leave!" - right on 17:30. The congregation of visitors is quickly husbanded towards the exits by a bevy of impatient warders. Being marshalled in the direction of the Museo Vatican main exits, we are marshaled through hall and gallery of gilded trim and wall to ceiling paintings. Our escorts are now line abreast, marching behind us with an ever increasing pace and stamping their feet! Like wind passing through a venturi, we burst through the exits and the sods (Escorts) don't even say "Thank you for visiting" or "Have a nice day"?

Anyhow, after escaping the Vatican we decide that our 'tour' would not be complete without a visit to St Peter's Basilica (Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano)! On entering this capacious structure you can appreciate how this church is regarded as the largest place of worship on earth, with a capacity to accommodate up to 60,000 people! That folks is a lot of generated body heat within such an abundance of masonry?

It is the symbolic Mother Church of the Catholic faith and apart from tradition there is historical evidence to suggest its namesake, St Peter the Apostle, is interred in a tomb directly below the alter. To assume the Basilica is a cathedral is pure misconception as it is not the seat of a Bishop, it is a papal basilica with its entrance to the east and the apse at the west end. The interior is as monumental as its exterior - the marble flooring alone is enough to occupy any visitors time. Look, I don't intend to weigh you down with a mass of facts and figures, if you're interested just follow this link.

So it is now dark and we are miles from the Termini Rail Station. Maria's hip is bad - I mean we have climbed up and down countless staircases and walked quite a few kilometres today. There is a line of those open topped hop on, hop off buses across the square and so we head over to see if we can buy a ticket tonight that will get us back to the station and that we can use again tomorrow. Most say no, even though they are running the last bus for the night we must buy a ticket for today and a new one tomorrow - but one says yes!

So, tickets clutched in our hands, we jump aboard for the trip back to the Termini station, and while we are travelling there manage to get a great eyeful of Rome by dusk! Back at the Station, we opt to have dinner before heading back to the hotel - no one can face the next door restaurant again tonight. There is a cafetaria style restaurant here on the first level, so we head there. Quite a choice on offer - and it all looks pretty good. Guess that the constant crowd at least ensures that the food is fresh! But the English is limited, so its a point and grunt type of moment.

Michael chooses Pork shank with roasted vegetables, Helen has the Fish and chips and Maria goes for the Chicken with veges. Not sure whether we were just overly hungry or not, but the food was surprisingly good. AND you could get a piccolo of wine to accompany it much to Helen's joy!

Hunger sated, off we head to join the masses heading home. We phone the hotel from the station and wait for their shuttle bus that delivers us safely to the door and our beds. Whew, what a day!!!

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