Into the heart of the St. Peter’s Basilica – The Vatican City and its treasures in Rome

Small treasures on this trip to the Holy See – fresh summer fruits and some time away from the mid-day sun. This particular café served a good range of lunches from pizzas to fresh fruit and ice-cream.

We parked our car in Rome and then in all of about 300 meters, it seemed we were standing right in the middle of a different state; the Vatican City.

The Vatican state and its structures, to me, seemed to blend seamlessly with everything else Roman. Large, majestic looking sculptures, passageways and corridors that seem almost too large for any efficient or practical use of space, making one feel almost insignificant when walking about. I can imagine the purpose of the imposing structures from ancient times, that people needed to feel the power of the ruling, for the masses to feel at once diminished, yet safe. The structures work to the very same purpose today, except with a different flavour.

As a tourist, it’s splendid with so much space to conquer during your visit. And the Vatican state allows you these conquests as it invites hoards of visitors into its arms, into its heart which is St. Peter’s Basilica and into its treasure filled museum wings. The high arches and open spaces aid in dispensing with the overly crowded feel; a feel that Venice for example, could not overcome.

A curious feature: an Egyptian obelisk stands in front of St. Peter’s church.

Though small as a state, by foot, the grounds of St. Peter’s Basilica are still vast, with an intriguing sight of an Egyptian obelisk in the middle. Its slightly skewed alignment to Michelangelo’s building is said to have been compensated by Maderno’s nave inside the Basilica.

Italy during the summer can be scorchingly hot, so hats, sunglasses, sunblock and bottled water will be handy when walking about. Around the Basilica, you’ll find vendors selling iced bottled water at the stands, though slightly more expensive than plain (or sun-warmed) bottled water.

The Sistine Chapel was on the agenda for us, as with many other tourists, and as we made our way there, we were introduced to numerous works of art from the various museums.

The inner courtyard of the Vatican. Visitors can take a walk in this courtyard whilst visiting the various museums, on the way to the Sistine Chapel.

The inner courtyard was a picture of serenity, with well pruned trees and large sculptures of peacocks and large acorns carved in stone. Visitors are allowed to stroll the grounds of the courtyard and garden, though in the hour and heat of this particular day, few (in comparison to the immense crowd in the museum wings) chose to do so.

Magnificent paintings can be found on domed ceilings, along the way to the Sistine Chapel.

As I walked along the corridors of the museum, entering and exiting each wing, I realized that what I would have liked to do most was to not walk at all. In fact, I would have preferred to just lie down on the ground and observe the intricate details of the many domed ceilings that all of us were so casually bypassing beneath. For within the Vatican City, on the way to the Sistine Chapel, right up to the Basilica from its side wing, are wondrous works of art and architecture, in the ceilings.

A pattern of mathematical precision that leaves one contemplating.

The symmetry in design and the execution of the structure makes these domed ceilings a work of mathematical genius and masonry. One could contemplate their work for hours on end, at will.

One of the most magnificent ceilings in gilded gold, along a museum corridor.

It felt like hours before we had reached the most famous of sacred chapels, but we soon found ourselves at the core of the Vatican labyrinth, as if hidden amongst various rooms of various sizes, the Sistine Chapel.

Upon entering the Sistine Chapel, I at first thought that we had entered a mass in progress. Countless individuals stood almost in neat rows, looking forward at a small stage that was the altar. But it was soon discerned that there was no priest presiding and that the constant hushing noises made to keep down the buzz of the room came from security guards. If there was a moment’s silence in the room, it was likely the result of awe at the brilliant works of art displayed.

By Michelangelo, The Donnadio: God creates Adam, the Sistine Chapel.

But with so many beautifully decorated domed ceilings that created a heightened anticipation of what was to come in the Sistine Chapel, my expectation of a close encounter with Michelangelo was tepid after a quick sweep around. Like not wanting to read reviews to a movie because of the potential spoilers, I wanted to view the Sistine Chapel without prior influences and thus did very little, if no research to the place prior to my visit.

The ceiling paintings of Michelangelo, of the Sistine Chapel

The Donnadio: God creates Adam was my favourite scene in the Sistine Chapel, and it was that which I searched. Looking up from where I stood in the chapel though, I found I could hardly recognize The Donnadio, from all other scenes. It took me quite awhile to locate it. The space between ground and ceiling somehow drove home the point of centuries past.

The crowd grew louder and less controlled as more people moved into the room, and we reluctantly relinquished our spots to make way for new visitors. We then focused on our next view of conquest, the Basilica of St. Peter.

A view facing the altar with Bernini’s 30 meters tall baldacchino.

If the Sistine Chapel proved a lukewarm reception by Michelangelo, then walking into the Basilica of St. Peter proved the opposite. Within that building, one could feel the reverberating genius of Michelangelo; his visions supported by many other like-minded artists and visionaries.

The Basilica of St. Peter is large; its size compared to other great basilicas around the world is proudly marked on the marbled floors of this Basilica.

A partial view of Maderno’s nave, looking towards the chancel.

The theme of beautiful domed ceilings throughout the Vatican state is also reflected on the insides of the Basilica.

This domed ceiling was brought to its completion in 1590, by Giacomo della Porta and Fontana.

Towards the entrance of the Basilica, to its right upon entering, stands the Pietà by Michelangelo. It took a few minutes before we could make our way to the front of the crowd to look at it. Even at the front, the Pietà stood a few feet beyond, behind glassed walls.

People both pray at its feet and stand before it in full admiration of its warmth, as so only a great artist can invoke in us with his work.

Though behind glass these days, the Pietà by Michelangelo still captures the audience’s attention.

As we left St. Peter’s Basilica, the late afternoon sun made other Vatican City realities apparent to us; its uniformed (or costumed) guards for instance.

The Vatican’s Praetorian guards.

Though standing in the shade of the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica, the guards looked nonetheless warm in their tight fitted boots, long puff-sleeved outfits, high starched collars and berets.

A post-box that stands right outside the Vatican postal office, a few hundred meters away from the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica.

And just in case one hasn’t quite taken in the fact of such great encounters within the Vatican City, a friendly yellow post-box stands there, ready for the sending of some international well-wishes.

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