Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Musei Vaticani - The Vatican Museums

The highlight of our day trip to Roma this past July was definitely when we went to see the Vatican.

I had always wanted to visit the Vatican and was super excited when Simone reserved our tickets for the Vatican Museums.  When you reserve your tickets online (which I HIGHLY recommend, since you get to skip the extremely long line that way), you get an appointment time to show up at the gate.  To get to the Vatican Museums entrance, you don't go into Vatican City via the "front door" that leads you to Piazza San Pietro, but rather you must walk to the north of the city-state along Viale Vaticano.  Once you're there, you really can't miss it, due to the fact that there are tons of people standing there waiting in line.  We took the metro to get there.  Metro Line A is what you want, but don't be fooled and get off on the stop that says "San Pietro" or else you'll be walking for quite a bit and will be approached by several people soliciting "Vatican Tours".  (If you are approached by them - and most of them approach you speaking English - just walk on by & pretend they don't exist.)  Your best bet is to get off the metro at the "Cipro" stop (which is also not far from Bonci's Pizzarium, so you could stop there for a slice of pizza before heading on to the Vatican).

Since we already had our tickets reserved, we marched right on in and bypassed the long line.  Once in, though, we had to stand in a shorter line in order to pass through security.  It is set up much like an airport security checkpoint, with x-ray machines for bags and metal detectors that you must walk through.  Once we got through the security check point, we had to check in at the ticket booth to collect our actual tickets (we had a print out of our reservation).  After that, we followed the path that led out to the court of the "pigna", which is named for the giant pinecone statue (the Fontana della Pigna) found there.  The huge statue used to be a fountain (as you can tell by it's name), but here where it sits now, it is void of water.  The bronze pinecone is around 4 meters tall and was cast in the 1st century AD by the sculptor Publius Cincius Salvius.

After enjoying this courtyard, we entered the Chiaramonti Museum which is located in a loggia that connects the Belvedere Palace to the Vatican Palaces.  The Chiaramonti Museum is filled with masterpieces that Napoleon had taken to France in the late 1700's, but were returned in the early 1800's.

Then we headed out the door once more into the Courtyard of the Library, which is surrounded by many sculptures and has a lovely green fountain in the center.

Simone taking a rest by the fountain

Next up, the Pio-Clementino Museum and it's Sala di Rotonda, which is set up like a miniature Pantheon.

The rotonda is quite impressive

The Sala di Rotonda includes a large basin,
several gorgeous statues and an incredible mosaic floor 

After the rotonda, we meandered through the various galleries and museums along the way.  The Sala della Biga, with it's incredible 1st century marble sculpture of a Roman chariot...

...the Galleria dei Candelabri, with it's ceilings covered in the most amazing frescoes, intricate marble sculptures lining the walls, and gorgeous mosaic floors...

...the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (the Gallery of Maps), with it's series of topographical painted frescoes of Italy, by Ignazio Danti (completed between 1580 and 1583)...

There are 40 panels of maps in this long (120 meter) gallery

...the Appartamento di San Pio V (apartment of Saint Pius V), with it's enormous frescoes painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, and it's incredible 15th and 16th century Flemish tapestries...

...and through a few other rooms, until we entered the Collezione Arte Contemporanea - the Contemporary Art Collection.

Madonna by Lucio Fontana, next to a painting by Henri Matisse
Now, normally, I'm not a huge fan of contemporary art, but I truly enjoyed this part of our visit.  Perhaps it was due to the cool air conditioning in that section, but really, to stand in front of so many works by famous was one of the highlights for me.

There were several paintings by Giorgio de Chirico...

Il Duomo di Milano dai Tetti - Giorgio de Chirico (1932)

Nativita' - Giorgio de Chirico (1945-46)
... Gino Severini...

La Danse Macabre - Gino Severini (1964)

...Salvador Dali...

Angelic Landscape - Salvador Dali (1977)

Crocifissione - Salvador Dali (1954)

...and many others.

Trip to the Ecumenical Council - Fernando Botero (1972)

Croce Bifronte (Martirio) - Francesco Somaini (1965)
Once we were through the Contemporary Art collection, we were herded into the Cappella Sistina - The Sistine Chapel.  I was pretty excited to see this most famous chapel.  The conclave had just met there a few short months earlier to elect the new Pope Francis (or as the Italians call him, Papa Francesco, which I actually prefer).  Unfortunately, it being July and the height of tourist season, it was entirely too crowded.  We were told to "keep moving", which I did, but others did not, so it was a mess.  A huge, crowded mess.  Add in the fact that there is no photography permitted in the chapel (which I think is pretty dumb, I mean, what's the harm in taking a picture as long as you don't use the flash?), it was not that great of an experience.  I felt rushed through and tried desperately to take all of Michelangelo's work in, but I most certainly didn't.  Oh well.  I suppose I will have to return some other time.  The next time, I will make sure it is on an off-peak season for tourists!

After we were pushed through the Sistine Chapel, we went out the wrong door.  Instead of going through the door that would lead us to several other rooms and museums, we went out the door that led to a small piazza (I have no idea what the name of this piazza is), near St. Peter's Basilica.

Leading to St. Peter's Basilica
Obviously, I need to go back and visit the museums again.  And take the correct exit from the Sistine Chapel (I'm blaming Simone on this one).  One thing I will definitely remember to do, however, is to wear broken-in, comfortable shoes.  There's a lot of walking to be done here (and around Rome), and you don't want to make my stupid mistake and wear shoes that turned my feet into raw hamburger.  I made it through until Saint Pius V's apartment before I had to sit down, but after that, I was searching for anyplace I could sit and rest my throbbing, blistered feet.

I highly recommend taking the time to visit these museums.  The price is only 16 euro for adults at the door, which is a great deal, considering all of the works of art you will see.  However, if you're smart, you'll spend an extra 4 euro and reserve your tickets online.  The line to get into the museums can be incredibly long and it is well worth the extra money to be able to skip the line.  You can buy your tickets at the Vatican Museums website (which you can find Here), which is what we did.  If you do decide to buy your tickets at the door, the hours that they are open are from 9am until 4pm.  The museums themselves close at 6pm, and are closed every Sunday and on several days throughout the year, so check first on their website before you make plans to go.

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