Jun 03, 2018

The Vatican – May 22nd

I never imagined that I would spend my 65th birthday at the Vatican.  It is a day that I will never forget.  They say that one should allow 2 -5 hours to visit as it is a 4.5 mile walk through the many museums.  We spent 7. 5 hours there, another full day. We booked our tickets online that allowed us to skip the lineup which at 8:40AM was already very long.  We had tickets for 9:00AM which is when it opens as we hoped to miss some of the crowds.  There were fewer in the first few areas we visited but then they caught up to us.  The worst were the tour groups, horrific people on a pushing and shoving mission trying to keep up to their tour guide.  We did our tour on our own using the research I had done as well as the Rick Steve’s audio app.  As with most of the museums we visited in Europe one has to go through security much like at the airport and your bags go through a scanner.  This is going to be a bit of a longer post but best to put it all together.

The Metro in Rome is always busy but during rush hour it was beyond crowded. Twice while there a younger woman stood and offered me her seat.  I didn’t think that I looked that old!

This is the famous spiral staircase the many miss as it is located in the gift shop just as you come up the escalator.  It is an exit but most of us leave the Vatican in a much different area.

The first area you see with museums to the left and to the right.  My research incorporated the top 10 Vatican must sees as well as other areas I wanted to visit plus we used some of the Rick Steve’s info.  Of course that is St. Peters Basilica behind me.

Some museums have a dozen or more rooms. So we knew to head directly to Room VIII in the Pinacoteca Museum ( housing things from the middle ages to the 1800’s in chronological order ) in order to see Raphael’s masterpiece, ‘ The Transfiguration ‘.  This was his last work before he died and it is said to be one of the most iconic paintings in the Vatican Museums.  If you want more information about this or other photos below please check on your own as time does not allow me to be your tour guide.

We are in the Pinecone Courtyard named for this 13 foot high bronze pinecone which dates back to Ancient Rome, 1st century BC.  It is flanked by two bronze peacocks.

The Laocoon is a sculpture group from 30BC.  It was found in 1506 on the Esquiline Hill in Rome.  It is housed in the Pio – Clementine Museum and is also said to be one of the most important pieces of art in the Vatican collection.  The sculpture depicts a Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons losing a battle with to the death with two sea serpents.  This would be a good one to look up as it relates to the Trojan War when the Greeks leave a giant wooden horse outside the gates of Troy.

The Apollo Belvedere is a marble Greek sculpture from around the first century BC.  It was once considered the ideal of classical male beauty.  I prefer my own piece of human art 🙂

The Porphyry Basin set in the Rotunda Room.  Its circumference is 13 meters/forty feet.  About 2000 years ago Nero ordered a special bath for his Domus Aurea/Golden House.  Someone had to go to Egypt and get this giant rock from the porphyry quarry and haul it back to Rome and carve it.  Now that is an awesome bathtub.

As we walked along we did look at many other things but I am just sharing what we think were highlights.  We are now in the Gregorian  Egyptian Museum.  Lovely gold bracelets.  There were also gold perfectly round wedding bands, beautiful brooches complete with clasps, chariots, etc.


But the highlights were the mummies.  Sarcophagus of Imhotep, 26th Dynasty ( 664 – 525 BC

He still had finger nails.

As well as hair.  An amazing collection.

We are now in the Tapestry Hall.  The tapestries on the right were made in the 17th century and the ones on the left such a this one were made in the 1500’s.  Each of these tapestries, made of wool and silk and gold and silver thread, took years to make by the best weavers of the day who were from Flanders or Belgium.  This particular tapestry is called ‘ The Resurrection of Christ “.  As you approach it and look at Jesus’s eyes and keep walking all the while watching his eyes, you will see that his eyes have followed you as you walked left to right.  The masterful stitching provided a moving perspective.  Definitely one of the top ten in the Vatican must sees.

The Gallery of Maps Hall and its beautiful ceiling.  This hall contains the largest collection of geographical paintings ever created.

These wall – size maps depict Italy and Italian provinces and were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th century.  The maps are well detailed and amazingly accurate considering when they were made.

We passed through the Papal apartments of old, the Pope lives in another wing.  Here we are in the Raphael Rooms looking up at ‘ The School of Athens ‘.  This is one of the most famous paintings in the Vatican Museums besides Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The painting is fantasy gathering of the greatest philosophers, mathematicians and thinkers from classical antiquity.  They are all together in one painting even though they came from different places and different moments in time.  Raphael had fun with this painting and as he used the faces of Plato, Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donato Bramante, Euclid and Raphael himself.   Michelangelo was front and center in the purple coat, brown pants and his working boots leaning on the desk.  The others are barefoot or in sandals but Michelangelo is wearing his signature leather boots.

The Sistine Chapel was next and we were not allowed to take photos.  This is used by the Pope as his private chapel.  As you know the ceiling was painted by Michelangelo during 1508 – 1512.  It was breathtaking despite the mass of humanity in the room and the guards urging everyone to move on and to the back of the room.  We stood our ground and were happy to let Rick Steves guide us as to what we were seeing. We stayed until we felt ready to move on to St. Peters Basilica.

The Basilica has a very long and interesting history.  There are so many pieces of art inside that I just can’t mention them but it was very moving to be there. The dome that Michelangelo started working on in 1547 when he was 71 is above the dark brown alter in the middle background.

He never saw his design completed as he died in 1564.  The dome is the tallest in the world at 136.57 meters/448.1 feet.

As we were heading to St. Peters Square we saw some guard activity.

By now we were close to exhausted.  You have likely already seen photos of the square or can look them up.  We walked about a bit but frankly I was done.  We did stop and take in the 4000 year old Egyptian Obelisk.  It was created in the ancient city of Heliopolis on the Nile Delta and appropriated by the Romans under Emperor Augustus.  It is said that it took 800 men and 75 horses to raise its 350 tons into position.

We enjoyed our walk within the streets of Vatican City, our third country this trip.  Finally it was time to seek a restaurant as we had not eaten during our time inside the museums.

We ended walking in circles trying to find a specific restaurant that I had planned for us to dine at but it was no longer there.  We walked a bit without finding anything appropriate.  Finally I decided to just eat anywhere as we had to sit, drink wine and eat.  Guess who has sore feet?  The pizza was good as we both ate it all.  What better have for ones birthday while in Rome 🙂

I was still chilled which is why we sat inside but we were still able to enjoy the very good music that those on the patio were enjoying.

Reluctantly we got up and and began our walk to the nearest Metro station. Cute little  enclosed patios set up here and there.

I bought myself a bracelet for one euro which I have actually worn a lot.  Still four more blocks to the Metro.

When we got back I went straight to bed.  A long day but one I will never forget.


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11 responses so far

11 Responses to “The Vatican – May 22nd”

  1. AZGAL says:


  2. Peter says:

    An awesome post! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Rae says:

    Wow! What an incredible day!

    I know how you felt on the metro — kids on buses here are giving up their seats for me…

    Even on my tour of the replica Sistine Chapel, I couldn’t take pictures. Guess some of your readers will have to make the journey themselves to see how incredible it is. I can imagine how much richer your experience was with all the old smells.

    Colin’s shirt + socks combo in that pizza picture — LOL 😉

  4. Dolores says:

    Isn’t The Pieta at the Vatican? U did not mention that… Did u see it?
    Wonderful, wonderful blog n pics!!!

  5. I loved the mummies too – also the gallery of maps was my favorite. I wish the crowds weren’t quite so crushing there – would love to go back through again one day. Happy Late Bday!!

  6. Living history through art. I love it. Have fun kids.

  7. Maxx Trails says:

    Happy birthday Contessa … I would love to spend my birthday at the Vatican 🙂 Thanks so much for the tour!

  8. Dee Tillotson says:

    Happy Birthday, Contessa! It was YOUR birthday, but you gave US a wonderful gift of a tour of the Vatican. Thank you so much. AND, the photos were fantastic! We will get there to see the Vatican once we complete all of our family chores. Love the smile on your face.

  9. Happy Birthday Contessa. What a memorable way to spend your 65th BD at the Vatican. Well planned. Thanks for the tour and pictures. Love to see more!

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