June 15, 2011

Rome and the Vatican

Roma, May 2010 - We had been travelling through England, France and Italy with Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour. Now in Rome, this would be the group's final day together.

Visitors line up along the Vatican Wall

Our morning began with the optional tour to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum (45 euros). We had a lengthy wait in the rain before entering the Vatican Museum.

Vatican Museum

Once inside, there is a new modern entry, graced with a sculpture showing both a young and old Pope John Paul II, and extensive security features - quite a change from my last visit in the early '80s.

Sculpture dedicated to Pope John Paul II

But the Pigna Courtyard hadn't changed except for the addition of Arnaldo Pomodoro's Sphere Within Sphere, which was added in 1990.

Pigna Courtyard, Vatican
Pomodoro's Sphere Within Sphere

The Vatican collection is huge, so our guide was able to point out only a fraction of the treasures filling the endless corridors of the papal palace.

Vatican Museum, Rome

The Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo's celebrated ceiling, was the highlight. Visitors stood shoulder to shoulder in the tiny chapel, craning their necks to take in the nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, including my favourite, The Creation of Adam. Guards repeatedly reminded the crowd of silence and no photo.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling 

Our guide directed us to a side exit from the Sistine Chapel that led us into St. Peter's without the need to clear security a second time.

Vatican Swiss Guard

Once inside the basilica we were free to wander, to take in Michelangelo's impressive dome,

Dome of St. Peter's

Bernini's towering Baldecchina,

Baldecchina, St. Peter's

and the Dove Window high above the front altar.

Bernini's Dove Window

Michelangelo's Pieta is safely behind a bullet-proof panel following an attack by a man wielding a hammer in 1972.

Michelangelo's Pieta

As we exited onto St. Peter's Square, we saw the Egyptian obelisk featured in Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, and Bernini's columns, three deep and so precisely lined up that they appeared as one, encircling the square.

St. Peter's Square, Rome

After a free afternoon, we departed for the Evening Tour of Rome (32 euros) and our Farewell Dinner.

Grand Staircase to Capitoline Hill Square

We started at the Capitoline Hill, up Michelangelo's Grand Staircase, to a lookout over the fallen ruins of the Roman Forum.

The Forum, Rome

We then made our way to the Piazza Navona. This square was the site of Ancient Rome's Circus, and during the Middle Ages it was flooded for water festivals.

Many times I had imagined sitting here, relaxing in the sun with a frothy cappuccino, and admiring Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. But instead, I was struggling to hold onto my umbrella while my camera's shutter seized up from the rain, and flames shot from the heaters outside nearby Tre Scalini.

Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona

From here it was a short walk to the Pantheon. The ancient church was half-hidden by scaffolding, and throngs of visitors huddled inside seeking shelter from the rain.

Pantheon, Rome

But this didn't take away from the massive coffered dome and its weeping oculus, open to the sky and the building's main source of light.

Interior of the Pantheon

Following the farewell dinner, our final destination for the evening was the Trevi Fountain. The tiny square was filled with people, and the atmosphere was festive. I tossed a coin into the floodlit waters to ensure my return to Rome. (It had worked the last time I was here!) This tradition was popularized by the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain.

There was time to enjoy a peach gelato before our bus returned us to the hotel for our last night in the Eternal City. But the Hotel Diana Roof Garden was again closed, so we said our final goodbyes over Bellinis in the lobby bar before packing up for our morning departure to Sorrento.

Next: Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento

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