visiting the Vatican Museums and beneath

Posted from Vatican City, Lazio, Italy.

Looking up the road to St. Peter's Square, on my way to the Vatican Museums.

Looking up the road to St. Peter’s Square, on my way to the Vatican Museums.

My three days in Rome began with the Vatican Museums. I’m not a religious person, but … when in Rome.

My Airbnb host made me promise the night before that I would get a proper Roman breakfast before I headed to the Vatican. By proper, she meant a cappuccino and a cornetto, or a croissant – by its other name.

A proper Roman breakfast of cappuccino and cornetto.

A proper Roman breakfast of cappuccino and cornetto.

I left the apartment at 7:30 giving myself one hour to find my way from Trastevere to the Vatican Museums entrance. It was only a 30-minute walk, but I was unsure what the line would be like, and I wanted to get breakfast like the Romans. While one can sit at a table and order food, my observations led me to find that standing at the counter and quickly nipping your coffee was appropriate. Banter with the barista was also normal, but I was embarrassed of my poor grasp of Italian – and the barista knew immediately I was English and spoke to me in my native tongue. But I got my cappuccino and croissant and headed on my way.

The entrance to the museums was quite empty in the morning. All these fences suggest that isn't always the case.

The entrance to the museums was quite empty in the morning. All these fences suggest that isn’t always the case.

After passing by St. Peter’s Square, which is more grandiose than I imagined, I found the entrance to the museums. Surprisingly, the line was non-existent for reservation holders. Another good reason to visit Rome in spring, and early in the morning. There are two lines, but people were stationed at spots along the way to ensure you were in the correct line. The one on the left was for people who still had to buy tickets.

Once I collected my audio-guide I was on my way to meander through the Vatican Museums. I love art and history, but I’m not a die-hard fanatic. I spent some three hours traipsing through the halls of the museums gawking at beautiful things. The Vatican truly has a magnificent collection on display. I can only wonder what is stored in its vaults.

I love old stuff. I love old Egyptian stuff even more.

I love old stuff. I love old Egyptian stuff even more.

There were sculptures and paintings, ancient artefacts and jewellery, frescoes and tapestries. The list goes on. It reminded me a lot of the Louvre, though not quite as immense. It’s quite opulent though. Every hallway and room is lavish and intricately decorated with ornate tile work, and frescoes.

The long hallways of the Vatican are reminiscent of the Louvre. At times, however, I found it much more lavish.

The long hallways of the Vatican are reminiscent of the Louvre. At times, however, I found it much more lavish.

I had a lot of expectations for the Sistine Chapel, and while it is stunning, I have to say as a person who does not attend church, it is … a church. Well, a chapel. The ceiling is magnificent, but if you do not know the story of the Christian faith, much of the pictographic renderings will just look like pretty paintings. Which they are. I’m not down-playing the Sistine Chapel. I just didn’t really understand it, and it was not something that ignited my soul or led me to find God.

Cameras are not allowed on the tour below St. Peters. The Scavi office runs the tours, and must be booked directly through the Vatican.

Cameras are not allowed on the tour below St. Peters. The Scavi office runs the tours, and must be booked directly through the Vatican.

That being said, I had booked a 1:15 p.m. journey with the Scavi into the necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Bascilica, where it’s said St. Peter’s bones are entombed. Only 250 people a day are granted this privilege. While it’s true I’m not Christian, this journey for me was about history. I wanted to walk on an ancient Roman street, touch ancient Roman walls, and have a glimpse into the past I couldn’t see anywhere else. To date, many of the excavated tombs in the Scavi are/were occupied by pagans, but there are many more that are still buried and not yet excavated. Constantine filled the tombs with concrete to protect the tomb of St. Peter, and build a shrine to the man considered to be the first pope of the Catholic Church.

During part of the tour we entered a small prayer room, the Clementine Chapel. It had a gold-guilded celing, and backs the tomb of St. Peter. Only seven of his bones lie below the basilica, but they are quite certain they are his. He was crucified upside down. His feet are not among these bones. This experience did move me. This was real history, and I was looking right at it. I’d never seen anything so old that connected me to the history of our civilisation.

The pizza in Rome is some of the best I have ever eaten. Not too soft. Not too crunchy. And it's perfectly normal to have wine with it.

The pizza in Rome is some of the best I have ever eaten. Not too soft. Not too crunchy. And it’s perfectly normal to have wine with it.

After the tour my Vivofit told me I had walked some 20,000 steps so I headed home to take a nap. My feet were killing me, but it’s just too easy to walk in Rome. In the evening I dined in Trastevere, the area I was staying in, and an area of Rome well-known for it’s trendy restaurants. I ate pizza with a knife and fork, and drank chianti.

The following day I had a 9 a.m. reservation to visit the Borghese Galleria. This site was recommended to me by my Airbnb host. I had never heard of it and had little clue what the experience would be like, but I did know I was going to walk there past the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, and afterwards make my way home past other famous sites. Tomorrow I would see much more of Rome in spring.

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