Day three of our Italian honeymoon was the day Missy and I specifically set aside for visiting Vatican City (and the Pope, but only later did we find out he was on summer vacation…bummer!). Fearing another hot day and rumors of extremely long lines in the back of our minds, we rose extra early ate breakfast as soon as it was served. We packed our guidebooks, water bottles, and change of shorts (for me anyway; the “no shorts = no entrance” dress code is strictly enforced in the Basilica), and hopped on the next bus to St. Peter’s Square. We wanted to spend as much time as possible at one of the holiest places on earth.
The first thing we noticed as we walked from the bus is just how enormous this place really is. The bus stop is a five minute walk to the center of the square, and as we passed under the massive travertine columns and larger than life statues, we truly started to get a sense of just how small we really were.
We could see that the line was at least a football field long already despite it still being early, so we hurried our way across the square (while trying not to trip, since our eyes were checking out everything except what was immediately in front of us…) and jumped in line. To our (pleasant) surprise, the line moved fairly quickly and after no more than 20 minutes in the morning heat, we were through the security checkpoint and found ourselves standing on the doorsteps of the the largest church in the world. We might have thought that we felt small standing on the outside…but as we popped in our headphones (for the Rick Steve’s Audiotour of course) and walked through the front doors, we gasped as our necks craned upwards and we were swallowed by the cavernous interior of St. Peter’s Basilica. Suddenly the few thousand people standing outside in line felt like no more than a couple hundred.
We stood in awe and look all around us…priceless mosaic here, priceless sculpture there…oh look, Michelangelo’s Pieta over there in the corner. The crazy thing though that this wasn’t a museum, this is just a house of worship. Mass is held here, people go to Confession here, sing hymns, take communion, and even get married here (we actually witnessed one). Our audio tour took us around the church and hit all the highlights…the dome, the alter under which the bones of St. Peter are burried, the bronze and stone statues, and finally La Pieta, the only statue Michelangelo actually signed. It doesn’t matter if you are Lutheran, Catholic, Buddhist, or just apathetic towards organized religion…when you are in this St. Peter’s, you can just feel a power greater than yourself at work. I mean, one of the the disciples that walked with Jesus Christ has been laid to rest beneath your very feet. Jesus called to Simon, a fisherman from Galilee: “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. It does not get anymore real than that. It’s overwhelming and breath-taking…Missy and I spent most of our time inside St. Peter’s reflecting in silence.
Before we knew it, it was almost noon, and we still had much more to see. We made our way out of the Basilica and found our way over to the Vatican Museum. “Don’t worry, dear…it’s right around the corner.” Note to all future Vatican City travelers: the walk from St. Peter’s square to the Vatican Museum entrance is more like a trek. You follow the walls of the city around like…six corners…past noisy street venders and Vespas…for a good twenty minutes before you reach the front doors. When we finally arrived there was oddly no line…we honestly walked right in and bought our tickets. We honestly thought we were in the wrong place! We checked our guidebook: “Museum closes early on Saturday’s”. We checked our watch…we made it in just in the nick of time! Someone was looking out for us! Oh, and the coolest part was that the man in the ticket booth made sure Missy got her “student discount”, with a wink and a “ciao, bella!”…score!
Thus began our four mile journey through 3,000 years of history. Works from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt lined courtyards and hallways. Naked statues and torsos and busts were around every corner…just one is worth more than every thing Missy and I, as well as our entire extended families combine, own. We wound down hallways filled with tapestries and maps from the early and late renaissance. And muscled our way past tour groups. Ugh…tour groups. All with their little headsets on…paying attention only to their tour leader and not the amazing pieces around them. At times Missy and I seriously felt we were cattle being herded into the pasture. Anyway…the art, tapestries, and naked statues were great…but the real treasure, the grand finale, the Pièce de Résistance came at the end of the long journey through history…the Sistine Chapel.
First impression: the Sistine Chapel is a lot smaller than we envisioned it. Second impression: Oh. My. Gosh. ONE MAN DID ALL THAT?!? The chapel was packed with people staring in awe at that amazing ceiling. And how could you not be? Note: Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter. Um…what? Did I miss something?
Nope. It’s true. Anyway, Missy and I stood in one spot for a good 15 minutes before we realized that we were still in the entrance and other people were trying to get past us. There is a bench around the entire perimeter, so we stalked the people sitting until two spots freed up. We honestly spent almost an hour in the Sistine Chapel, and could have spent a lot longer. We were just completely blown away by the amount of detail that went into these paintings (and kept asking ourselves if the ceiling was flat or rounded). Oh, and the ceiling is not the only thing the chapel has to offer; at the alter end there is a four story fresco of the Last Judgement. It was seriously breathtaking.
Editor’s Note: If you happen to run into any Sistine Chapel officials…Missy and I, um…didn’t take these pictures. You are not supposed to take pictures inside, but everyone else was. I know, I know…if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would I jump too? No…but we couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
By the time we left the chapel it was already late afternoon, and we were beat. We went to the Vatican Post Office and mailed out some post cards to our families (which were post-marked from Vatican City)…and ourselves…and then made our way out to the square. We took in a snack and Missy fed the birds while I snapped a few final pictures, and then made our way back to the bus stop. We went back to our hotel for a nap before heading out for the evening. We went out for another delicious thin crust pizza and found our way back to Trevi fountain, where Missy and I both tossed coins over our shoulders in hopes that we would soon return to Rome!
That was our July 4th! We heard that there was a party at the American Embassy, but we sadly had to pass. We were still to jet-lagged to be out too terribly late. We were sad that we missed out on the fireworks this year, but that’s OK…we still had fun anyway!