Another gorgeous morning at the beautiful Hotel Fontana. Wandered outside to take yet another set of photos of the gorgeous fountain, ever mindful of the glorious vanity of long dead Popes that allows us to enjoy this beautiful place. Ran into the Kazakhstani cycling team who were out early to check out the fountain too.
Had another lovely breakfast looking down on our fountain (Yes, it’s mine now – I’ve decided I need to keep it!), while making plans for how best to attack the day.
First stop this morning is the Pantheon. We dropped by on Tuesday but were unable to go in due to it being closed for the Feast Day of St Peter and St Paul… yeah figure that one out; religious holiday so let’s close the churches?! This morning we arrived around 8:45am expecting it to open at 9am, but we found the place open and largely empty. It is exactly as I remember it. Grand on a hard to imagine scale with its 49m diameter and 75m high dome and the lovely artworks and marble floor. We stayed and enjoyed the peace and beauty for nearly an hour. It was lovely but of course started to fill up with too many noisy tourists. (For the record, I’m a very quiet, unobtrusive and mindful sort of tourist, keen to observe local customs and traditions and I have long since given up wishing every one would be half so considerate.)
After the Pantheon we hopped a taxi and crossed the Tiber to our pre-booked ‘Skip The Line’ English guided Vatican tour. There were 22 of us in the group and we set off at 11am as per the schedule. Then ensued, what can only be described as a sort of organised chaos… or in Aussie parlance – a complete clusterfuck. There was a public line to enter which streamed out into the street and around the corner in the heat waiting to go in – and there was the ‘Skip the Line Tour Groups Only’ line, stretching in the other direction winding back and forth like a Disney theme park ride queue, to get to the point where we could BUY A TICKET. There were people of all nationalities everywhere, lined up in the heat all wearing the same slightly confused, ‘What the fuck is the hold up’ and ‘Didn’t I pay extra to avoid this queueing nonsense?’, look on their faces. We eventually get inside, put our things through a metal detector where a handsome young Italian ‘security officer’ was busy smiling and winking at young girls and didn’t once look at the monitor of bags being scanned!
Get to the other side of ‘security’ and it was like, ‘Welcome To The Crush!’. For the next two hours or so we were kept moving at an annoying slow and halting snail’s pace through the ‘highlight galleries’ of one of the world’s most prestigious and most visited museums. Lots of beautiful things to see and study – no time allocated to even precursorily do either. Seems there should to be a special tour for people actually interested in history and art to get any in depth analysis or even a bit of background on what we are looking at, instead it seems organised tours are very, ‘Oh look at this… it’s very old, very beautiful and very valuable.’ Or if you lucky a vague… ‘This was commissioned by Pope Snacktyback in the fuxteenth century, you can see the statue of <insert random God/Saint> is made of marble.’ Marble? No shit! Didn’t know they did that.
Kill me now.
Pagan sarcophagus ‘recycled’ for Christian use (detail below).
Flemish tapestry c.1500-1600s (yes, the info we were given was so vague as to date something to ‘sometime in those two centuries’) depicting the Barberini Cardinals.
For yale and Niall… this thing was easily five times the length of my foot!
Many of the galleries have stunning mosaics under foot – only the most special ones are fenced off from the traffic, others are left to fend for themselves…
Perseus brandishing the head of Medusa.
Elaborate ceiling in the Map Gallery that connected Papal apartments to the Basilica.
The tide of somewhat travel weary humanity carried us on through the galleries, and I ditched the volume on our poor guide several galleries before the Sistine Chapel being quite capable of recognising Papal keys and the Barbarini bees without her assistance. We entered the chapel and were herded – actually herded – to the centre of the room by security, for fifteen minutes to enjoy the chapel; cheek to jowl with our fellow sweaty and dehydrating travellers. It was equal parts absurd and ironic… cover your knees and shoulders when entering into a religious site. Moments later, *alarm buzzer* “Please remain silent in this holy place”, blared loudly over a PA system, while strapping security guards moved through the crowd pushing people aside and loudly declaring “No fotographs!” Of course we had a good look around, but I felt more like I was in the mosh for a silently boy band comprised of all the saints looking down from wall depicting the Last Judgement. Last visit we were able to sit on the stairs and enjoy for a few moments and the place was silent as nuns patrolled the room with nothing but stern looks. Let me tell you, those nuns were far more effective than these security guards and their megaphones! Oddly, I decided to move through, rather quickly.
A couple of the photos I was not supposed to take in the Sistine Chapel, one of the ceiling… but also one of the floor which no one really seemed to notice, but which I thought looked grate (just for you Luke … how tired am I?).After that we descended into the grotto to see the tombs of all the past Papi, and the alleged tomb of ‘the’ St Peter. It was a lot lighter, and more museum-like, than I remembered. Actually, felt more like wandering through a long forgotten government archive than a crypt, but that could be my memory playing tricks on me. No photos allowed. Again. Seems to be a recurring theme.
Pope Bonifacivs VIII had an amazing heraldic display on his tomb… including what looked to be a heraldic shroud. So I had to hang back and take some quick pics.
From there we ascended through a back door directly into St Peter’s Basilica… which didn’t quite have the *angels singing* <added AWE> effect it had on us last visit. It is, nonetheless, truly spectacular… and with the light just so, it’s beautiful.
Above: One of the first chapels on entering the Basilica – with added #awe.
The lettering you can see below the dome is 2.7m high. The marble statue you can make out is 7m high, but because of the enormous scale of the place, everything looks much smaller. This centre altar is made of bronze – most of which was ‘repurposed from the roof of the Pantheon’ – the horror of that notion. Rip the bronze off an ancient building to make a Renaissance/Baroque folly of a thing for the middle of world’s largest Christian church. I’m guessing their preferences tended towards immediacy rather than preservation. The courthouse, over near the Pont Saint Angelo was constructed in the 13thC with stone cadged from the Colosseum!
Mosaics at the base of the dome. There are large frescoes throughout the Basilica which are copies of famous paintings – only they are not traditional frescoes, they are tiny minute mosaics made of thousands of pieces of tiny colour stone. To look at them (below) you’d never guess they weren’t paintings, they’re so detailed. Below: this is a mosaic about 5m high… Detail of the mosiac work in this piece… it’s incredible. When we came to the Vatican and St Peters many years ago, the old old pope JP2, was holding an audience in the piazza and we went around the crowds who were attending the audience, to wait for the huge doors to the Basilica to be opened when he finished his blessings. When we entered the building there was only about 15 other people in there with us for about the first half hour or so… you could have heard a pin drop and the grandeur and opulence of the Basilica silently washed over us. If there was a god, and if god was anywhere, it felt like he/she was here. I vaguely recall thinking at the time, ‘Imagine how people throughout history, people with no TV, no cinema, no mod cons, and limited education, reacted to this place!’ It would have been overwhelming. It was an unforgettable experience.
Today’s experience was somewhat different. Still being buoyed along by the babble of tourists, I have to admit, it just wasn’t quite the same. An absolutely fantastical and ostentatious display of wealth and power, but somehow diminished by the chatter of a few thousand snap-happy tourists. I was glad when the tour ended and we were free to move at our recognisance and that, most immediately, meant finding a space not currently occupied by at least two other visitors.
I know some people come here with limited time, and they know they may never be back, so everyone tries to see it all in a day or two. And given this isn’t my first trip to Rome, I had no intentions of attacking the sights that way – but far out, it feels like we done the Real Tourist™ thing today and I do not recommend it. If at all possible, do not come to Rome in high season, there are just too many people.
After our Vatican experience we decided to take a taxi back to Trevi. Grabbed a hail down outside the piazza and told him where we wanted to go – he said it was going to be a flat rate of 15 Euros to go to the fountain, now given that it cost us only 8 to get there, I asked him to turn on the meter. He said, it’s a flat rate. So… I said, turn on the meter or let us out of the car right now. Wanker pulled over and let us out of the taxi. Hah. Fancy that, an obnoxious cabbie trying to take advantage of the tourists. Next two cabs that came past, I asked first before getting in, and they both said it was a flat rate of 18 Euros to get to Trevi…? What? We wandered down the road a bit, and turned left, found a cab rank and about a dozen cabs with no one in them. I asked the one lady cab driver there how much to Trevi, and she pointed to the meter, saying ‘how much it says, no more than 10 Euros’. So we jumped in and drove back. Got back to Trevi and surprise, surprise, the meter said 7.80, so we gave her 10 and wished her a nice day. It’s no wonder cabbies have such a bad reputation world wide!
We had a quiet hour or so in the afternoon before meeting the others for dinner and a trip to the Colosseum to see it in twilight/dark.
Such a very long day and such sore feet… we had our well deserved (second) gelato and called it a night!