Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rome, day 4 - Vatican museums

We took the Metro to the Vatican (very crowded and squashed), then gathered that the queues were absolutely huge, so decided to take a tour. Very good move as we understood what we were seeing and also had a fast-track entrance. The guide gave us all a radio with headphones, so we could hear him really clearly – and the museums are so crowded and noisy that you really need something like that or you’d never hear.

The walls surrounding the Vatican are incredibly thick (as you can see by the entrance to the museum below) and serve as the border with Italy.

The guides aren’t allowed to tell you anything as a group in the Sistine Chapel, but there are boards outside in the courtyard to help them explain what you’re going to see. The courtyard itself is very pretty.

And then you go into the museum proper, seeing rather a lot of statues...

The walls in the first part of the Museum are the same colour red as the interiors of the richest houses in Pompeii (who were the only ones who could afford the pigment from a rare crushed shell), hence it's called Pompeian red.

Two of the rooms have a ceiling with a copy of the Pantheon (except the central opening is enclosed or glazed).

Some of the floors are Roman mosaics (and it's a bit shocking that you can walk on them!)

This large bowl is made from Egyptian red granite.

So are the two sarcophagi in the next room - this one is St Helena (Constantine's mother).

The mosaic here is of Mars.

The steps to the Papal apartments are wide and low - our guide explained that it's because the Popes used to ride their horses or donkeys to bed, and the layout of the stairs was designed for quadrupeds rather than humans!

He told us that the marble in the floors was robbed from the Colosseum - ditto the floor in St Peter's.

There are more works of art in the floor, such as this papal coat of arms in lapis and jade.

Urban VIII's apartment has trompe l'oeil ceilings (the damaged bit shows that it's a painting rather than stucco/mouldings).

There are also tapestries made in Flanders from Raphael's drawings (very low light levels and no flash allowed, hence poor quality pics). I especially liked the Magi tapestry with the elephant and camels.

Though I was upset by the Slaughter of the Innocents. The sheer anguish on the faces of these women... (And at least some of the soldiers must have been fathers. Why didn't they rebel?)

The Supper of Emmaus is fab as it uses perspective - whether you're left or right of the painting, the table always faces you.

Pius VIIIth's apartments have stucco ceilings plus amazing 14th century maps - they're scaled in paces so the Pope could see his territory at a glance and know how long it would take to move his armies. The ceiling frescoes depict scenes that happened in the area of each map.

Pius V had a gorgeous dome in his bedroom ceiling.

And then it was time to see the Sistine Chapel.


Caroline said...

Gosh the opulence is astounding! I must show DH your photo's as he is RC and has always wanted to go to the Vatican. Can't wait for the rest....Caroline x

Kate Hardy said...

Caroline, it's just amazing and you can hardly take it in. The Sistine Chapel is HUGE and the painting... it's just awesome, in the true sense of the word. Really glad we went (even though we're not RC). St Peter's is pretty amazing as well He'd loved it.

Lacey Devlin said...

Wow no wonder they're so crowded. It's incredible and must be breathtaking to see.

Kate Hardy said...

Lacey - the noise is insane! And if you stop, the guards make you move on so you don't stop the flow of people walking through. But, as you say, it's breathtaking to see, and I'm so glad I had the chance to go there.