Continued from my last post Rome – The First Stop Part I
Our next stop was the Vatican – A must see for a first timer to Rome. Took us nearly the whole day. The Vatican is country by itself surrounded by Rome with an area of 110 acres and a population of 1000 .It was formed by an agreement between Mussolini on behalf of King Vittorio Emmanual and Pope Pius XI through the Lateran treaty of 1929. Before that it was the Holy See and the church controlled large parts of Italy The Vatican city for the tourist , essentially comprises the Vatican Museums , the St Peter’s Basilica and St Peters Square.
There is so much to see in the Vatican museums and cannot be covered in one day here one can see paintings and sculptures by the masters whose names are now famous in world history Raphael , Caravaggio,Leonardo da Vinci and so on
The Vatican Museum Garden – Notice nobody is walking on the grass!
We took a conducted tour and followed the little red flag on the top of a selfie stick of our guide and went into the Vatican Museum- armed with an intercom controlled by the tour Guide.It was here that I first heard of the word Allora which I would hear often for the rest of our trip – Literally translated means “I am thinking” and is used as a filler phrase -Also means “and sooooo” . Allora, we were in the garden of the museum where were given a run down of what we were about to see. We were introduced to the sculptures and the works of art of the great Italian masters of the time , introduced to the Popes through the years Visited one of the earlier papal quarters and were finally ushered into the Sistine Chapel (Capella Sistine). The main attraction still remains the Sistine Chapel which was painted by Michelangelo between 1508-12 and completed by other famous painters at that time such as Sandro Botticelli 1512.The Sistine Chapel roof is an extraordinary piece of painting and depicts scenes from the Book of Genesis.We kept wondering how Michelangelo painted on the roof .There are numerous stories of the Sistine chapel but the one I liked best was the commissioning of a modesty exercise to cover up of the “privates ” of the subjects .Today the Sistine chapel is used for the Pope’s main services for his cardinals and also the Pope’s election conclave is held here .The white or black smoke indicating the progress of the election goes up through a chimney in the corner of the Chapel .Photography is not allowed but tourists are allowed to sit in silence and crane their necks at the ceilings to see the magnificent work of the master Michelangelo
A door from the Sistine Chapel leads to St Peters Basilica , the largest church in the world The Pope leads the prayers in this basilica on many occasions during the year .It is not the mother of all catholic churches nor is it the primary church in Rome It is built over the burial vaults of St Peter , one of the apostles and of the popes. The present basilica was conceived by Bramante an architect and designer who contributed to many structures in Rome and Florence and a name we heard very often along with Michelangelo ,Bernini and Pannini, Michelangelo built upon Bramante’s design and executed it in the mid 1500s.This basilica is used by Pope for his various liturgies and can hold as many as 15000 people at at time with spillover being accommodated in the adjacent St Peters square .
The Dome of the Basilica is a very prominent part of Rome’s skyline and can seen from many viewing points across Rome .Entry into St Peters Basilica is free but to climb the dome one needs to pay a nominal fee.Just by the side of the Basilica is the entrance to the Popes chambers and is guarded by the Swiss guards .The guards are of Swiss nationality and must necessarily be catholic. Their association with the Pope dates back to the 1500s when Pope Julius gave them the title “Defenders of the Church”s freedom” They have been traditionally ceremonial but have gradually transformed also into a more military role of protecting the Pope and the Papal Palace
Exit from the St Peter’s basilica into the St Peters square
where the Pope addresses his common flock every Wednesday morning . Right in the middle of the square is an OBELISK – We decided to skip that as I felt that had already seen and experienced a lot of Vatican for a first time visit
We headed to the Vatican City post office and mailed Postcards Vatican postmarked to folks back home – all of which reached their recipients in good time One of these postcards has become a book-marker in the recipients family Bible
One the way back to the hotel we crossed the Tiber River .If I remember my Shakespeare right , Julius Caesar achieved a great feat swimming across the Tiber making LB Shastri’s daily swim across the Ganga to school a very minor feat. But to my amusement the Tiber is a small muddy stream which will not even figure even in large scale maps of India
Allora! after a full day at the Vatican we felt that we had enough of museums ,Basilicas and cathedrals There was a lot more to see and do in Italy -There was great wine there was great food , there were great places to see and experience . So the next day we set out to the farmers market Campa Di Fiori . Like all farmers markets the produce was fresh but this market was run entirely by Bangla Deshis. They told me that they had arrived in the seventies and are making a living in Italy , speak fluent Italian and one of them even had an Italian wife . Here is a photograph of Italian spices which i sent to my family back home who claim to be Italian Food aficionados
Adjoining the Campa De Fiori is the Piazza Novona another one of Bernini’s creation .The Piazza has two exquisitely carved fountains on either end. Once an ancient Roman Stadium and is even now used as an open air arena .
We rounded off the visit with lunch at Bernini’s an iconic ristorante of Rome . Malati ordered a carbonara minus the proscuito( bits of ham) and I had a risotto with a scampi – a delicacy some what between a shrimp and a lobster and is considered a local sea food delicacy .See the photo below – Polished it off with a glass of Chardonnay and rounded off with a Gelato across the square.
We had by now become quite adept at getting round in Rome and even picked up a smattering of Italian . Italians in cities are fairly comfortable with English and most documents & sign boards and the like are bilingual . Though there are some gaffes like the one at The Villa Borghese gardens which we could not visit as tickets were sold out
By now we had covered many of the tourist spots and there was a lot more to cover – We however missed the two iconic monuments associated with Rome – Colosseum (on the left of the picture below) and the Pantheon(right)- We did the next best -Waved to the crowds at the Pantheon, an Italian temple which is even now 2000 years after it was build is the largest un-reinforced concrete Dome in the world. The Colosseum is a First Century AD amphitheater with a capacity of 50000 and staged gladiators and such like spectacles in the past
The Italian shoe company Tods has sponsored a 25 Mn euro renovation and for the first time the Colosseum is being currently renovated, We drove past the structure and stopped for a photo ops outside the gates and ticked it off our list
Our hotel was well located and we were just a few yards off Via Del Corso where we spent a lot of time just window shopping or admiring the beauty of the Piazzo Poppolo (literally The Peoples Square) . Photo below Courtesy WolfgangM-Flickr.com Original Photo
Bounded by two beautiful churches on one end and the ancient Roman city fort walls on the other this is a no traffic zone with an Obelisk right in the middle of the square dating back to days Before Christ.Today it is the venue for different street performances and public events . Restaurants encircle the Piazza and we had sampled different varieties of formaggio (cheese) and porcini mushrooms all downed with different kinds of wines over the course of many meals
We finally rounded off our trip to Rome with a fireworks display on the Piazza Poppolo watching it from one of the side walk restaurants. We had seen a lot but Rome has so many delights that it warrants another visit another time and for a much longer duration A view of the ristorantes during the fireworks display seen below
The Italian Journey continues – Next post – Onward to Amalfi