Although we spent Wednesday at the weekly papal audience, we decided against doing a Vatican tour on the same day. Way too many people there on Wednesdays.
Our tour on Thursday was a pre-arranged “skip the line” tour, but one sold through the Vatican, not the many private operators who double and triple the prices.
The last time Greg and Sue toured the Vatican (St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum) was 15 years ago, almost to the day. Yet, at that time, the crowds were minimal, and tickets to any of the venues were simply walk up and pay. No more, without long lines. Increased worldwide prosperity and international travel has changed all of that, and today, at times, we felt like sardines.
Having said that, the Vatican museum, including the Sistine Chapel, took nearly three hours to go through, and we barely touched on what is there. The artwork, the sculptures, the history, the ceilings, the floors, everything is breathtaking, even with all the people. There are some sections we walked by that include the most famous 20th century artists, not church art by any means, but that must be for a separate tour. There also are numerous areas under renovation.
Our tour also included the basics of St. Peter’s, the world’s largest and most impressive basilica. You could spend a week in the Vatican to properly see all the art and take the optional tours such as the gardens, the rooftop cupola to St. Peter’s and the catacombs.
Michelangelo, who was a sculptor not a painter, somehow painted the dramatic ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. And, he produced his one “signed” copy of his famous Pieta sculpture that is behind glass at St. Peters. But there are many other famous artists in both places like Raphael and Da Vinci
The Vatican Museum is certainly one of the best museums in the world, and it goes and goes. Long hallways of human busts. Even longer hallways, with ornate cathedral-like ceilings – one that shows early maps of Italy and the Roman empire and another that has huge tapestries.
Everyone goes through a metal detector to get into any of the Vatican properties. Outside the museum, we noticed the usual heavy security as well. In fact, one very nondescript building, across from the main entrance to the Vatican private offices and residences, had heavily armed Italian military at all entrances, and we learned that this building houses various embassies.
Although we were overwhelmed a bit after our half day tour and thought we were “churched-out”, before our nearly 15-mile walking day ended, we stopped into 6 or 8 other churches. They are on every corner in Rome, no two alike, loaded with precious and often extravagant art and sculpture, bodies and relics of Saints, and stunning architectural details.