The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour, Part 8

Lettera dal Vaticano.


The Vatican is a 28 minute walk from our apartment, and so we set out at 8 for our 8:35 entry tickets. As we got closer more and more people were focussed on the same goal us us – find, or get to, the entrance to the Museum.

Everything is very well sign-posted, and staff were on hand to direct us to the correct line. Those with pre-paid vouchers in the right lane, skipping the very long line for regular  ticket sales on the left.

Inside, after passing through security scanners, I exchanged the voucher for tickets and we picked up our audio guide. This was invaluable as it gave us additional spoken information about parts of the museum, and individual items. On a few occasions we eavesdropped on a guided tour and the guides were providing a lot of extra information, but then people were moved on quite quickly.

I suspect that many visitors are faced with the same conundrum we were – whether to spend time with the most well-known items – or go with what catches your eye on the day. We did a mixture, and took time where and when we wanted.


You are free to take pictures in the museum although it is hard to know when to start and when to stop. There is just so much. Caroline is in the habit of also taking a picture of the exhibit’s label – something that is really handy when you go back later.

Looking at the pictures as I post this, they don’t really capture the beauty and scale of some of what we saw, but they will serve to remind us of the experience.

One of my favourite sections of the museum – and there are 24 on the map – was that covering Egyptian antiquities. This extremely striking 7-foot tall statue was near the end of that section.


In the courtyard of statues everyone turned left to look at the more famous items, I turned right and found this beautifully ornate sarcophagus. The detail is astounding, from the hair and manes of the horses, down to the cloth and footwear.


One interesting thing I’ll note is that the building itself is part of experience. There are frescoes and paintings on the ceilings and walls, mosaics on the floors, ornate cornices and sculptures everywhere. We both spent a lot of time looking up, and down, as many great works are under your feet in the form of mosaics.

Occasionally we’d see that a work had been removed for restoration. Sometimes, where the work could not me moved, staff worked on it behind screens. I peeked around this one to see someone working a corner of the map.



What about the Sistine Chapel, you ask? Yes, we did see it, but you won’t, at least not here. On the walk down to the chapel signed warned to be appropriately (modestly) dressed and that no photography, video or phone calls were allowed. Once inside there were occasional announcements to that effect. One woman standing here us was very obviously taking photos on her phone. “Basta, basta, basta”, called our one of the attendants.

During our time in the chapel a priest spoke briefly and prayed in Italian and again in English.

What did I think of it? I spent a lot of time considering the artists who created the paintings on the upper walls –  Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Roselli – and of Michelangelo, who painted the ceiling and The Last Judgement from floor to ceiling on the altar wall. Their religious devotion clearly inspired the work, and much of it resonated with me spiritually. There was so much to take in, it was almost overwhelming at times.

After the Sistine, we completed the rest of the museum and moved on to the gallery. To give you an idea of the scale of some of the work here, here are two tapestries from a set of seven, based on cartoons by Raphael.


These had all been restored through donations from benefactors, and the colour, texture and glow given off – even under low light – was remarkable. Even more remarkable was Raphael’s painting of the accession.


After the gallery it was on to Saint Peter’s. Entry was free, but there were queues. Not the worst they can be, but still 30 minutes. Even a picture does not really capture the size of the crowds or the size of the space. In the left side of this image in the distance you can see seating that’ll be used tomorrow for the Papal Audience.

As with much of the art in the Vatican Museum, pictures do not even come close to demonstrating the grandeur and beauty of this building. I took this shot just after we walked in. There are many, many tourists.


Everyone heads for the dome at Saint Peters. You cannot standing directly under it as it is roped off, but we did get very good views. The main dome is not the only dome to see. This picture shows one of one of the many smaller domes. All are beautifully decorated.

We also went to see the Treasury Museum. This is where some of the Vatican’s most valuable and revered items are kept. There were Papal crowns, various religious regalia, and gifts from the faithful from down through the ages.

One curiosity was a number of reliquaries – small shrines containing physical remains, or items associated with them such as clothing.

This image is the one of the day – taken through the columns of the colonnades around the square.

On the walk back we noticed some interesting parking. This seems to be quite common.


Today we also had our first Gelato, and our first Pizza. It won’t be the last of either, I suspect.


Tomorrow we are going on a guided tour of the Roman ruins and the Colosseum.

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