The Vatican is a small, beautiful, artistic, extremely Christian sort of place. St. Peter’s Square (actually an oval) is hugged on two sides by giant marble columns with saintly sculptures sitting on top. In the center of the square is a fountain and an obelisk. Only after this visit did I start to appreciate how many religious symbols are represented on our currency.
St. Peter’s Basilica is easily the most grandiose and cavernous church I have ever been to. It’s interior and exterior are both richly decorated with ornate sculptures and art. There was a huge gold and brown altar in the center with twisted columns towering over visitors. You could even give confessions there in more than 5 different languages!
We climbed the stairs all the way up St. Peter’s dome and the view was breathtaking. Aside from St. Peter’s, we also toured the Vatican Museum which includes the Sistine Chapel. There were many rooms dedicated to Raphael (his School of Athens was my favorite) and several Michaelanglo works too. I wish the Sistine Chapel had room for you to lay down and fully appreciate Michaelangelo’s ceiling since it’s a substantial strain on your neck to keep looking up and take in the enormity of his work. As we wandered away from the Vatican, we stumbled across Castel Sant’Angelo (Mausoleum of Hadrian). It was a very stony and stoic structure but had a great view of St. Peter’s from afar!
Rome is such a beautiful, historic city. But it is still a city nonetheless with its own busy, crowded streets of impatient Romans tired of tourists blocking their paths, vendors selling their wares on every corner, and zig-zagging vehicles unbound by lanes or traffic signs.
I took a one-hour bus ride from the airport to our hotel near the Termini train station. After dropping our stuff off at Hotel Quirinale, we walked to the Spanish Steps and then down to the Trevi Fountain. In my opinion, the Trevi Fountain completely lived up to its name in size and grandiose. The water was such a beautiful Mediterranean blue and the statues were so well preserved, skillfully carved, and sparkling white. The fountain was extremely crowded with people speaking all languages but I still managed to squeeze in near the basin and make a wish.
As we walked around, we admired the beautiful architecture with its unique way of blending the old and the new together. Although the streets weren’t as narrow as Florence’s, they were still, to me at least, very unnaturally spoked in all directions and without Google Maps, it would’ve been hard to find any of our destinations at all. On the other hand, it was very easy to find churches. There was almost one at every corner. They’re all free to enter (even the most famous ones) and have the most gorgeous Christian artwork inside.
On our first full day, we toured the Colosseum and Roman Forum using our Roma Passes. The Colosseum is, of course, all ruins by now but wandering around inside you still get a great sense of just how spectacularly large the arena was and the noise that the 50,000 person crowd must have made whenever the first gladiator or beast or whatever walked out. The Roman Forum was my favorite Roman sight. Although also ruins, it covers a much larger area outside and with every column, arch, and statue, you really get a better understanding of how impressive it is that anything at all is left. There’s also plenty of green space outside that was a much more attractive sight after the dull brown of the Colosseum. After the Forum, we also walked up the colossal Victor Emmanuel Monument and walked inside the perfectly engineered Pantheon. On the way back to our hotel, we went through the Heart of Rome Walk and spent some time admiring the fountains and churches around Piaza Navona.
Before boarding the train to Florence, we visited the Galleria Borghese (Borghese Gallery) which houses a number of original statues and paintings by Bernini, Raphael, and other masters. The walk there was pleasant as the gallery is located inside a very beautiful park with lemon and orange trees. The Borghese Gallery was small but the statues were very, very impressive. At the same time, they were also a bit sad and violent. That seems to be a theme with the original Greek & Roman myths. My favorites included Bernini’s David (much more action filled than Michelangelo’s version), Canova’s Paolina, Bernini’s Apollo e Dafne, and Tiziano’s Amor Sacro e Amor Profano. Afterwards we also stopped by the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vittoria (Our Lady of Victory Church) to see Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy.
I wish I had brushed up on my Roman mythology/Bible stories before seeing all of this amazing artwork.