Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Vatican City - Rome Part 2

Most people think that the Colosseum and St. Peters Basilica are the biggest attractions in Rome. If you ask me, food is the biggest attraction in all of Italy. Every meal we had there was absolutely delicious. The fresh pastas, thin crust pizzas, focaccia sandwiches, tiramisus and cappuccinos were um um good. I could have done nothing but eat on our vacation and still come away impressed.

Aside from food, my most favorite attraction is the Vatican Museum. I don't understand why people think museums are boring. In fact, I think they are the most interesting way of learning about the history of a country. I have been to 7 of the top ten art museums in the World and aside from the Louvre this is the grandest of all. This is not like a typical museum where art is displayed on the walls. The entire building from the floor to the ceilings is filled with intricate artistic treasures. The museum is also the only way to see the recently restored Sistine Chapel.

We started off in the sculpture gallery. As mentioned in the Dan Brown book, most of the nude statues of men had their genitals covered by a grape leaf. After this there were several rooms of beautiful paintings and ceilings with the most incredible frescoes. Fresco is the art of drawing on wet or fresh plaster. As the plaster dries, Carbon dioxide from the air is used to convert lime into calcium carbonate. This crystallizes around the sand particles and binds them to the wall. This makes paintings very durable and resistant to water and air. Artists had to work quickly before the plaster dries. The only way they could make corrections was to peel the plaster and start over again. Given the difficulty in creating these, we thought that they would use very few colors and less complicated themes for their paintings. Boy, were we wrong! The rooms we saw left us speechless. There were magnificent frescoes in every color and hue. The details in each one of these leaves you flabbergasted.

There were scenes from the lives of Emperor Constantine and Julius II painted by Raphael, Pinturicchio and Caravaggio. How someone could visualize these scenes, paint a piece of it on wet plaster everyday and come up with the final masterpiece is something we could not fathom. It was room after room of fascinating frescoes.

After seeing innumerable frescoes, Sarus eyes began to glaze and he was like a little kid waiting to get out and play. We were almost done, except for the Sistine Chapel, the crown jewel of Michelangelo's achievement. This is the place where a new pope is elected after the death of the reigning pope.

The Sistine Chapel is the single most extraordinary and stunning room adorned with artistic masterpieces that leave you spellbound. Stories of Genesis and the life of Jesus are portrayed in the most vivid colors and glorious settings. We were not allowed to take pictures, so you need to look them on google.

It is believed that Michelangelo hated and even looked down upon the art of painting. He loved sculpting and fled when the Pope ordered him to paint the Sistine Chapel. Years later he returned grudgingly and worked in Rome for 4 years painting the story of genesis on the ceilings of the Chapel. Painting on the walls is one thing, but imagine sitting on scaffolding for most of the day, craning your neck to paint the ceiling. We started developing a pain in the neck just looking at the ceiling. To think that he spent 4 years painting stories on a ceiling was just unbelievable. There are approximately 400 characters on the ceiling and most of them were naked, which apparently created a huge scandal in those times. The Church had later used another painter to "clean" up the paintings. There are numerous little anecdotes about these frescoes. It is believed that one of the ministers gave Michelangelo a hard time about the nudes, so he painted his face on a character with a snake biting his testicles - Ouch!

We walked out of Vatican City with a pain in the neck and thinking that this place alone was well worth the expensive Rome trip. Nothing, we thought could impress us anymore. All our expectations of art and architecture were so high that I was worried we had made a mistake by visiting Vatican early in the trip.

We then stepped into the St. Peters Basilica, the greatest church in the world! The size of this building is astounding! The nave is close to 600 ft long, and the cupola is a dizzying 400 ft tall. About 50,000 people can fit in the church and another 400,000 people can fit in the square outside! It took 120 years, 14 popes and 12 architects, to build the church, none of whom survived to see the end result.

We walked out of the Church and had a vegetable mozzarella sandwich and cappuccino for lunch. How can something as simple as bread taste so delicious is beyond my comprehension. The cappuccinos here are to die for. In Italy, there are at least 2 bars every street and these places serve the most incredible sandwiches and cappuccinos. The interesting thing is that there is a different price if you sit down versus standing at the bar. The only complaint I had was the size of the cup. It was equivalent to the coffee tumbler in Tamilnadu. 2 gulps and the coffee is done. No Starbucks type grande, tall or venti sizes here.

We went back to our hotel to rest our feet after the 5 hrs of walking, when we noticed that Saru lost his only sweater. He had packed 3 jeans, one sweater, 5 shirts and 10 under garments (dont ask) for the entire trip. You see, my dear darling husband is a light traveler when it comes to his clothes, but a little on the crazy side when it comes to his travel-photography kit. The kit is a classy looking backpack with a small Canon digital camera, a Nikon digital SLR, two zoom lenses, 4 filters, 3 memory cards, 2 backup batteries, USB and parallel port connectors to download pictures and 2 camera manuals in the main pocket. Wait a minute, I am not done here. He also keeps his tri-pod, binoculars, GPS and a bird book in the second layer. So in the off chance that we see a rare bird sitting on the top of an obelisk, we can spot it, identify it, mark the coordinates AND take a close-up picture. You have to understand that it not always easy to recognize a pigeon from far off.


  1. i was in rome for a little more than a day and i loved the city...and the food..tho i found it a bit unsafe in the night..

  2. Hmmm. I have not heard that before. Most of the touristy places are full of people till late at night, so we felt completely safe.
    I was alone in Florence/Milan for 3 days and even there I felt very safe walking around the town at night.

  3. Loved reading this second part too. I'm now craving Italian food. And Olive Garden is just not going to kill it. The photos are beautiful and your narration was quite interesting too.

    LOL. I used to be an avid birdwatcher too during my undergrad years and I think I drove my family absolutely nuts over it when we traveled. Now that I'm over (in recovery) from that phase, I can appreciate the humor in the last paragraph...bwahahahaha! What a geek :P
    I was also a butterflywatcher. Erm. Still am. But I dont GPS the coordinates so dont noone point fingers and laugh. Phah!

  4. Lakshmi,
    I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote my previous comment. All of Europe is notorious for purse snatching. There is rarely a danger to your life, but you need to make sure you keep your money in a safe place. We always take a money pouch that is worn under the garments and keep 20-30E that is more easily reachable.

  5. vagabond,
    I feel weird posting these old travelogues. The writing and the photographs are not anywhere close to what I have now.

    Don't give up birding. It is a lot of fun. I just came back from a birding trip and it was awesome.

  6. Yum - now I'm craving Italian food too! The most frustrating thing for me about museums is that we usually have just a finite amount of time to spend in there. I am like you - when I go to one, I like to read *everything* and look at one piece from all angles etc. If I have to keep walking because we have just one afternoon or something, I lose interest. Loved the little anecdotes in your post - Michelangelo must have been one interesting character! Painting someone's face with a snake where it will hurt is hilarious! :)

  7. Bindu,
    Oh...how I miss real Italian food!!

    I know what you mean about Museums. The problem with Museums is that you cant spend too less time and you cant spend too much time. Too less time and you are not satisfied. Too much time gives you museum-fatigue.