Prestige and Power in Vatican City


Before reading, I have been delayed in uploading my own photos for this post as I have only JUST been able to get Internet in the remote mountain town we are currently staying in. You wouldn’t believe the lengths I’ve gone to! I’ve been mildly electrocuted, walked up heinously long stairs TWICE, spent hours sitting and waiting, tweaking and fiddling with settings (trying to hijack the wireless networks of neighbors) and have wandered around and around the apartment holding the laptop high up in the air to find a faint signal of connectivity. I did find it (you would definitely laugh if you could see me writing this in the most uncomfortable position to get maximum signal strength) but it its excruciatingly slow and keeps cutting out ☹. BUT if you are reading this, then hours and hours of effort have not been fruitless – HOORAH! Hopefully I’ll be able to add my own photos at a later date

On Monday, our last day in Rome, we headed to the Vatican City.

Perched atop Vatican Hill, from which the city gets its name, it is situated on the opposite side of the Tiber from the traditional seven hills of Rome – symbolic perhaps aswell of its complete autonomy as a sovereign states founded by the Holy See (consisting of the Pope and the Roman Curia) in 1929. This is not to be confused with the much larger Papal States (756-1870) that had previously encompassed central Italy. Almost all of Vatican City’s 826 (2009 estimate) citizens either live inside the Vatican’s walls or serve in the Holy See’s diplomatic service in embassies (called “nunciatures”; a papal ambassador is a “nuncio”) around the world. The Vatican citizenry consists almost entirely of two groups: clergy, most of whom work in the service of the Holy See, and a very few as officials of the state; and the Swiss Guard. There was a horrendously long line which we had the pleasure of passing with the help of our sweet and VERY chatty guide Maria. After standing in one of the courtyards for an extensive explanation of the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (as your supposed to be silent once in the chapel)

we entered the Vatican Galleries. I’m afraid that i pretty much forgot everything she told me as soon as we were met with rooms and rooms of absolute extravagance. We wandered through extraordinarily ornate halls covered in frescoes and filled with many of the priceless treasures that the Church has acquired over the years.

Egyptian statues and sarcophagi, ancient roman and greek statues, incredible tapestries and unbelievable frescoes covering many of the wall and ceilings. There was even a collection of modern art donated to the Church (generally by the artists themselves). These works served as a necessary reminder that unlike many other museums and collections, the Vatican galleries aren’t symbolic of a once powerful and now extinct power, but rather, they are a glimpse into the world of a thriving institution that influences our everyday lives. The great artist Raphael had several rooms filled with his own frescoes (some completed by his students). One in particular was my favorite, in which he’s peaking out of the painting! one of his few self-portraits.

We eventually wound our way through to the Sistine Chapel which include works by Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Botticelli as well as the ceiling and Last Judgement by Michelangelo. The technique and shear enormity of the fresco’s was certainly impressive but honestly I was a bit disappointed. I found there was just too much and the paintings lost their individual significance and the room lacked feeling or any distinct emotive capacity. It also didn’t help that the room was choc-a-bloc with people and several grumpy guards yelled in intermitted periods NO PHOTOS – though I managed to sneak a few 🙂

After the Sistine chapel we were directed (there is a one way path that visitors cannot stray from) to St Peters Basilica. The majestic Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world (220m x 150m) more than 3.75 acres (whilst the total area amasses to over 5 acres).

It is capable of holding 60,000 people and is widely conceived to be “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”. In Catholic tradition, it is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter, who was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to tradition, first Bishop of Rome and therefore first in the line of the papal succession. As this is one of the worlds holiest sites it is also the burial place for the popes, 91 of them in-fact lay beneath the Basilica with a handful of other dignitaries.

Besides the general feeling of awe that influenced all who stepped foot inside the golden, glowing Basilica,

i fell in love with Michelangelo’s La Pietà (1499).

The statue is one of the most highly finished works by Michelangelo and was completed when he was just 25 – at the beginning of his illustrious and long career. We were also very lucky that a private mass was being held and the procession’s – dare I say – heavenly voices filled the Basilica. I later had a bit of chuckle at the Swiss Guards ridiculous uniforms (they bring to mind images of dancing jesters!) designed by Michelangelo.

After exploring the Basilica (as much as one has the energy to do after already witnessing the Galleries and Sistine Chapel) we went out into the Sunshine of St Peter’s Piazza. We admired our surroundings said a big thankyou to our guide who was overflowing with information and history.

I admit the facts that seemed to never cease coming mostly blew over my head, but I think I retained some of the key points – and for everything else,.. there’s GOOGLE!! We made our way out of the Vatican City and headed to a nice Pizzeria for Lunch.

Over lunch we discussed at length the shear influence and enormity of the Catholic Church and the power of the Pope and the Cardinals in Vatican City. The picture below details the Political Influence of “The Holy See”

Full of carbohydrates and sweet tomatoes, we made our way past the Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as the Castel Sant’Angelo. Its a towering cylindrical building that was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used as a castle, a fortress (it connects to Vatican City to safeguard endangered Popes) and is now a museum. We were “museum’ed out” so just admired it from afar.

We continued alongside the river Tiber beneath the shade of the Plain Trees and by many lovely little stalls.

We eventually made our way to the Republica di Popolo

where we simply sat and people watched for a while

before making our way home.

We had almost accepted that Romes culinary feats aren’t yet up there with Tuscany and Sicily after many ‘nice’ but not GREAT meals – probably largely due to that fact that most restaurants are set up to cater en masse for tourists. That was until we found a poky little seafood restaurant just around the corner from us called “Sapore del Mare” which i would highly recommend to all! A great way to finish off our last night in Rome

Another post down – still 5 to catch up on!!!

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Prestige and Power in Vatican City

  1. margaretbiggs

    we are glad you were’nt electrocuted! you have’nt finished your “book” yet.Wonderful history of the vatican. I have’nt been inside so was very interested. relax in sicily.happy mother’s day sally. xxx

  2. Susie

    Hi,
    Just think you should read your history before you accuse the Vatican of plundering all the treasures on display, ever heard of gifts. Secondly what is a “high Cardinal”. As a reader of your posts I was disappointed that this one came across as anti-catholic

    • Hi Susie, thanks for your corrections, i’ll make some changes, do a bit more researching and do my best to keep my opinions unbiased. I agree with you though, it most certainly wasn’t all ALL plundered but from what we gathered a fair share of their ancient treasures were taken from other countries on behalf of the church. This ofcourse is customary for powerful nations and organizations, our guide told us that on two occasions the Vatican itself fell victim and lost some of it’s treasures. The Catholic Church has some particularly dark periods of history which is hard for anyone to see in a positive light but i do not hold that against the present day church. Great to know someone is keeping me in line – please keep it up! Regards, HG

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