The Vatican Museums

The last Sunday of each month admission is free to the Vatican Museums and we happened to be in Rome on the last Sunday of December. Of course there were about 3 million other people in Rome at the same time and I’m pretty sure all of us were in line to get into the Vatican museum that day. We had read to expect long lines but figured it was worth a shot. Like I mentioned before, Rome is pretty expensive and anytime we can do something at no cost we’ll do it. After taking the metro into the city we got in line about 9 am. We had no way of telling how long it would take us to get in so we resolved to wait it out. The family behind us kept wondering aloud about the time the museum closes and when is the last entrance. I had this information and am usually quick to share what I know. We struck up a conversation with them and then spent the next two hours exchanging stories. They were from Colorado but living in Germany as the husband was in the military. They have a 9-year-old boy who went to the school on base for one year but they weren’t happy with it so the mom was now homeschooling him. They told us about places they had visited and we shared hints from places we had been. They were headed to Pompeii the next day so we were full of advise for that trip. All of this helped to pass the next two hours and eventually we did get into the museum.

It’s difficult to know how to explain the museum. There is such excess and such grandeur. The museum is a maze of rooms and hallways and stairwells and more rooms all connecting to each other and winding you through room after room. And on almost every wall, every ceiling and even floors there is art. And not just art hanging up – the walls are art, the ceilings are art – it seemed that every surface had something to see. It was almost overstimulating to your senses but we took it slow and spent time admiring whatever seemed to catch our eye.

Two of my favorite areas were the Map Room and the Gallery of Tapestries. The map room is a huge rectangular room, almost an oversized hallway, on which frescoes of maps of the different islands, townships and cities of Italy are painted. These maps were created for practical purposes but are works of art in their own right. On the ceiling of the Map Room are illustrations narrating the history of the Church which are linked to the region in the map below. So it’s history and art all tied together. The Gallery of Tapestries holds 8 or 10 large tapestries created around 1549 depicting different stories from the bible. The work that went into them just amazes me. Perhaps my aversion to doing any fiber arts has something to do with my admiration for the tapestries.

We wound our way through the different galleries, rooms, smaller chapels and apartments. We admired the Raphael room depicting the concepts of Truth, Goodness, Justice and Beauty. These frescoes were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1508 and are considered to be Raphael’s most famous frescoes. But the main point where everyone is headed to is the Sistine Chapel. It is the only room where you are not allowed to take pictures and they remind you that it is a place of worship so please be quiet and respectful. The chapel is a large rectangular space that has had every inch of it painted. The ceiling is a large mural depicting stories from the Book of Genesis done by Michelangelo. I expected the painting of God reaching out his finger to touch the finger of Adam to take up the entire ceiling but it didn’t, it is just one part of the mural on the ceiling. The wall above the altar is painted with the Last Judgement also done by Michelangelo. It is a very busy scene of Jesus decreeing eternal judgment on mankind. We read that this painting was controversial as soon as it was completed because of the sheer quantity of nude figures. Another painter was brought in to “position flowing drapes in a way to censor the nudity”. (We bought a book at the museum to help us understand and interpret much of what we saw as so many of the paintings have many messages depicted within them.)

The museum also includes a collection of contemporary art including works from van Gough, Picasso, Chagall, Dali and Rodin. Additionally there is an Egyptian wing an Etruscan Museum, Gallery of Candelabras and beautiful outside gardens. They also have a Carriage museum that showcases the various modes of travel used by the Pope over the centuries. I wanted to see that but was vetoed by two tired and arted-out children. We have several other important art museums yet to visit on this trip and I didn’t want to ruin their experiences of art museums by over doing it. We left the museum and headed over to see St. Peter’s Basilica but saw another never-ending line and decided to do that another day. One of the joys of traveling like we are – we can just stay someplace longer!

I can’t get any pictures uploaded right now. The campground wifi just barely works. I’m hoping the next campground will have good wifi and I’ll do a post of just pictures. It was all very stunning – believe me.


Posted on January 5, 2014, in adventure, European travel, family travel, Homeschooling, Italy, Museum, Rome, RV travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Sounds like the pictures will be worth the wait!

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