Let’s try to imagine to hold a magnifying glass over a map of Italy. First of all focus on Rome, capital of Italy, the eternal city that everyone knows, and then, slowly, let’s zoom more and more within its borders, up to frame the Vatican City, a tiny independent city-state in the center of the Roman territory that covers only 0.44 square kilometer. Once there, we just have to get even closer focusing a part of the artistic heritage known and most visited in the world: St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums.
St. Peter Basilica
Symbol of Catholicism, it is the seat of the main papal celebrations that the believers from all around the world follow constantly. The legend says that the basilica was erected on the site where Pope Anacleto, around ’80, built a small oratory enclosed by marble slabs on three sides, to commemorate the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter. Later on, in the same place, the Circus of the emperor Nero was set up, between Mount Vatican, the Tiber and the Janiculum. In 324 the Emperor Constantine replaced the small basilica with an opulent building, bigger and majestic. The work known today was started only in 1506 by Pope Julius II and was completed in 1626 during the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII, and its construction was attended by some of the leading architects and artists of the time: Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana.
The visit of the entire basilica is a must, and not to be missed: the Colonnade, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, surrounds the exterior of the basilica and models two perfect semicircles. It extends for 540 meters to embrace the square and at the center is located the famous obelisk. The balustrade above the columns is decorated with 140 statues in travertine, representing Saints and religious pioneer; the Gate of Judgment, sculpted by Manzu illustrates some biblical stories through four panels in high relief; The Canopy of San Pietro, consists of very realistic marble drapery sustained by twisted columns and the representation of the seven stages of childbirth; The Pietà statue, an emotional and harmonious sculpture by Michelangelo realized at the age of 24; the Chair of St. Peter, a wooden and gilded bronze throne in a Baroque composition maybe belonged to St. Peter the Apostle, characterized by a dove in the center to represent the Holy Spirit.
And there’s more! The visit in fact continues on the impressive St. Peter’s dome, designed by Michelangelo on the upper part of the Basilica which stands 133 meters high and 41.50 meters in diameter, and the Vatican Grottoes, an underground church with three naves, and the burial place of many pontiffs.
A collection of more than twenty centuries of history and art, in a dogged succession of masterpieces renowned throughout the world. Although today the building is huge with its 70,000 works, actually just a small group of statues gave rise to its creation, including the Laocoon, purchased by Pope Julius II, and other sculptures dating greek –Roman, that together make the Courtyard of the Statues. To avoid being sucked down by the vastness of the structure, a preventive preparation is recommended.
The first part consists of the real Museums: The Vatican Gallery, The Modern Collection of Religious Art, The Pio-Clementino Museum, The Missionary-Ethnological Museum, The Gregorian Egyptian Museum, The Gregorian Etruscan Museum, The Carriage Pavilion, the Philatelic and Numismatic Museum, the Museum of the Vatican Library, the Chiaramonti Museum. Then a second part includes the Vatican Palaces: the Galleries (do not miss the Gallery of Maps), the Chapels (the famous Sistine Chapel, the Nicholas Chapel and the Urban VIII Chapel), the Rooms or Hall (with particular regard to the Raphael Rooms).
But, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel it is not possible to form an idea of what a remarkable man alone is able to get.” Michelangelo Buonarroti dedicated over 10 years of his life to its realization in order to restore the priceless frescoes, such as The Creation of Adam, the wall of the Last Judgement and the detailed vault completely painted. Not surprisingly, the room has also been chosen as the location for the Conclave, the election of the Pope. No words can describe it, walk through the doors of the chapel and you will remain simply speechless!
Raise your hand if you’ve never dreamed, at least once, about admiring the Vatican Museums masterpieces!