The Vatican: Smallest Country on Earth

Having arrived in Rome, I had to hunt down my hostel.  Though I had instructions, there was no soon to indicate where it was.  After walking past it a few times, I popped into an internet cafe to use street view pinpoint it.  Hard to behind that I missed this…

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I checked in and then left to stroll around the city and also stop at the supermarket.  By the time I got back, my roommates had also checked in.  One of them turned out to be a very nice Japanese girl who happened to be studying in France at the time.  Struggling through her introduction, she was both surprised and relieved when I told her that Japanese would work fine.  I invited her to share a bottle of wine and during that discussion we made plans to do the Vatican the next day.  This was another country after all, and one of the most remarkable places in the would.  The local population numbers only 821, but when considered as the head of a religion boasting aboIt was also the only place in the world that I would be able to make use of my two years of Latin, though I failed to recollect anything more than ‘Quid facit?’

We had planned to get up early to beat the lines for the Vatican Museum.  Instead, we woke up in time to be right in the thick of it all.  Oh well, to expect no lines is to be the pope.  We waited two hours to get into the museum, all the while being pestered by people promoting their ‘skip the line’ tours.  We knew that the chance to explore at our own pace rather than playing follow the leader would be worth the wait.

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Once in, we got going on the museums.  The Vatican has numerous exhibitions of art and sculpture and to go through all of them would have necessitated the day. We stuck to the main course that takes you through the most important things.  There were tons of rooms filled with white marble and it didn’t take long before I was ready for a change of scenery.  Some of it pretty famous though, like this one that I know nothing about.

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Some of the art was the Vatican itself.  The walls and ceilings were incredible, what with all the frescoes, mosaics, and ornamentation that covered every square centimeter.  Here you can see the Hall of Maps and the ceiling blanketed in renaissance talent.

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Another few of the rooms had the ceilings and walls done by Raphael and his followers.  These were very impressive as well.

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We had to follow the path through a couple more rooms with modern art before arriving at the crown jewel of renaissance art, Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  There were a ton of people slowly moving through here.  The guards insisted that we not stop, but to digest all that adorned the walls in passing was simply impossible.  And despite it being a ‘no foto’ locale, most simply found the temptation too great.  I was prepared to pay in any number of Hail Marys for my transgression.  As with all of the art though, no representation can do the beauty of these pontifical commissions justice, you really do have to see it with your own eyes.

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As I said, there were several more exhibits, but we were both starving and not exactly brimming with an interest to see any more than what we already had.  We pushed on toward the exit, marked by the famous double helix staircase.  We took some photos here, trading spots at the top and bottom of the flights.  Just before the exit, there was a small food court selling some different things.  All options were overpriced, but I was half tempted to buy a beer there; the idea of doing so rather amused me.

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The other half of the Vatican is St. Peter’s Basilica, and it is certainly not to be missed.  Entrance to the church itself is free, but we decided to pay the extra five euros to climb 551 steps to the top of the dome to see the view out over the country and neighbouring Rome.  So worth it.  On the way up, we got a sneak peak of the interior of the largest masonry dome in the world.  The climb up wound round and round, and passed through some very narrow passages.  Eventually these passages rotated about 15 degrees to follow the rounded shape.  Finally at the top, we were graced with an incredible view.

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After our eyes had had their fill, we descended the same path in reverse and went right into the basilica itself.  Though the scale of it all was tremendous, the incredible size of everything can disguise it a bit.  For reference, the Statue of Liberty could be placed in the dome with nearly 30 meters of clearance to spare.  We had to keep our voices at a respectful volume, which while entirely awestruck of the otherworldly marble construction was easy.  Framing a good shoot was impossible, but hopefully this gives you some idea.

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There was a wing that included a number of treasures and other important artifacts that we decided to pay five euro each to walk through and see.  There were some pretty interesting things in there, such as the papal tricrown tiara.  Another artifact contained the finger of Peter.  The Catholic Church used to be all about saving pieces of saints and putting them in relics, for some reason.

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The other stop of the day was into the papal grottoes, which is where popes are buried.  Compared with the rest of the church, this area was a bit lackluster.  There were plenty of enormous stone sarcophaguses, each with the name of a pope carved into it and the correlating body within it.  The only one with any amount of color or flair to it was the tomb of St. Peter, disciple of Jesus Christ and considered the first pope of the Catholic Church.  I find it really interesting anytime the names and places mentioned in Sunday School can be seen in modern times like this.  Not a very good photo, but you can see some of the grandeur.  Never mind the sign. (Hail Mary…Hail Mary…)

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From here it was time to make the long walk home.  We were both pretty much dead after spending a full day on our feet.  She shared my understanding of the mental fatigue associated with composing thoughts in a second language all day.  Though things did start to become a bit more elementary by the end of the day, I really impressed myself.  Usually I can throw English in for clarification, but here I was able to maintain pleasant, non-robotic conversation all day using only Japanese.  She was very welcoming to my efforts and always willing to let me explain when she didn’t understand.  On the way out we came across some of the Swiss Papal Guards in their unique uniforms, colourful and unchanged for hundreds of years.

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On the way back, we picked up the ingredients for some meat and pasta for dinner.  The meal was the perfect finish to a great day.

Catholicism is a very interesting flavor of Christianity to me.  Though it too has undergone changes over the centuries, it seems like a ‘purer form’ of the Christian tradition than of the Protestant branches that broke away during the reformation and changed everything so drastically. It’s not that one is better than the other, but I can feel the historical connection the papacy has maintained throughout the last 2000 years more than its Protestant counterparts.  I do have to question the veneration of saints though; making offerings and prayers to then for basis things looks a lot like idol worship.  I’m still really glad that I took that Catholicism class during my college days, but I would probably have appreciated it more now.  People should go to college when they are adults or are at least passionate about the subject matter, not just because they have graduated from high school.

Bonus shot of the pillars from St. Peter’s Square.  If you stood in the right place, the rows of four pillars all appeared to merge into one.

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One thought on “The Vatican: Smallest Country on Earth

  1. A long time dream of mine to go to the Vatican, Judd. Love reading about your adventure there. Glad you met up with a friend to enjoy the experience with. Who knew that Japenese would come in so handy?

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