When in Rome…

You know the Vatican is the smallest country in the world, right? Luckily it is still in the European Union so we didn’t need to show passports when entering the country. We did go through metal detectors, however.

Although we would spend the next couple of hours within the confines of the Vatican Museum we were happy to see the rain stopped and the skies were clearing. Overnight hours of rain and thunderstorms interrupted our sleep.

It was surprising, though probably shouldn’t have been, to see so much Egyptian influence in the early history of Catholic art. The pine cone, on the left, was considered by the Ancient Egyptians to be our biological Third Eye, the “Seat of the Soul” and the “Epicenter of Enlightenment.”

The Vatican does not shy away from modern art either. This “Sphere within a Sphere” rotates on its axis for a long time with the slightest touch. The piece reflects the complexity of our world and how easily it can be torn apart.

We were very fortunate to tour the Vatican early in the morning (8:00 AM) on a Wednesday in November. The crowds were all but nonexistent. Enjoy a few of the masterpieces and I will be back in a few minutes.

The room below is named the “Octagon Room.” Care to guess why? The Octagon Room is shaped as an octagon and was the courtyard to the wing of the Vatican where artists in residence would keep their apartments. Imagine conversations over morning coffee when Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael would sit around reading the morning paper, shooting dagger eyes at each other, and perhaps sketching part of a new fresco. Shivers down your spine. Of course, I have no idea if any of them were in residence at the same time. The bottom right photo above was shot from near the entrance to Octagon Room. Who wouldn’t want to live there is this was your view?”

The head and left hand of the god above was reconstructed by various renaissance artists as ordered by the pope who acquired it. On close inspection you can see the different coloration of the repaired pieces. The reclining position designated him as a god of a river. Originally, the small figure in the vessel in his right hand was a tiger, signifying he was the god of the Tigris River in ancient Mesopotamia. The new owner declared it was a lion, thereby indicating the figure was now Arno, the god of the Arno River in Tuscany. Nice to be the boss.

Here is another room of wonder. The “tub” in the middle was made from a very rare purple marble. In fact, the entire quarry was mined to exhaustion by the Italian artists. As there was no more in the world, this stone became enormously expensive.

The floors are mosaics made from many of the same minerals used to manufacture the vivid color paints used by the artists.

Ceilings! Don’t get me started on ceilings. The are grotesque. Actually, the style of many ceiling panels are fanciful depictions of mixed animal, human and plants. The original grotesque paintings were supposedly found when some buried palaces of Nero were unearthed. The ceilings of the “grotto,” or what they thought were caves, were covered with such paintings. Like the Uffizi in Florence, the Vatican is covered, and I mean covered, from ceiling to ceiling with grotesque paintings.

And the floors! Millions of people each year walk these floors. Won’t they wear down? Apparently not. According to our guide the wear on the floors just manages to polish them. Notice in the last picture below the brilliance of the mosaic outside the railing versus the dull patina inside.

Beside sculptures, ceilings and floor mosaics, would it surprise you there are magnificent paintings on display also?

All the renaissance masters were here at one point in their careers. There are whole rooms dedicated to each of them. One of the most fun painting contains hidden images of the three greatest masters, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.

During the tour we played a game – Is it a painting or is it a sculpture? We were usually wrong. These are both paintings. (I got them wrong.)

You probably know you are not allowed to take any pictures in the Sistine Chapel but I stopped by a window and snapped one before anyone could stop me.

Outside Wall of the Sistine Chapel

It may be the outside wall, but it is still the Sistine Chapel.

And finally we found our way out. Either that or we found a wormhole to the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

After the Vatican we returned to our room at the Cosmopolita Hotel which is a nice little hotel located on a “quiet” side street. Quiet is relative. Rome is a large city and we are in the center of it all. After a short rest we ventured out to find a restaurant recommended by a former classmate of Frances. It looked fantastic, but we were scared off by the sign, “credit cards accepted for checks above 100 Euros.” I don’t mind spending 100 Euros on a nice dinner, but QC and I doubted we could eat enough to cost 100 Euros, so went for pizza, wine and gelato at a sidewalk cafe down the street from out hotel.

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