Rome, like Florence, simply has too much to see to cover in a short visit, so you make choices, see what you can, and resolve to return later if possible. The Sistine Chapel was our top-pick destination, but a walk past St. Peter’s Basilica and tour of the Vatican Museum were part of the bargain.
We visited Vatican City the day before Easter, and preparations were in full swing. Crowds in front of St. Peter’s Basilica were a foretaste of much larger crowds expected the next day, and at least some of those visitors apparently came as faithful believers rather than tourists. We tend to think of Europe as secularized, but I was frequently surprised and encouraged as we ran into people serious about their Christian faith.
The Vatican Museum’s collection of artwork is amazing, and even more so when you consider that only a fraction of it is on display at any given time. Like other large world-class museums, what you see can captivate your mind and spark a new appreciation for what a particularly arresting piece of art could mean, why it was created, and what the artist might have had in mind. Much, but not all of it, seems to find its origins in the belief system of the artist, and it gives us a small reminder that we are created in God’s image. You also get the impression that you could spend a week or a month wandering through the halls, pondering what you see, and still not exhaust the possibilities.
We walked over 10,000 paces and climbed hundreds of steps that day in Rome, starting in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, touring the museum, seeing the chapel, and then walking to lunch. Dorcas kept up with help of walking sticks, and the museum personnel were very considerate in trying to make things easier for her. She was a real trooper!
By the way, photography was prohibited inside the Chapel. Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings were stunning and much more elaborate than we expected. His painting of Judgement Day was even more striking, and filled the entire end of the room. The paintings were all restored only a few years ago, and the fresh colors added to the experience. If we ever have the chance to return, I would like to make the climb into the Basilica dome, both to see its size and to hear its acoustics. And I would certainly take another look at the Chapel.
As we wrapped up our day in Rome, we had a chance to drive past the Colosseum and the site of the old Circus Maximus. Not much to see at the latter, except for a large, elongated depression in the ground that used to be the site of a stadium. Think of the chariot race in Ben Hur, but with all of the buildings, structures, and track removed. The Colosseum was a different story, though. Groups of tourists swarmed through, but the old structure is so large that it looked empty. Regardless, it was a striking reminder that we are looking back at centuries, even a couple of millennia, of history. Empires rise and fall, but it is amazing what a well-organized construction program (or art collection effort) can accomplish.