September 21, 2010

Rome, a living museum – Part 3

A visit to Rome would not be complete without a visit to Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica).  A word of caution though, be extra extra early if you want to beat the queue.  We didn't, and when we got there slightly after 9am, the queue had built up to easily 1km long (scenario as pictured below).  We were hesitating whether to join one of the many guides touting "skip the line" tickets in order to maximize our time but decided against paying a bomb for them (admission to the basilica is free).  Luckily the queue move quite quickly and we got in an about 45 minutes, I think.  But I was quite pissed off with several queue jumpers – they pretended to know those who were queueing in front of us and simply squeezed their way in.  And I'm pretty sure this didn't just happen to us!  Geez!

The photo is from here. I added the markings in red for illustration.

Anyway, the visit was definitely worth the wait.  The basilica was jaw-dropping and more like a showcase of Italy's greatest artists – with impressive paintings and sculptures.

We also visited the Treasury and Sacristy, which is filled with jewel-studded chalices, religious artifacts and Vatican treasures.  We then headed downstairs to the Vatican grottoes, with their tombs of the popes, both ancient and modern, including that of Pope John Paul XXIII.

Next to St. Peter's is the Vatican City, a separate state by itself though it's located within Italy's boundaries.  It was established in 1929 by an agreement between the pope and Benito Mussolini, acting as head of the Italian government.  The pope is the sovereign of the State of Vatican City, which has its own legal system.  Visitors are not allowed access into the Vatican City.

A glimpse of the Vatican city

A short walk away are the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums) & the Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel).  These museums are reputed to be the richest in the world, and a full day or more is needed to visit all the highlights.  We thought we'd just do a quickie with Sistine Chapel but the entrance ticket is sold as a package for visits to all the museums, and hence quite costly, and we can't just buy an individual ticket for Sistine Chapel.  We decided to give it a miss since we couldn't afford the time.  This will surely be my must-do list, if I ever get the chance to visit Rome again.

We took a break with this.  See how long the queue was.  I passed by this gelateria few times and each time, whether it was day or night, there was always a queue outside.

After the sugar load, we walked a looonnngggg way to Castel Sant' Angelo.  Built in the 2nd century, this imposing fortress was originally constructed as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian and his family.  It functioned as a fortress during the Middle Ages, and was linked to the Vatican by an underground passage as an escape route for the fleeing papacy.

We climbed up to the top terrace for dazzling views of the city.

Ponte Sant' Angelo, one of the most ancient bridges in Rome spanning the River Tiber.  The trio of arches in the river's center is basically unchanged since the bridge was built in the 2nd century.

Of all ancient Rome's great buildings, only the Pantheon (All the Gods) remains intact, making it the world's best-preserved ancient monument.  It was built and rebuilt several times, and the present structure is the result of an early 2nd century A.D. reconstruction by the Emperor Hadrian.  This 43m wide and 43m high (a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder) building was originally dedicated to all the gods, but was subsequently transformed into a church.  It houses the tomb of the famous artist Raphael, who was buried here in 1520, and several Italian kings.

The oculus, an opening at the top of the dome, 5.4m in diameter, is the only means of light into the Pantheon

The Pantheon stands on Piazza della Rotonda, which is complete with obelisk and baroque fountain

Nearby Piazza Navona is reputed to be the most beautiful square in Rome, but when we were there, a political rally was going on with plenty of marquee tents and jam-packed with people so we didn't have a chance to experience its charm.  Originally laid out as a stadium, great chariot races were once held here.

1 comment:

Franco said...

If you want to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel for free on September 27 it'll be free entrance.