We spent hours inside the Vatican Museums, as most visitors to the Vatican do. It's simply enormous. I mean, look at this stairwell. Photos were allowed everywhere in the museum except for the Sistine Chapel.
This was our favorite room - the Map Room. Along each side of the hall hung 16th century topographical maps of Italy and the church's land possessions. It's the world's largest pictorial geographical study and was all commissioned by one pope and created by one artist. The ceiling was one, long, vibrant fresco that gave the impression of three dimensional gilding. At the end of the hall, a folding table displayed 3D puzzles and postcards for sale.
Vatican City is indeed its own country, with both a police force and a (de facto) military. Here is one of each, side by side, at the papal audience we attended. The policemen handle security, public order, traffic control, border control and criminal investigation. The Swiss Guards' job is to protect the pope. Swiss Guards have a tradition of acting as bodyguards and palace guards in foreign European courts. The Holy See is its last remaining position and they are a tourist favorite. We wondered what these two guys thought of each other.
After our Vatican Gardens tour, we decided to take a stroll around Vatican City's walls. A true surveying of our country. We stumbled upon this train track, which used to connect Vatican City and Italy. The railway system, the smallest national rail in the world, is now defunt and the elaborately decorated station is a duty free shop. Apparently, two months after we left, the iron gate was rolled back and Pope Benefict XVI road the papal train (a 1930s steam engine) out through the tunnel and toward the Italian countryside. It was a one-time-only thing for charity.
Just another picture for the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica, out toward Saint Peter's Square, which we now can't help but recognize as a circle. Climbing the dome was one of our most favorite things to do in Vatican City.
Between the official tours and the private tours, the Vatican often resembled a pong cluttered with mama ducks and their kids in a row. In order to keep everyone following the correct person, the guide would hold up a stick with a flag or flower or, in this case, a photo of Pope John Paul II. Sometimes, the leader would use an umbrella or broken antennae. Those must have been the discounted tours.
a la Vatican City. Too much?
One of our best experiences in Vatican City couldn't be shared on the blog, because photos weren't allowed. We took the Excavations Tour down below the Vatican and visited the Roman necropolis on which the basilica was built. It was pretty incredible. This mummy was in the Vatican Museums, not in the catacombs. Hence, the photographic evidence.
Another room in the Museums, featuring dog sculptures. I think a sheep was thrown in for good measure.
Some restoration work was going on inside Saint Peter's Basilica, as well as out in the square. It was fascinating to watch this unique combination of art restoration and construction. Men road hydrolic lifts, wearing hard hats and wielding paint brushes.
We undoubtedly spent more time in Vatican City than most people do. Every day, we would walk out of our door and over to the square. All around us would be visitors seeing it all with fresh eyes. This wonder and awe felt most palpable during gatherings like this -
the weekly papal audience. The weather was beautiful and the excitement turned into jubilation.