Vatican's Greatest Treasures
That morning we had our own breakfast at Corso Yellow before leaving for the Pantheon – located a strikingly short distance away. Rome was clearly still sleepy at that time even at this important tourist site. From the outside, Pantheon looked so normal (not counting the renovation project underway).
Inside was, however, beautiful with best preserved interior and the interesting sunken panels. Pantheon is one of the best conserved of all Roman buildings and has been in continuous use throughout its history. Almost 2,000 years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.
After half an hour at the Pantheon, we walked to Piazza di Spagna – the Spanish Steps, named for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, which had been there for 300 years.
The piazza was very busy with many tourists sitting on the steps. I found it to be less attractive than some of the pictures I had seen perhaps because they placed some unattractive trees on those steps.
Walking up to the top of the piazza, there were many street artists selling paintings of Rome and other Italian scenes. I couldn’t help but looking for anything that might fit with my new condominiums.
In the end, I bought two oil paintings on canvas (2’ by 3’) from this artist named Walter Petrini. From a much higher prices, we bargained the first one down to €120, walked around, and went back to take this second painting for €80. Walter no longer had a smiley face when I took this second photo with him (given the €40 price difference).
Also located in the same area was one of the most lavish McDonald’s stores in the world. The place looked just like an upscale restaurant and particularly the toilet with personal TV screen on top of each urinal. We decided not to eat there and walked out for shopping.
We stopped at this small alphabet sewing shop on Via Carozze where Nha, Nita, and I were customers. The guy was very good at using his sewing machine as he could finish each work with little time. His shop was very cool, the way he earned his living and how enthusiastic he was really made me envy.
For lunch, we had the only real buffet on the trip. I had high expectation on the Perilli in Prati Restaurant located one block from the Ottaviano Metro near the Vatican, recommended in the guidebook, .
There were some good varieties of food, but most were insipid and very oily. Although I usually enjoy western foods, this was one of the rare exceptions, not to mention Chare and Nha whose favorite dish was Som Tum. Only Nita gave a good compliment on their crispy thin pizza.
We spent most of the afternoon in Vatican City – first with the Vatican Museum. Cortile del Belvedere was the court we first entered and it allowed us the see the grandeur of the Vatican Palace. This “Sphere Within Sphere” was created by Arnaldo Pomodoro whose similar sculpture was also placed at the United Nations.
Vatican Museum is the immense museum with four-miles of displays range from ancient statues to modern paintings. It is considered as one of Europe’s top three houses of art. There were still a lot of people even though we had planned to arrive late in the day, so the touring was not very entertaining. We quickly followed the crowd to the Sistine Chapel.
Sistine Chapel is the pope’s personal chapel and also the place where a new pope is elected. It is also famous for Michelangelo’s pictorial culmination of the Renaissance including the Creation of Adam and the Last Judgment – a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse.
We finished the Vatican Museum tour at the Vatican post office (to send postcard out of this independent state) and walked down one of the world’s most recognized staircases.
Our next highlight of the day was the St. Peter Basilica – the grandest church on the planet. Once entering the compound Nha and Thun opted out for shopping in the area, Chare got no choice but to follow Nita and I for the dome climb.
There were two options for the dome climb: €5 for walking up all the way, or €7 for taking elevator and save almost half of the steps. We chose the latter option and, so were accompanied by mostly older visitors. We gave our smiles when seeing a group of young adults; they smiled back and said “We are lazy people.”
After taking the elevator to the roof level, we saw a function going on inside the basilica. The girl next to Nita asked if the person leading was Pope, Nita replied “I don’t know, but I don’t think so.” It was quite amazing up there as we could feel the enormous size of the basilica, hear the good organ music, and see such an original Catholic function.
The wall of the terrace was beautiful with pictures made with tiny mosaic all over. We watched the function for a while before climbing to the top of the dome.
The views up there were spectacular, especially this grand view of St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) which looked like a giant keyhole. The double colonnade was described by the creator, Bernini, as 'the motherly arms of the church'. The square is where people gather for blessing by the Pope.
To the left, there was this scene of Ponte Regina Margherita Bridge crossing Tiber River – the main river cutting across Rome.
The entire area of Vatican City could be seen from the top. Vatican is an independent country with great treasures including the Vatican Museum, St. Peter Basilica, plus this beautiful secret garden behind it.
The dome of St. Peter's rises to a total height of 136.57 metres from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world and since no building in Rome is allowed to exceed its height, we were standing at the highest possible point of the city.
Having enough view from the top, we then came down to walk inside the Basilica. Regarded as one of the holiest Christian sites, St. Peter’s Basilica is the richest and grandest, with the largest interior of any church in the world, holding 60,000 people; I felt so humble standing inside.
During the afternoon, sunbeams work their magic at the basilica. Unfortunately, the ongoing function prohibited us from walking much inside including the main altar area. I really wished we had more time to explore this great site.
Just on the left side of the main entrance, located Michelangelo’s Pietà (Pietà is a work that represents Mary with the body of Christ taken down from the cross), which is considered as his masterpiece. The sculpture was once attacked by a mentally disturbed geologist, so it was since protected by a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.
Spent about half an hour inside, we had to move out as it was way passing the time prearranged with Nha and Thun. Outside the church we saw these two Papal Swiss Guards dressing in their traditional / fashionable uniforms. It was interesting to learn that recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship.
We regrouped and took this photo at St. Peter’s Square in front of the basilica. Sharing the background was the Vatican Obelisk, centerpiece of the square and the only obelisk in Rome that had not toppled since ancient Roman times.
Ten minutes later, we walked across Tiber River back to Rome and took this shot of Castel Sant’Angelo together with the Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridge.
After almost 10 hours of walking, we decided to hop on a bus and got lost for a while before getting to this romantic Campo de’Fiori – the Field of Flowers. The square was lined with and surrounded by fun eateries and flower stalls.
Next was Piazza Navona – Rome’s most interesting night scene featuring street music, artists, fire-eaters, local Casanovas, ice cream, outdoor cafés, and Bernini’s most renowned Four Rivers Fountain. The much lively environment made Piazza Navona my most favorite square in Rome.
It took us a while to walk to our dinner restaurant near Trevi Fountain. Recommended by Rick Steves, Ristorante Pizzeria Sacro e Profano was located in a very difficult-to-find street on the back of the fountain. We got there around 9am.
The restaurant was operated in an old church serving spicy south Italian (Calabrian) cuisine. I thought the food was very tasty, but the 45 minute wait inside that warm building couldn’t justify the highest rating and considering we would have to wake up very early on the next day. In addition, as most of us already started to get sick after many intense travel days, I felt that waiting time was our lowest point on the trip.
It was very late (at around 11pm) when we finished the dinner, so the time spent at the romantic Trevi Fountain was very short and unpleasant. We quickly took photos, tossed a few coins and walked back to Corso Yellow. Once at the apartment, we took turn to shower and packed all the stuff for tomorrow’s morning trip back to Greece.