Sunday, December 18, 2016


Another one of those early starts again today...
Although we really didn't mind getting up and getting ready early today.  We were off to visit the Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica.   I have been here before and remember the jammed packed tight crowds, and the reason Gary wanted to take us early was so that we could enter with our VIP passes before the Vatican City opened to the general public.

 We left our hotel at 7.30am and headed straight to the Vatican City.  Gary had priority tickets for us so we did not have to queue up at all, we just walked straight in and go straight through security.  There is massive security here, in fact just like being at the airports where everything goes through xray machines and they scan you before you walk in.  Apparently this is all new in the last six months, a measure of security put in place to combat terrorism as the crowds each day are enormous, which would actually make it a perfect target place...

 Our first stop was the Vatican Museum.  Our VIP passes had us through a good half hour before it was open to the general public and our pass also gave us clearance to the Bramante Staircase.  This is closed to the general public and was not an area I saw last time I visited the Vatican.

 There are many museums within the Vatican, something like 54 galleries, although we only saw a few of them.  These museums display works from the immense collection built up by the Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.  It is one of the largest museums in the world outside of the Louvre in Paris.

 Some of the rooms we went into on our visit included the Egyptian Museum, Gallery of Tapestries.   These Flemish tapestries are made of silk and gold thread.  They were done from the drawings by Raphael's pupils during the pontificate of Clement VII (1523 - 1534).  They were first shown in the Sistine Chapel in 1531 and arranged for exhibition in their existing gallery in 1838.

We visited the Gallery of Maps.  This hallway takes it name from the 40 maps fresco-ed on the walls which represents the Italian regions and papal properties at the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585).  They were painted between 1580 and 1585 on drawings by Ignazio Dante, a famous geographer at the time.

 The last chapel we went into was the Sistine Chapel.  According to some scholars, the dimensions of this hall are copied from Solomon's great temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.  The 15th century mosaic floor was copied from medieval models and is completely original.  The architectural structure  was completed in 1481.   Various Florentine painters were summoned to work in the chapel, one of these was Botticelli.

The ceiling was Michelangelo's masterpiece and he was 30 when he started this and it took him 4 years to complete it.

In 1532, 20 years after Michelangelo finished the ceiling, he was asked to paint the far wall of the Sistine Chapel.  In the centre of the work, the angel held a drape which Michelangelo had done a self portrait of himself and then down in the right hand corner representing hell he painted the face of Beagio de Ceesena, a well known papal master of ceremonies because he criticized Michelangelo's work saying that it was worthy to be hung in a public bat or tavern.

From the Sistine Chapel we moved onto St Peter's Basilica where we had to undergo another security check before being allowed to enter.

St Peter's is an Italian Renaissance Church in the Vatican City and it is one of the largest churches in the world.  Catholics claim that the Basilica is the burial site of St Peter, one of Christ's apostles and also the first Pope.  Supposedly his tomb is directly below the high alter of the Basilica.

The interior of St Peter's is HUGE, over 200metres ( 2 soccer fields could fit down the middle of this church).

All the artwork in St Peter's is mosaics of precious gold, crystals, gems and diamonds.  The entire interior of St Peter's is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculptures and gilding.

 The dome of St Peter's roses 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. 

Around the inside of the dome is written in letters 2 metres high (6ft 6inches)
'TV ES PETRVS CT SVPER  HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORVM.  (... you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church... I will give you the keys of Heaven.  Velgate, Matthew 16:18-19)

Two of the works that really stood out to me were Michelangelo's "Pieta", and the bronze statue of Saint Peter holding the keys of heaven and one of the moasics of Mary with diamonds embedded in her halo.  The moasics in the church cover almost 10,000 sq mts of St Peter's.
Each Diamond Star in Mary's Halo has 12 diamonds in it, all donated by other nations.
The diamond stars in "The Alter of Immaculate Conception", the diamonds were actually added to mark the 50th Anniversary and were added in 1904.  Each of the 12 stars gleam with 12 diamonds each.  These diamonds were all donated by various nations. 

It was almost 11.30am by the time we had finished our tour., walked out of St. Peter's.  WE had about 20 minutes on the outside to take some photos and look around before we met Gary and headed our of the Vatican City for a rest break.
  There was a shop right next to where we had lunch where you could buy Catholic memorabilia eg. rosary beads, then these could be sent to the Vatican to be blessed by the Pope and they they got delivered to your hotel later in the day.  We didn't not worry about any of this.

After lunch we regathered and caught our bus and this afternoon we were off to do a tour of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

 The Forum is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the Centre of the city of Rome..  It was for centuries the centre of Roman life:  the site of triumphal processions and elections, the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches and the nucleus of commercial affairs. 

Statues and Monuments commentated the city's great men.  The Roman Forum developed gradually over many year.

An important function of the Forum during both Republican and Imperial times was to serve as the culminating venue for the celebratory military processions known as Triumphs.

 From the Forum we walked across to the Colosseum where we had an escorted tour as we listened to our guide give us the history of the place.  The Colosseum was also known as the "Flavian Amphitheatre.  It was built of concrete and sand.  Construction of it began in 27AD and completed in 86AD taking only 8 years to build.   (slightly less time than St Peter's  which took 100 years to build)  The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and is situated just east of the Roman Forum  The Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, and would only take 20 minutes to empty after an event.

It was used for gladiatorial contests, public spectacles, animals hunts, executions, re-enactment of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology.  The building used to be used for entertainment  in the early medieval era.

We spent a good two hours wandering around the ruin taking it, the history, walking and soaking in the atmosphere if the ancient times and ruins.

By 2pm my back and feet were killing me, the cobble stones in Rome are not even or smooth, so walking on them for the last 24 hours ad really jarred my back.

We got back to the Hotel around 2.30pm and I was really to head to bed.  It was a beautiful clear day in Rome today, blue skies, no clouds, but very hot.  It think it was around 36 degrees, so a nice sleep in the airconditioned hotel has made me feel heaps better.

 Steve did go for a walk around where we are staying with the group and Gary.  They went down to the river and around a lot of little back streets.  They went across to the island where the hospital is, and saw where all the markets were.  Gary game them some landmarks to get them home again, and recommended a pub  for them to stop at and quench their thirst.  As they were making their way back to the hotel, Trevor (from NZ) came across a little Pizza Cafe, so they all decided to see if he would open early for them so they could have an early dinner.

It was quite a hysterical night, as the owner of the restaurant couldn't speak a word of English and had to leave his shop with everyone in it and go across the road to find someone who could speak English from another hop to come take our orders.

 Steve arrived back at the hotel around 7pm and then went for another walk up to the Capitol with Alan and Marilyn around 7.30pm.  they got some great views of the Forum whilst it was nearly empty without people around.

I joined them in the bar for a nightcap around 9pm.  Our night cap consisted of a couple of cups of tea (something we have been missing in our rooms)  We chatted with a few others from our group.  It was a lovely relaxing way to end the evening after a really full on day. 

We were back in our rooms by 10pm,  Another early start again in the morning...
We are off to Florence. 


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