Roman Weekend, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I took a weekend away from Florence to explore La Città Eterna; the Eternal City of Rome, Italy! When I first made my way to Florence at the beginning of the summer, a Roman weekend was on the top of my “to do” list. Mid-August, my friends and I made it happen!

I had been to Rome one time, six years ago, and only for one day. In that jam packed day we trained from Florence to Rome, had a several-hours tour of the Colosseum and the Forum, took a break for a quick lunch, went on another several-hours tour of the Vatican Museums, followed by a look around Saint Peters Basilica; then we took a cab to the Pantheon, fit in a random but incredible church, and concluded at the Trevi Fountain, followed by our hour and a half train back to Florence (phew, I got tired just recapping the day!). Having the opportunity to see all of the famous Roman monuments was incredible, but that day was a bit blurred to me because of the ultra-fast pace.

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Castel Sant’Angelo from across the Tiber River
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A view of Saint Peter’s Basilica

On this trip, we left Florence on a Friday afternoon, taking the FrecciaRosa speed train on the hour and a half joinery south. Once we settled into our Airbnb (I linked the exact one, I couldn’t recommend it enough!) and freshened up, we walked along the Tiber River towards Vatican City to meet our tour guide for an evening tour of the Musei Vaticani. We found a plethora of tour options through Airbnb Experiences, but for many reasons (price, experience we wanted, timing, group size) we went with this tour. Our tour of the museums was AMAZING, incredibly thorough and educational.  The lights were dimmed and made to look like candle light, which it would have been hundreds of years ago. There was so much information given from our guide that I kept wondering how someone could have all of that information at the forefront of their minds!!

Seeing the collection again with my improved “art history eyes” was so special. The Vatican Museum collection is truly unreal. It is so enormous, so important, and spans literally thousands of years of history from numerous cultures: ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman being the vast majority, capped off with rooms painted by Renaissance old masters. Our guide pointed out the objects of the greatest historical significance, of which there were countless, as well as provide us with the historical and artistic context of each work. The tour began in the Cortile del Belvedere (Belvedere Courtyard), and ended in the halls just after La Capella Sistina (Sistine Chapel).

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Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, designed by Michelangelo modeled after the Duomo in Florence

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Gallery of Statues and the Hall of Busts

Back in the day, classical sculpture was thought to be the height of art historical beauty, talent, and achievement, and the rediscovery of these unearthed treasures brought about a fascination and a drive to uncover as many works that they could find to collect and study. A major highlight, and one of my favorite pieces in the collection is Laocoön and His Sons, an ancient sculpture made in the Hellenistic Period.

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Laocoön and His Sons
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Laocoön and His Sons
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An ancient mosaic tile floor
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The Belvedere Torso – ancient Greece
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“The School of Athens” by Raffaello Sanzio

Nearly three hours and countless objects later, we neared the end of our tour route and headed towards what some call the “crown jewel” of the museums, la Capella Sistina, or the Sistine Chapel. Originally known as the la Cappella Magna (Great Chapel), it now takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. The chapel is historically where the College of Cardinals convene for conclave after a pope has recently died, to choose who among them will be the next Pontiff. But what makes the chapel even more famous are its ceiling frescos, and their legendary artist.

Pope Julius II commissioned Michlengelo Buonarotti to repaint the vaulted ceiling of the chapel, which was simply celeste blue with golden stars, to something more artistic and indicative of Christianity. Titling himself a sculptor and not a painter, Michelangelo was at first reluctant to take on the commission, but after some negotiation when he was given more creative freedom, he accepted, and subsequently created one of the most famous works of art in history. He and his team worked from 1508-1512 on the ceiling, during the height of Renaissance art. The ceiling portrays scenes from the Book of Genesis from the Old Testament: God separating light from dark, heaven and earth, land and sea, the Creation of Adam, the Creation of Eve, the Expulsion from Eden, the Sacrifice of Noah, the Great Flood, and the Drunkenness of Noah. Surrounding the main panels are profits and sibyls, and relatives of Jesus. Photos are discouraged in the chapel, but I managed to sneak a few 😉

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The Sistine Chapel ceiling

The altar wall was also painted by Michelangelo, but about 40 years after the ceiling was completed, during what is called the Mannerist period. The scene is The Last Judgement, which is predicted to be the final and eternal judgment by God, heralded by Jesus. Christ is in the middle and is surrounded by saints and angles, and he welcomes the “good” into heaven on his right, and damns the “bad” to hell on his left.

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La Capella Sistina with the Last Judgement on the far altar wall

As incredible as I thought the tour was, I respect that not everyone gets as excited as I do by seeing old things, so the guided tour wouldn’t be for everyone. It all in all, the tour was over three hours long and was jam packed with visitors, as it usually is. The museums aren’t air conditioned, and the public bathrooms aren’t available until more than halfway through the museum. That being said, I would encourage anyone and everyone to go to the museums! You can go through the museum on your own and purchase an audioguide to go at your own pace, but prepare yourselves for masses of crowds, any day of the week, any time of the day.

Have you been to the Musei Vaticani yet?!

Roman Weekend, Part 2 coming soon … 

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Details of the ceiling in the Gallery of Maps

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