no matter where you go, there you are

Sunday, April 11, 2010

i love St. Peter's church. it is an ornament of the earth - ralph waldo emerson

After completing the Vatican Museum, there was only one place left to see in the smallest country in the world: St. Peter's Basilica. Upon entering the piazza from the north side and seeing a massive line heading into the church, I swore in the name of God. Woops, probably not the best place to do that...oh well. The piazza was gorgeous, especially with the crystal clear blue sky shining above. The roman columns were enormous with delicately carved statues situated above them. Latin scripture was carved around the top, adding a final touch of Italian and Catholic culture to the famous piazza. In the first picture, you can kind of see how big it is as the people are just so small.

I took my spot at the back of the line and ended up standing between two groups of Americans, a position I quickly grew to dislike; more on that later... After 15 long minutes I make it to the head of the line and learn that 2 lowly little metal detectors were the cause of my frustration and slight anxiety. Seeing no line past the security allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief.

Once the St. Peter's workers determined that I had no harmful posessions, I made my way towards the church. Like the wall around the piazza, the church is HUGE! It's columns along the front and the large doorways tower over everyone and you just feel so small. Like with all the other places I've seen so far and others I have yet to see on my trip, I am in awe of how such an architectural feat was accomplished.

The interior of the basilica is just as beautiful as the exterior and in it's own way, is even more outstanding. Marble glistens and statues depicting biblical figures cover every corner. And they're not like any others I have ever seen; they're like 3 times the size of a average person yet none are lacking in detail. Michaelangelo's "La Pieta" is off the the right at the rear of the church and people are surrounding it. Not too crowded, but enough for me to take notice and wonder what this sculpture is. The picture below is the only one I took of it, which goes to show that if things weren't pointed out to tourists, would they really be as popular as they are? Yes, the "La Pieta" was a beautiful piece of art, but everything in the church was gorgeous, so what makes the "La Pieta" different?

Taking my time and absorbing every little thing that catches my eye, I slowly but surely make my way to the center of the church. At this point I still can't get over how large the basilica is. It's enormous! While the Notre Dame was huge, it was much more narrow and gothic in its architecture. St. Peter's was open and airy. Lack of pews and massive amounts of sunlight helped create this feel, but the side areas were larger as well. The altar in the center under the cupola was not surprisingly, gorgeous. Sitting front and center, it immediately attracts the crowds, and getting a picture without someone's random head is a feat. I don't think any of my close-up ones looked good, so I give you a wide shot.

The front altar is also spectacular to view and appreciate, but no one is allowed close to it so I settle for viewing from afar. Because the church is massive, I end up spending much of my time gaping at the intricately decorated ceilings. Sun beams shine through the windows illuminating the space and reflecting off the shiny marble. It is really a sight to behold.

Upon finishing St. Peter's I exited the church to the wonderful view of the piazza. Hundreds of chairs were set up for a mass, I think, but the additions didn't hinder my appreciation of the view. I didn't spend too much time though, since I had a hike to the top of the cupola to get to.
Opting for the cheaper option, I purchased my ticket for walking the entire way instead of using the elevator for half the journey. While the couple in front of me waited for the elevator, I began the ascent and it wasn't nearly as difficult as Notre Dame or the Eiffel Tower had been. There aren't really steps as you are walking up at a minimal incline around the elevator shaft so it's doesn't put a strain on you as much. At the top I exited onto the roof of the church and am led to another door which enters the dome. All of a sudden I'm up in the dome looking down on the central altar of St. Peter's. As it was from the floor, the dome is wonderful and seeing the detail of the ceiling art was amazing. I proceed through the next door and here I am met with narrow steps that I know will be a delight to climb.

From the first roof the cupola didn't seem that big, but once I began the stair climbing, it seemed endless. Especially so because the stairwell runs between the ceiling of the dome and the roof so you walking on stairs while having to bend to the shape of the roof. But I prevail and arrive at the top. It's not a large lookout area so it gets crowded quickly and you need to grab any spot you can to snap photos. The view of Rome however, is sensational. I can't pick any landmarks out, but I don't care. I could just stand and look out into the city forever.

As I move from the view facing the piazza and most of the city, I look down and see the Vatican Museum as well as the Vatican gardens. The gardens are bright, green and lush and stand out agains the beige tones of the surrounding architecture.

Deciding that I'd spent enough time gaping in awe and knowing I would never be able to soak it all in, I find the little exit door and head down. Passing across the mid-level roof I am amused to see not only a gift shop, but a restaurant as well. Apparently no one can avoid, or escape, the tourist traps.

On the ground once again, I made my way back to where the ticket window for the cupola was, and entered the tomb of the popes. It was free which was exciting because I thought I'd read it cost like 4Euro. The line for the cupola is now quite long and I'm very happy I went up when I did. The tombs are all very unique for the specific pope buried there and Pope John Paul II's tomb is being bombarded with people praying. I don't care that much to see it and reading the histories of the older popes was much more interesting. A massive group of school kids decided to pass through as well and despite the guard shooshing them numerous times, they couldn't stay quiet. My deepest sympathies went out to the guard as my theater experience with young-ins has taught me its a neverending struggle to get young adolescents to be quiet.

Completing the tomb tour was the last stop on the St. Peter's complex and it was time for me to move on. My next stop was the Castel Sant'Angelo which is very close to St. Peter's and sits right along the river.

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