Monday, February 18, 2013

Holy feast of senses at the Vatican City

Vatican City, to some, is a taste of Heaven, if not the stairway to Heaven in itself. For the faithful, a trip to the seat of Catholicism is like going to the Mecca for the Muslims -- a religious duty fulfilled for an incomparable spiritual experience. And for the avid travelers, going to the confines of the world's smallest state would be a Holy feast for the senses.

The recent controversy at the Vatican, with Pope Benedict XVI announcing his resignation and eventually, the election of his replacement, would definitely send travelers in troves to this place.

Vatican City is small, but there's just so much to see in there. A day would be enough, and for instant satisfaction, head first to the Vatican Museum then to Saint Peter's Basilica.

Here are the highlights:

1. Don't miss the Vatican Museum. I'm not really a fan of museums but having been to the Louvre in Paris, Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Museum of Modern Art in Rome, the National Art Gallery of the Philippines, just to name a few, I should say Vatican Museum is one of the best. For 12 euros, feast your eyes on beautiful sculpture (most of them Renaissance), paintings and frescoes, tapestry, religious articles, and of course the beautiful gardens.

     1.1 See the beautiful art collections of the papacy. There's a certain route inside that would lead visitors to a hall of paintings. I should say these are the best that I've seen. Ever. (Just to put things into perspective, I'm a fan of Renaissance art.) It also has a view of the garden.

A view of the garden from the Vatican Museum.

     1.2 Marvel at the beautiful frescoes at the apartments of the popes. One section is called Stanze di Rafaelo, which is composed of four rooms that make up the public portions of the pope's apartments. Pope Julius II ordered the famous Raphael to decorate the place sometime in the early 1500s. When I went there in June 2012, most of the paintings are newly restored. Although some are in dire need of restoration, I still felt in awe of the artworks, considering that the religious paid handsome amounts of money in support of the arts.

To the right is the Baptism of Constantine, just inside one of the Rafaelo rooms.

     1.3 The highlight of the visit to the Vatican Museum, without any doubt, is the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is full of frescoes executed by Michelangelo, the most famous of which are the The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgment. This is where the papal Conclave meets up to elect the new pope. I would like to reserve a full discussion of the Sistine Chapel in a Separate post.

     1.4 Unfortunately from the Sistine Chapel, one has to choose two paths: the exit to the right will lead you to St. Peter's Basilica, particularly to the crypts where the popes are laid to rest. This was the path that I took when I went to Rome in 2010. I managed to steal a shot of Pope John Paul II's resting place. But the highlight of the trip to the crypts was when I realized I was facing St. Peter's tomb -- the very rock that became the foundation of the Basilica. The inscription when the tomb was discovered, indicated that St. Peter was buried there. No one's really sure, but just the same, I had goosebumps upon realizing that, "St. Peter is buried here. He's God's friend!"

     1.5 The exit to the left inside the Sistine Chapel will lead you to another set of artworks, and eventually the grand exit -- and when I say grand it really is grand -- with the staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo. It's double helix, with the one going up and the other going down, but unfortunately these stairs, constructed in 1932 and now probably the most photographed portions of the museum, is only used as exit. We took this route in June 2012, and I have no idea how to get to the crypts from the Basilica.

2. Take a trip within the St. Peter's Basilica. Bask at the sun rays of the dome near the center altar, where St. Peter rests beneath. Appreciate the icons painstakingly painted and carved by Italian artisans. Don't forget to check out Michaelangelo's Pieta.

3. See the Pope in person. There are papal audiences every Wednesday. Mom and I managed to hear the voice of the Pope on a Sunday, at around 12 noon, where he delivered prayers in Latin at one of those windows at the upper right side of the St. Peter's complex, when you're facing the Basilica. If you're a Catholic Christian, it's a different feeling when you see the Pope. I'm not a Catholic but I'm a Christian. I saw the Pope as a small dot, too far to be reached by my camera kit lens, but the feeling is still different. At least I can say I had a very close encounter with Pope Benedict XVI before he steps down.