Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Weekend in Rome - Part 2

No visit is complete without visiting the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter's.Visiting the Vatican to see the artworks of Raphael and da Vinci, Giotto an Titian, Caravaggio and Botticelli, it's a bit overwhelming; the tapestries and maps in the Map room, the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling, illustrating the Bible and the last judgement.

In Roman times the Vatican was the site of the Circus of Nero where St Peter was crucified (circa 64-67AD) .Pope Julius II (1447-1455) began construction of a new basilica, architecture by Bramante, which took 176 years to complete. Michelangelo, almost 70 years old, began to build the dome in 1546 and after his death in 1564 only the drum was completed so others had to finish it.

I was interested to visit these famous monuments but what I saw really irritated me. Some of you will think it sacrilege not to enjoy these two famous monuments but I didn't. They are certainly splendid and contain exceptional art works. They are a repository for things that might otherwise have been lost. We all benefit from having the collections but at what cost?

These artworks are priceless you say. Yes they are now but they were bought with blood and crime and immorality aka the papal city and the pope and cardinals. It's little more than money, money, money and power through the ages purchased on the backs of poor people's offerings, rich families' vanities. And it continues of course. Religion is politics.

As I progressed through the museum   I enjoyed seeing some of the paintings and rich ceiling decorations, illuminated books       but as I entered St Peter's I was appalled at the indulgence and obscene spending of money by a church. Heavy, monstrous, golden, overblown, enormous, certainly impressive and filled to the gunwales with art, sculpture and lots of gullible people.

There was a statue of St Peter and people were actually caressing the feet of the statue. It's a hunk of bronze for goodness sake, it was never living. Someone made it and got paid for it too. It's all commercial and still is.

I missed learning about anecdotes connected with various artworks because the guide was an Italian speaking French and the concentration required to understand even 50% of what was being said in a noisy environment was beyond me. Michelangelo's Pieta is set back behind glass so you can't approach closely.

Beware, you can easily lose the other members of your group here because the place is huge and at peak tourist season you can't distinguish one group from another.

 The canopy over the papal chair is totally OTT and I found it rather too heavy-looking.

Ah, the famous Sistine Chapel. Alas, NO PHOTOS. Here there were men employed specifically for the purposes of ensuring you didn't sneakily take a pic via your tablet or smartphone, and they said shhuussssh! silencio every few seconds. Speaking is forbidden here. You can't sit and admire the works. You are a vertical sardine. It's not well lit so take a few moments to let your eyes adjust. Frankly, all I can say is 'I was there!" It wasn't an uplifting experience but I suppose being an atheist means I'm immune to all the palaver.

The walls were painted by a variety of artists to illustrate the new and old testaments. In 1508 Julius II ordered the young Michelangelo to paint the immense ceiling which covers 800 square metres. He painted the Last Judgement on the wall behind the main altar. Between 1980 and 1994 a large-scale restoration of the frescoes on the ceiling and the Last Judgement was carried out and the colours are still quite vivid now that the dust and old animal glues have been removed.

Photos are permitted inside St Peter's proper (without flash) but there are many churches in Italy where no photos are permitted inside and you are not welcome with bare shoulders, despite the heat.

We had arrived at the Vatican early in the morning and I highly recommend that because the crowds are rather awful as lunchtime approaches. This goes for all major monuments in Italy. Do them in the mornings. travel and shop in the afternoons. Next stop Assisi.


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