I had a wish list of the things I had to see in Vatican.
a) Sistine Chapel, specifically The creation of Adam by Michelangelo.
b) The Swiss guards in their colourful pantaloons supposedly designed by Michelangelo.
By the way, he didn’t!
c) Bramante Staircase or the double helix spiral staircase.
d) Michelangelo’s Pieta.
Everything else I saw would be a bonus!
So like travellers on a budget who count euros and time too, three hours were set aside for the museum.
That day we were in Vatican for nine!
“In the universe, there are things that are known, and there are things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.” – William Blake
The museum entrance was a surprise, pretty modest, not what I expected. On the other hand the queues and the tour groups in their distinctive neon caps and jackets were ginormous.
It wasn’t the double helix spiral staircase I was hankering for but a still a lovely one that went round and round as we entered the museum.
Note the boat and oars, the exhibits were already in place!
The Sphere sculpture was set in the grounds of the Pinecone Courtyard so named after a massive pinecone sculpture set on a niche wall overlooking it. I suppose it’s famous for Dan Brown too mentioned in his book, Angels and Demons; I read it twice for it was my official guide to everything Vatican.
The Hall of Sculptures was next and we almost gave it a miss in a race to see the Sistine Chapel till a smiling guard (the only one of his kind) helpfully pointed that we’d miss something cool.
And now when I remember the scores of marble statues, big and small and see the million photos I took, I agree.“Pulvis et umbra sumus.” (We are but dust and shadow.) – Horace
In a grip of excitement, we walked faster, eyes darting to take in everything. I saw my first real Egyptian sarcophagus, canopic jars and pages from the Book of the Dead. The rows of paintings on the walls were a blur until I happened to glance at the names; I was looking at a Caravaggio, Raphael, Picasso, Dali, DaVinci .
And did I mention the roofs?
The carrot was the Cappella Sistine or Sistine Chapel. Signs directing to it was what kept most of us moving enthusiastically since Exhibit One.
It was at the Hall of Maps where I heard the magic mantra, “Avanti! AvanTI! AVANTI!” (Forward!) It was the guard sitting by the door; I’m sure he must have lost his voice by the end of the day. He sounded shriller every time a visitor would come striding in through the doors and come to a crashing halt, eyes upwards, slack jawed in astonishment!
Such was the magnificence of the room.
Other highlights included the Hall of Tapestries, cool and oyster grey, subtle elegance after all that bling. The bright Matisse exhibition of prints reminded me surprisingly of Indian textile prints. An interactive art installation was also one of the unique ones. It came with screens that would come alive when you touched any avatar on it; no speech, just mime and then become still.
So finally after stopping by at every room, gawking at the walls, roof, floor, objects, we made our way into Sistine. Right away I heard stern voices in repeat mode, “Silenzio! No photos!”
Ok! Have you had the feeling when the expectations are gargantuan and you pray not to be disappointed? I did before entering it.
The Chapel was much smaller than I expected but definitely more densely packed, I pitied the claustrophobic. While our eyes were frantically seeking the masterpieces on the walls and the roof, Vatican officials in dark suits, Matrix kind swarmed among us, Agent Smiths in their demeanour, shouting, “Silenzio! No photo!” They even came menacingly to check the last photos taken of the folks they suspected. Uncomfortable, right?
Anyway, we were there and were determined to experience the Sistine magic. We sat on the bench running along the walls to marvel the genius of the painter who made the figures almost three dimensional. I finally spotted ‘Creation of Adam’ and it was disappointingly small, a panel among many on the roof. I switched to the other side so that I could admire from another angle- the gorgeous murals and the painted scalloped fabric wallpaper that looked lifelike. In fact I saw the same room with the scalloped fabric wall paper in ‘The young Pope’ starring Jude Law. The series is an absolute favourite of mine!
I finally made it to my Double Helix Bramante Staircase, there was not a chance I would have missed it. Apparently you exit the museum via this very staircase.
Look up, watch the skylight glow!
The Swiss Guards came marching by.
Last stop, St Peter’s Basilica.
Behind a glass wall was Pieta, inspiring reverence and awe all around.
To think Michelangelo was only 24 when he sculpted it.
“Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the dream of a waking man.” – Pliny the Elder.
St Peter’s Basilica was an overwhelming sensory experience, never to be forgotten.
That was Vatican for me, where reality transcended my imagination!
Lens- Artists Photo Challenge #86: Change your perspective
Wander-essence : On returning home