Day two of Italy and Greece started out with the vatican City. Prior to that, however, was one of the low points of the trips, the miserable event that Italians apparently call ‘breakfast’, which, at this hotel, consisted entirely of bread. Where’s my eggs? Bacon? Protein? MEAT? Yikes. Every morning it was what variety of stale cold bread would you like to call ‘breakfast’ Everyone on the trip was heartily disappointed, and even the tour director said it was unusual. Across the hall a large Japanese tour group routinely enjoyed eggs and bacon. To be fare to our Italian hosts, apparently it was EF that skimped us on our ‘continental’ breakfast. Maybe I’m just an annoying American…but bread only?
We took the Metro and got off at the vatican Museum stop, walked a few blocks to the entrance to the walled vatican City. This grayed off section from this Google maps screen shot shows the outline of vatican city.
The satellite perspective of the Google maps view doesn’t give a good appreciation of the scale of the wall surrounding this vatican City, though this image comes close. Notice the cars in the right hand side.
Another google street view image helps appreciate the scale of this wall.
The vatican city is a sovereign city-state with a population of about 900 on a 110 acre complex that is completely landlocked. It represents the smallest country in the world. Brought into it’s present form by treaty in 1929, it was a refuge for Christianity during the middle ages and the home of Emperor Nero’s circus (in ancient Rome, the circus was a loop in a stadium which chariots would race around) A great fire erupted in Rome under the reign of Nero, which some historians suggest he started, and others stories report he sat joyfully playing his liar on a rooftop while watching the city burn. Nero blamed Christians, a minority cult at that time, for the fire, and many were persecuted in this square. Tradition holds that Saint Peter was crucified in that circus, upside down at his request to be distinguished from his lord. Near the circus was a cemetery which Saint Peter was buried in and today St. Peters Basilica sits on top of his likely burial site.
We entered in the Northern part, near the museum. This Google street view shows the entrance we came upon and the medieval wall surrounding the whole vatican City.
This impressive doorway was the old entrance to the vatican city and Museum. That is some of our group passing in front of me. (on to my pictures now)
We didn’t get to go in that cool door though, and instead went into this one, the ‘new’ entrance.
Passing quickly through the museum, some of us hit the ATM’s and others the Bathrooms, then we passed into this courtyard inside the city.
The adjacent building had fantastic renaissance styling.
a close up of the work
Looking south down the courtyard off the balcony were the gardens, which were not open to the public, and in the distance, looming large and hazy, was the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the most fantastic buildings in the world. From this view the basilica is about 1,300 feet away.
We turned around and started toward this round building, another impressive piece of renaissance architecture.
We went back inside and passed one building’s width away
And emerged into the ‘pinecone’ courtyard into this view
A close up
The pinecone in the center was a symbol of fertility and life to Romans, and is a bronze from the 1st century AD, originally part of a Roman fountain. A nice view of the building surrounding the pinecone and the niche which emphasizes it.
Most of this courtyard was constructed in the high renaissance period. The first two stories of this was designed and built by the Italian architect Bramante. The design came from scholarly reconstructions of the Roman temple Fortuna Primigenia.
Dying before it’s completion, the third story and the vast half dome, an interesting piece of negative space, was built forming the largest niche that had been built since antiquity.
In the center of the courtyard was a large metal sphere, broken and rotating.
The broken and fragmented sphere, according to the tour guide, represented the fracturing in the world that came from the protestant reformation going on at the time the basilica was constructed. The sphere, ugly, out of place, and non objective, was obviously a recent addition as only ‘modern’ artists would call it art. Though obviously requiring technical mastery and a very unique complex piece of work, it’s theme and manner of achieving it are hardly more than a Roarsarch test and stand in ugly stark contrast to the romantic realism of classical art that fills the courtyard and the vatican city.
According to the tour guide, the spherical work of art is the same size of the sphere that adorns the top of the dome of St. Peters Basilica. In this shot I tried to capture both to help get that sense of scale.
An interesting façade and building in the courtyard, St. Peters again looms in the distance.
the courtyard was adorned with Roman artifacts and artwork. I love this stuff, can’t get enough of it.
A good view of the courtyard pinecone and niche
After that, we headed inside through some of the elaborate galleries and hallways.
It was popular during the renaissance era for wealthy people to collect roman artifacts, and the pope, being the wealthiest, of course had the best collection. We were rushed through this hallway with hundreds of artifacts which I could have spent days in alone, I tried to grab some of the best picutres. This sarcophagas is made of an extremely rare red marble.
Turning the corner, more elaborate halls and stairs.
More Roman Artwork
I wonder what that toe or finger was to?
More elaborate halls
What a great piece this is, Roman art, as we’ll see more of in Pompeii, celebrated existence. Here great art celebrates the intellect, the thinking man.
I want a sarcophagus like this
Some of the halls had elaborate decorations such as these adorning the curved cielings.
Taking a close look though, almost ubelievably, these are painted to appear 3 dimensional, the surface is perfectly smooth. These guys who painted these are masters.
After passing, or, getting shoved through, the great hall of Roman artwork, we entered a hall of tapestries, which was quite impressive.
These tapestries, as this picture shows, were huge. The smallest was probably 15 x 15, the largest had to be 50 or 60 feet on it’s longest dimension. And these were woven
After the tapestries, we entered a hall of maps.
This was meant to be a center of information regarding the territories governed by the Pope that he could peruse down as sort of a giant reference hall. Pretty impressive. In this case, the ceiling was actually adorned with sculptures, and not just painted to look 3D. The elaborate nature of it struck everyone with awe.
I resolve to have a similar hall of maps to appreciate my empire with
The paintings though not geographically accurate were represenationally accurate
More of the incredible Ceiling in the hall of maps
This map, labeled ETRvRIA was a region of northern italia where the Etruscan’s, predecessors to the Roman’s, hailed from.
Some fantastic artwork adorning an entrance.
A damn cool hall way. I don’t feel important enough to walk such a hallway.
These long building gracing the sides of the courtyard housed the halls of maps, tapestries, and roman artwork.
After the halls, we emerged into an outside area impressive of it’s own right.
I think this was the courtyard we emerged into
Through the arch, looking up, heading outside
Emerging into St. Peter’s square
We take a quick right, avoiding the square and staying under a large elaborate portico
The important people’s door
Look at those capitals, how long does it take to carve something like that?
We swing out of the portico into the square to get in a line. The portico was the entrance to St. Peters Basilica so we’re getting ready to enter. In this shot, the renaissance architecture of the lower building is captivating, along with the elaborate statues adorning it’s top. Our tour guide tells us the rustic 2 story-ish building at an oblique angle to the sandstone colored lower one is the home of the Pope, and the window at the far right is the one he emerges from to wave at the people.
Googling the “Pope’s Window” I think it was one building off. These two pictures give a good idea of the building the window is a part of.
And this image you can see both windows in the same view. That building was hidden behind this one from this perspective, but probably just barely, so perhaps from the tour guide’s point of view the ‘Pope’s Window’ was visible.
The other side of the courtyard, while we are still in line
Turning around the façade to St. Peter’s Basilica utterly overwhelms you
That was all we got to see of the facade for now, we turned and headed toward the door, we are about to enter.
The design beliegh’s the scale. Look at the size of the people near the columns to be reminded of it
Me in the basilica (front lower left)
A little history and architecture. As Christianity rose to dominance in the Roman Empire, the empire split into an east and west region. For various reasons which have been debated for centuries, from a change in the philosophical attitude of the people due to Christianity to weather changes, the western Roman empire fell, while the east remained with it’s capital at Constantinople for some centuries before it too fell. Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of Rome and made Constantinople the center of the eastern roman empire, and commenced construction of Byzantium Basilicas to replace the Roman Temples of the pagan days. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) is the oldest and greatest of these Byzantium Basilicas.
Byzantian Basilicas were typically Greek crosses (a plus sign, not a t) and were characterized in the Roman era by Roman arches, large domes at the crossing and mosaic or fresco artwork. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of medieval Christendom, the Basilica gave way to the Cathedral, characterized by gothic arches (tall pointed arches) the Latin cross, stained glass instead of mosaics and frescos, and spires as bell towers, often asymmetric, at the entrance (think of Notre Dame).
Lacking the cement and mortar the Romans had, gothic cathedrals had to be self supporting and self stabilizing, making domes much harder to construct. The dome of the cross gave way to the height of the spires and the flying buttresses used to provide a counter force to the arches on arches used to achieve the incredible heights of cathedrals. The floor plan of the basic basilica was an even legged Greek cross, with St. Peters basilica, we saw an architectural revival of the Basilica (this was, after all, centuries after the height of gothic cathedral architecture) with the dome getting revived as the crown of the cross but retaining the Latin cross. This renaissance and reformation embroiled era of Christianity sought to distinguish itself from the Gothic era by, in part, reviving the basilica and dome.
I think to fully appreciate these pictures of St. Peter’s, it’s useful to know the structure and layout, to get a full sense of the monumental nature of the work. The earliest plan for the new Basilica was proposed by Bramante, and was a standard Greek Cross
St. Peters was a venerated site with a vast sacred earky Christian basilica built originally by Emperor Constantine. But by the renaisance era it was crumbling and in disarray, famously during once mass a wall crumbled and killed dozens of people. The Pope felt it was time to tear the old church down and build a better one.
Here is the first famous design of the new Basilica, by the famous artist Bramante. Though a great artist, he was a terrible engineer. The thin walls could never support the dome intended.
The famous renaissance artist Rapheal took Bramante’s plan and changed it to a latin cross, but seemed to have cluttered it with numourous colums and pilasters.
And subsequently Michaelengo further refined the design, reverting back to the greek cross, but extended the nave and finalizing the outer walls. The plan was returned to a latin cross, but otherwise retained all of Michaelengo’s contributions, by a later architect. The new dome was started in 1506, not completed until 1626. Michaelengelo spent the last 17 years of his life as the supreme architect on the project, over 30,000 drawings governed it’s construction.
Michaelangelo’s plan, with walls now able to handle the weight of the large dome, but with the disproportionately large facade from a later architect added
In my pictures above, we stand at the base of the long leg of the cross. Some more interior pictures.
These statues are 12 – 16 feet tall
heading over to michaelengo’s la pieta
This was one of the works I was most interested to see, part of the spark of the renaissance, it raised the bar on all art and necessarily technical mastery. More than that, it’s a powerful work. But you couldn’t get anywhere near enough to it to actually appreciate it, very dissapointing.
Now were starting to walk toward the center of the cross, under the dome, but were still in the long leg of it.
A view I liked
Now we start to reach the dome, looking up.
It’s impossible for your mind to wrap around the sheer scale of this structure, it never looks as big as it actually is. Obviously pictures do it little justice, but even being there it was like one grand optical illusion. I don’t think we evolved with the ability to conceptualize scales like this, since we rarely would come across them, and most important to our survival would be scales around our own immediate size.
Here is a shot with the incredibly elaborate Altar that the Pope occupies
I wish I had done a little bit of video here, just of walking, so you could see the parallax shift (or lack there of) that helps give the sense of scale.
Closeup of the alter
More of the Dome, I’m still staring up, captivated
looking down the cross toward the apse
Elaborate work at the end of the apse
One of my favorite shots
Another one like it
This wide angle panoramic shot hosted on wikipedia is worth a look, though it takes some time to download, it helps capture the elaborate beauty and scale of the interior
Ok, just to try to appreciate the scale of this structure, take a close look at this picture
Zooming in, you can actually see the people on the balcony in the dome.
Those letters surrounding the dome must be 12′ tall, the large round paintings in the pendantives must be 50 or 60 feet in diameter!
The overall dimensions of the basilica are 730 feet long, 500 feet wide, and 452 feet tall. The dome of the Basilica is indeed the tallest dome in the world, and as famously called, the greatest dome in all of christendom! 452 feet tall is roughly 45 stories. By contrast, the Statue of liberty, INCLUDING its base, is 305 feet tall, and could indeed stand, on it’s pedestal, INSIDE the dome. I would say this dome and the original façade of the basilica are properly considered to be the culmination of Michelangelo’s architectural genius.
Though not known as much for his architecture and engineering as he was for sculpting and painting, Michaelangelo’s Architecture has had a much more direct influence on all architecture since than his sculpture has for artist.
Here is a plan shaded view of the dome with standard 10’ stories present for reference. Again, the scale of this structure is tremendous and completely escapes grasping it in these pictures, and pretty much even while you are there inside it.
The World Trade Center, at 110 Stories, was a little more than twice the height of St. Peters Basilica! Note that this dome was completed in 1626. One of the reasons that it is so difficult to ascertain scale on these structures was the common renaissance practice to make things look, intentionally, like fewer stories than they actually were. From the horizontal articulation and window plans, one might guess from a quick glance that the Basilica is about 6 stories tall, since we assume a window equals one story. But each of the windows in the façade of the basilica alone are probably 6 stories tall!
If you were to actually articulate the external walls with conventional window spacing, the scale is more apparent.
Finally, Me, in front of the Basilica, from the courtyard.
Well, that’s it for part 1 of day 2