Saturday, May 3, 2014

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

On Saturday, May 3rd, 2014, I had some time in the morning just before I had to leave to go to the airport to catch my flight back to Geneva.  I had tried on Wednesday to get inside the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, but without having a ticket reserved, the line would be an all-day wait.  Even the line for tours to skip the line had to wait for at least another hour.  So, I went back to the hostel that night and talked with some people and learned that you have to do the online reservation through the Vatican Museums' website.  Go through the steps on the website, put in your email address, and print out the voucher that will be emailed to you.  If you check the FAQs, you will see that you can only reserve a certain entry time and that you cannot change or refund your ticket.  Make sure that you select the time and date that will work for you.  I would recommend checking a couple days in advance to make sure that you get the entry time and date that you want.  For example, right as I was filling out the first page of information, the 10:30am time-slot I had selected sold out and I had to move to the 11:30am time-slot (the only other one available for that day).
I checked out of the hostel Saturday morning and, with all of my belongings, threw my duffle bag over my shoulders and hiked it over via a fully packed bus over to the Vatican Museums.  The line itself turns into a mass of people all trying to get in, fended off by one poor security guard who must be so stressed out all the time.  Again, showing up early helps and I was able to get in about 20 minutes before my time-slot was scheduled.  Security was a breeze and off I went.  There are maps posted around the Museum path which is helpful, but you can also check out the route online if you need to move a little quicker.

Museo Chiaramonti
The hall of statues in Museo Chiaramonti was one of my favorite sections.  There is a beautiful courtyard outside with a nice fountain, a beautiful bronze globe, and a large bust, then you move inside on the "quick route" to the Sistine Chapel and find yourself near the Museo Chiaramonti.  It is basically a straight hallway of statues of Roman emperors, generals, queens, gods, goddesses, and other famous figures from Roman mythology.  Under the Treaty of Tolentino in 1797, Napoleon ordered the Papal States to cede the major part of the masterpieces from the Pio Clementino Museum to France.  Later on, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the diplomatic work of sculptor Antonio Canova resulted in the recovery of almost all of the sculptures that were taken by Napoleon.  The Museo Chiaramonti was designed to house these recovered pieces and it was designed, arranged, and painted by Canova himself.  The Chiaramonti museum is now one of the most important collections of Roman busts with over 1,000 sculptures on display in this little hallway.
Before arriving at the Sistine Chapel, you will also pass through the Galleria degli Arazzi full of fine tapestries and a beautifully ornate ceiling, the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche with ancient maps, and then you arrive at the Museo Pio Clementino which houses my favorite statue in the Vatican Museums - Laocoön and his Sons.
The statue was found in 1506 on the Esquiline Hill in Rome and identified as Laocoön and his Sons by Pliny the Elder as a masterpiece by the sculptors of Rhodes.  During the Trojan War, Laocoön (a priest of Apollo in the city of Troy), warned his fellow Trojans against taking the wooden horse left by the Greeks outside the city gates.  Athena (Minerva) and Poseidon (Neptune), who favored the Greeks, sent two great sea serpents to kill Laocoön and his sons.  The statue depicts the snakes wrapping Laocoön and his sons in their coils and killing them.  From the Roman point of view, the death of the innocent Laocoön and his children was crucial to Aeneas' decision to flee Troy, heeding Laocoön's warning, which led to the eventual founding of Rome.  The statue seems to date from around 40-30 BCE.  
To me, this statue was so incredibly impressive and moving.  Just like the Lion of Luzern (Lowendenkmal), you can feel Laocoön's pain and anguish in the tragic events unfolding.  You feel the movement of the serpents as Laocoön and his sons struggle against their grip.  Even though it is solid stone, you feel Laocoön's silent screams.
After spending some time at this statue, I moved on to the Sistine Chapel - the big money attraction of the Vatican Museums.  Along the way, there were several other great statues.

Unfortunately, like everywhere else in Rome, the Chapel was so packed full of people that it was hard to appreciate the majesty of Michelangelo's masterpiece.  I thought that the scene of God putting life into Adam with hands outstretched might have been larger, but in reality, it is only one piece of the entire ceiling, full of other impressive paintings and biblical illustrations.  Given all the detail and the height alone of the ceiling, it is amazing to me that it only took Michelangelo four years to paint it (from about 1508-1512, when he was in his early to mid 30's).  
An accurate portrait of the artist, I believe...
Michelangelo was originally commissioned to paint the Twelve Apostles on the triangular pendentives that support the ceiling and then cover the central part of the ceiling with ornament.  Michelangelo instead convinced Pope Julius to give him free reign in the project and this allowed him to create a more complex scheme representing Creation, the Fall of Man, Promise of Salvation through the Prophets, and the genealogy of Jesus.  This work is part of a larger decorative scheme within the Chapel that represents some of the most important doctrines of the Catholic Church.
Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel
After finishing in the Sistine Chapel (when I was tired of the pushing crowds, loud tour guides, and shouting security guards), I left the Vatican Museums and walked back to St. Peter's Square to catch a taxi to Termini station.  From Termini, I hopped on the Leonardo Express train to the airport to fly back to Geneva for the last time this trip.  

Arrivederci Roma!


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