Monday, September 16
Today was our earliest morning so far. We needed to meet Jon, our tour guide, at 7:15 near the Vatican Museum, which is perhaps a five-minute walk from Casa Santo Spirito. We’ve enjoyed 8:00 breakfasts with the sisters each morning, but no time for that today!
Our tour includes the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum, and the Basilica of St. Peter. We were in the Sistine Chapel first. Everyone’s seen pictures of the Chapel, of course, but there is something special about seeing it in person. Entry is metered, so we shared the space with perhaps another forty people; and you’re expected to be quiet. The lights are off for these tours, but your eyes gradually adjust to the natural light admitted from a few windows. I found myself contemplating the “statue” of Jonah at one end of the ceiling, and was startled to discover that what I first thought was a statue is a painting. That’s how realistic the three-dimensional painting is.
The Sistine Chapel was to be just the first example of many today in which the art can’t be properly appreciated from pictures. Jon had a great knack for explaining the differences between periods and styles of art, and startled all of us by pointing out a painting whose perspective shifts as you cross from the right to the left, creating an optical illusion. We saw so many perfectly-painted imitations of 3D that by the end of the morning we weren’t sure which windows, coffered ceilings, and cornices were real and which were painted.
From the Sistine Chapel we moved on to the Vatican Museum and the Belvedere Palace, and from there we returned to St. Peter’s. We had been to St. Peter’s for Mass yesterday, but now the place was ready for tourists, so we could get closer to some of the works of art; and also, we now had Jon with us to explain some of the things we were seeing. There is much more to see and do at the Vatican–the tour of the vaults below, the ascent to the top of St. Peter’s dome, some time to sit and take it all in–but by this time we were on overload and ready to rest for a bit at Casa Santo Spirito.
After a short break, we regrouped for a trip into the heart of Rome again. Within the next few hours, we visited the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. The Spanish Steps were not particularly inspiring, although for this English teacher it was fun to duck into the doorway of the Keats and Shelley Museum next door. The Trevi Fountain is very impressive; I was expecting something in the middle of a piazza, but it is actually an edifice on its own. From there a few of us went to the Pantheon, which is one of the most influential buildings in the history of western architecture. Like many internal space, this one is hard to communicate with pictures, so I was glad to have the opportunity to visit it and take it all in.
This was our last night in Rome. We travel to Cicagna tomorrow by way of Florence, so we needed some packing time. After dinner it was time to get on with that for tomorrow’s drive.